What I have consistently seen over and over again is that no matter what the couple or the individual goes through to become a parent it is always a very emotionally difficult process and they don’t appreciate how much of a toll it is taking on them until it is too late. I have a quote that really summarizes it:
“Individuals and couples at the beginning, middle and end of infertility treatments and beyond need not only cutting edge technology, they need psychological support and guidance to cope with a problem that has the potential to be emotionally, financial, socially, and sexually devastating”.
As you embark on this journey to conceive you need to understand that it is not just medical procedures that you will go through but also difficult emotional challenges that will affect most if not all aspects of your life and stay with you beyond conception. Let me take a minute to tell you what I have seen over the years:
- I developed a screening tool to conduct assessments of potential egg donors, counseled egg donor recipients,
- worked with many birth mothers from early in their pregnancy through delivery, including actually walking the newborn out of the hospital and handing the child to the adoptive couple, and
- provided therapy for birth parents after placement.
- I have helped many couples stay sane as they went through their infertility treatments,
- I helped a couple through the difficult decision of selective reduction, worked with couples who had twins and triplets due to fertility treatments,
- provided post-partum therapy, and counseled those experiencing secondary infertility.
- I have completed hundred of Home Studies and Post-placement reports for adoptions.
- I have seen a lot.
So now let us talk a little about how it can affect you as a couple, how it can affect your relationships with your friends and family and how it affects you individually.
First: As a couple: Infertility often creates one of the most distressing crises that you will go through as a couple. Through the treatment, the two of you may think and feel like the other person is the only means of support, yet then find yourself withdrawing from each other and unable to offer or ask for support. To compound, this the fertility treatments are generally a humiliating process in which you hope to keep sex loving when it is goal oriented.
As a couple it will be important for you to allow yourself and each other the opportunity to get angry and to grieve. losing control over your conception and the ability to conceive in the privacy of your own home can be awful. Try to maintain some sense of insight into the complex and painful feelings you experience as a couple. Know that people experience things differently and cope differently. You and your spouse are likely to have different feelings about things or feel the same thing but feel them at different times.
Misunderstandings commonly occur as a result, causing one or both of you to feel even more isolated and alone. Be open to seeking professional help to sort through these things. The two of you will also have many important decisions to make. One or the other of you may feel overwhelmed. You may feel at odds about what options to choose, and have different points where you feel you have gone far enough and want to look at other ways to create your family or decide to live a childless life. You should expect this to happen. You will need to be patient with each other and be willing to get help working through these impasses so you can make the decisions that will be best for you two over a lifetime.
Keep in mind if you haven’t already learned that often men and their emotional needs are overlooked. Men generally deal with their feelings differently then women do but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I have found over the years that there is a this unspoken tendency for one or both to either blame the other or feel guilty for keeping the other from being able to conceive.
Once I was working, with a couple where it was the second marriage for her and she was about 7 years older than her husband was. She felt it was all her fault and she seriously considered leaving her husband so that he could find someone else younger who would be able to give him children. Of course, she did not share any of this with him but once I got them to open up and share their dark fears it brought tremendous relief to them both. Because at the same time he was feeling all this guilt for her having to go through the treatments. In the end neither one cared about having a biological child as much as they did about keeping their marriage intact and being parents together.
Talking through your feeling will bring you closer together, and ensure that you both are operating with the same purpose. Know that whatever the outcome, your marital relationships can be strengthened though the hard work of infertility treatment if you openly deal with the emotional parts of it. There are resources available to help you through this process, and there are professionals who will understand and you can talk freely to, about how you are feeling and what you are thinking and not worry it may jeopardize your treatments.
The Second challenge is with your family and friends: There can be an overwhelming sense of isolation with family and friends. If you are comfortable enough to share your pain and frustrations with family and friends, they may not be comfortable hearing about your pain and frustration or anger. It can be difficult to maintain some friendships, as it is intensely painful to be among friends who are busy taking care of their children or around families when you cannot create one for yourself. Yet, this is a time when you need your social support more than ever. It is not good to go through this process alone internalizing painful emotions.
I worked with one couple where the husband was one of these open, friendly guys completely comfortable talking about anything and his wife was a private person who wanted to pretend that they were not going through infertility treatment, declined certain social functions and basically avoided being social. She shared that she felt her friendships were not for that and he felt like he was going to explode if he had to keep quiet. After a few heated therapy sessions we pretty much came up with a contract where from then on he was allowed to tell his friends who did not have wives that she was friends with, and they would decide on a case by case basis what invitations they would attend as a couple. Eventually he discovered that though his friends really did care they were not able to give much support and she discovered that it was much more devastating for her to miss an important event such as one of her best friend’s baby shower then to have to face that other friend who would always ask “ANY GOOD NEWS YET?”
Therefore, you need to be aware about how your treatments will effects your friendship and access the support friendship can provide. Cultivating a friendship with another couple you know who has gone through or is going through fertility treatments can be helpful. Stay connected.
The third challenge is how it affects you individually: You may feel a range of powerful feelings that can come and take a hold of you anywhere and anytime such as anxiety, anger, grief, humiliation, confusion, quilt, blame, and depression. Your self-esteem will suffer. Fertility treatments put a terrible strain on your emotional well-being, yet this is all normal if you think about what you are going through. YOU need to acknowledge for yourself the depth of this and accept you are having problems conceiving. It can be a long process and it can be exacerbated by having to grieve month after month if a treatment is not successful.
Then once it is all over and you have your child or children, these feelings, patterns of behavior or beliefs may persist if you have not dealt with them head on. For example, feelings of inadequacy can spill over to your beliefs about your parenting if you are not aware of feeling that way about yourself. Counseling is highly recommended. It is so difficult to make the right decision for yourself in a highly stressed state. Counseling can help you cope; bring clarity to things, allow for a broader perspective, and bring some peace of mind.
Do not try to go this alone. Know that the crisis of fertility issues can be an opportunity for some real personal growth. In ending, do not underestimate the power you have over this process. You can take care of yourself and your emotional well-being. Set limits and develop time frames that work for you. Get help and learn coping strategies that are healthy and make you feel better. Allow yourself to feel what you feel and talk about it.
Find yourself a mental health professional that is experienced in working with infertility issues and have them with you emotionally as you go through this.