Research has shown that women with infertility have the same anxiety and depression levels as women with cancer, heart disease and HIV.
Infertility and Mental Health
Numerous studies have been done on the effects of infertility on mental health. Each study has proven that infertility and its treatment is a form of trauma. Women with fertility problems have been shown to experience symptoms of traumatic stress and difficulties with emotional regulation. For many, infertility is a grief, a sustained wound, an extended emptiness and prolonged disappointment.
“…infertility is a trauma, and often a complex trauma…While anxiety, depression, and grief and loss are all a part of the psychological impact of infertility, there is much more to the experience which is defined by the individual.”
Receiving a diagnosis of infertility requires you to vastly shift your expectations and plans for the future. Infertility and its treatment can be one of the hardest things to go through while keeping hopeful and positive. It is hard not to develop a sense of cynicism. It is isolating and can be lonely. It makes you feel different from others, but not in a good way.
Anxiety, grief, and depression go hand in hand with fertility problems. Every pregnancy test that comes back negative makes you feel more and more despair and every time a woman gets her period it is the end of something that could have been. Every time someone announces their pregnancy it causes a bittersweet feeling – because it reminds you of your sadness. Anyone who is dealing with infertility or fertility treatment knows that it involves unpredictable, often instable emotions.
Somehow, your own infertility seems to increase the number of pregnant women and new babies around you. This is because you have a heightened sense of what you are unable to have. It becomes hard to be around others who are pregnant and be a part of conversations about pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. Each pregnancy announcement you see and each baby shower invitation you receive stings the wound of your infertility.
With a diagnosis of infertility comes self-blame and guilt. People with this diagnosis may distance themselves from friends and family and withdraw from support. It is difficult to answer questions about when you will have a child, or why you don’t have a child yet. You may be fielding off misguided advice from others. You may also feel that you are being judged by those around you or by society in general.
Fertility Treatment and Mental Health
Fertility treatment causes mental and physical trauma. It is overwhelming and confusing, and people may be advised to get anxiety treatment or trauma therapy while undergoing it. It disturbs your thoughts, emotions, and daily life.
Women carry the physical burden of procedures, which are more invasive for women than they are for men. Treatment involves keeping track of what is going on with your body throughout the month. You may have to test your cervical mucus, take your basal temperature and enter the data into an ovulation and period tracker. You may need to have sex when you are feeling unwell or not in the mood, because it is the best time in your cycle to do so.
Fertility treatment is physically uncomfortable and can be painful. There is the discomfort of blood tests, hormone injections and internal ultrasounds. You may be feeling the side effects of the fertility medications you must take. These include, but are not limited to, nausea, headaches, and mood swings.
A large part of being treatment for infertility is the commitment of time and energy it requires. People spend a great deal of time on the phone – on hold, making appointments. There is a lot of waiting – in doctor’s offices, clinics. The most difficult wait is after treatment procedures are complete, and there are two weeks before a pregnancy test is taken. The outcome of the pregnancy test, positive or negative, will result in a tumult of emotions.
The financial cost of infertility can be overwhelming. Fertility treatments are expensive and trying processes to go through. Along with the mental distress caused by medical procedures, the cost may also leave some people in debt, especially if they have had to have repeat treatment.
When fertility problems last for a long time due to treatments that do not work, it is highly distressing. Each new attempt brings with it renewed hope and optimism. Each failed attempt is soul-crushing. The infertility can become an obsession, to the exclusion of other activities that you previously enjoyed doing.
Grief and loss is intertwined with infertility. You grieve for the child you might have had – a potential child. Infertility grief can be experienced through anger, denial, deep sorrow, exhaustion, extremes of emotion, and self-blame. It is horrible when it happens once. When it is something that happens repeatedly, it is devastating.
Infertility and Your Relationship
The trauma of infertility can leak into your marriage or intimate relationship. Research suggests a link between infertility and a higher chance of divorce. People get so caught up in the pull and pressure of trying to have a baby that they lose touch with each other on an interpersonal level.
You may be afraid that your partner will leave you. Your relationship may suffer from the financial strain of fertility treatment. You and your partner may not be on the same page emotionally. May be you at different stages of the grieving process. You may feel resentment toward each other. The way you approach and feel about sex may be affected, as now you are required to have it at a certain time.
Pregnancy Through Fertility Treatment
Once a fertility treatment has resulted in a pregnancy, people may experience an increased intensity of dysregulated emotions. Pregnancy can be a stressful time as you may feel that it is fragile and very vulnerable to something going wrong. You are very aware of every little sensation and are on the lookout for problems. This is a cause of stress and anxiety during a time when you are advised to manage your stress and anxiety!
For some people, it may be as hard to stay pregnant as it was to get pregnant. When fertility treatment results in pregnancy, some women must continue to take a variety of medicines and injections to either support the pregnancy or for other health reasons. You may be reluctant to tell people you are pregnant, or even be scared to bond with the baby inside you. This fear for your baby may last the entire course of your pregnancy. Also, you may feel like you should not voice any discomfort or pain you experience, at the risk of sounding ungrateful.
Infertility trauma is real. It is the psychological impact of a range of experiences such as infertility diagnosis, recurrent pregnancy loss, reproductive injury and fertility treatment. We have ideas about the kind of parent we will be, we imagine what our children will look like, who they will be like. Issues with fertility dash these hopes and dreams, leaving many with emptiness and uncertainty.
While some people have a recent diagnosis of infertility, others may have been grappling with it for years. Either way, the psychological effects of infertility and its treatment are long-lasting and deep set. Seek fertility counseling if you are struggling with infertility or its treatment. Trust Mental Health has therapists qualified in infertility counseling, trauma therapy, and couples therapy.