Infertility is often the first major life-crisis a couple faces together.
Along with infertility come feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, sadness, guilt, and loneliness. Many couples do not seek out the support they need from their family or from each other, out of fear they will be judged, pitied or pressured.
The uncertainty about the success of fertility treatment, the grief associated with a male or female factor diagnosis, sexual performance pressure, feelings of loss of control, and financial strain, all significantly impact couples who have been diagnosed as infertile and/or who might be considering infertility treatment. The impact that fertility treatment has on our emotional health and wellbeing – both individually and as a couple – is often overlooked. There are no guarantees of a baby at the end of the road for couples despite investing significant time, money and emotion in this process.
So how can couples cope with the pressure of infertility?
1. Develop a fertility plan
It is impossible to live in limbo indefinitely. As a couple, decide on the amount of cycles you can afford and how long you are prepared to undergo these treatments. With an outlined plan, you set clear goals and are able to regain control of your lives, your decisions and your bodies. This helps ensure that no regrets and resentment will result between you as a couple. And remember, plans can be re-jigged and altered as necessary.
2. Have unscheduled sex
Although extremely difficult to do, try to have as normal a sex life as possible. While it is important to follow your doctor’s schedule, give priority to sex at other times during the month where conception is not the goal.
3. Nurture your relationship
While this is easier said than done, try not to let the stress of conceiving interfere with the relationship you have. Relationships serve many purposes including companionship, emotional support, and sharing interests. Keep in mind that being in a relationship is not only for the purpose of reproduction, and continue to enjoy each other so that you’ll remember why you decided to have a baby together in the first place.
4. Be prepared for social situations
Determine together what information is or isn’t going to be shared with friends and family. Often, suggesting there is a problem is sufficient at keeping away such question as ‘so…when are you going to have a baby?’ Divulging too much information can be an invasion of privacy for some couples.
5. Grieve along the way
Allow yourselves the time and opportunity to grieve if a treatment is unsuccessful or if you have experienced a loss such as a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. It is a loss and it hurts. Don’t let others try to convince you otherwise. Take the time to feel the loss, cry, share with one another, and move on when you as a couple determine that you are ready. Not when others decide you should be ready.
6. Determine if it’s time to seek professional help
If you’re having trouble coping with your feelings, and the roller-coaster of emotions, it’s wise to speak to a mental health professional. Speaking with someone objective can help you individually and as a couple learn techniques to overcome grief, manage your anxieties, keep your relationship intact, as well as provide you with information of what to expect when you undergo procedures at the clinic.
Truth be told, there is no easy way to manage the stress that accompanies infertility. Often the stress and pressure are all encompassing and nothing else in your world seems to matter in that moment.
But there are certainly ways you can learn to cope, one step at a time, and gain back some control. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.