Infertility is a medical condition not unlike other medical conditions – it affects all aspects of your life.
It can create one of the most stressful life crises that an individual or couple has ever experienced and can affect your relationship with others, your perspectiveon life as well as how you feel about yourself.
Feelings of grief, loss, guilt, shame, disappointment, anxiety, depression, isolation and dealing with the multitude of medical decisions and the uncertainties that infertility brings can create great emotional turmoil for most people.
Whether you are beginning to explore your infertility treatment options or you have been through many different infertility treatments, the sense of loss and disappointment and the feelings and emotions of being out of control are similar.
Research shows that depression among women with infertility is similar to those with cancer or heart disease. Men also get depressed, and it is important for many individuals and couples to seek counseling as a means to navigate and negotiate the many thoughts and feelings that arise when experiencing infertility and its treatments.
Why Seek Infertility Counseling?
There are many different reasons for seeking infertility counseling that can include the following: how to cope with the stress, anxiety, grief or depression, how to communicate with your partner/spouse, how to choose the right medical treatment, how to begin exploring other family building options, how to respond to friends and family who may or may not know about your infertility journey or how to manage the day to day emotional stresses related to infertility.
Everyone undergoes emotional stressors as they pursue infertility treatment. Feeling overwhelmed, sad, exhausted, frustrated, angry, ashamed, among many others, at times are perfectly normal responses. But if you are experiencing these feelings persistently or are having difficulty managing other emotions related to your infertility, you might benefit from infertility counseling. Here are some signs that infertility counseling would be helpful to you:
- constant feelings of sadness, guilt, or worthlessness
- agitation and anxiety
- increased mood swings
- social isolation
- loss of interest in usual activities and relationships
- constant preoccupation with infertility
- marital/partner discord
- difficulty with concentration and memory
- increased use of alcohol or drugs
- a change in app etite, weight, or sleep patterns
- thoughts about suicide or death
- difficulty with scheduled intercourse
Acknowledging that you need help with your feelings is often as hard as admitting that you are having trouble having a baby. You may have been through months of hope and disappointments. Your life may feel like it is in a holding pattern and your confidence may be shaken. The confident, happy you may seem far away and the future may seem uncertain, at best. You are experiencing a life crisis-one that is considered a crisis in all cultures and religions. Most people experiencing a life crisis seek support and guidance from others. You deserve that too. Try not to think of joining a support group or seeing a therapist as a negative, but rather as a positive step. By seeking counseling when you need it, you are acknowledging your desire to improve your present situation, to explore your feelings and to feel better about yourself.
There are also certain points during infertility treatment when seeking support from an infertility counselor can help clarify your thinking and help with your decision making.
Consultation with an infertility counselor may be helpful to you and your partner if you are:
- Gathering information to make informed decisions regarding infertility treatment
- Preparing for and coping with medical and surgical treaments
- Understanding and coping with the emotional reactions to infertility and/or pre-existing mental health problems
- Struggling with the strain of infertility on relationships with your partner, family, colleagues and friends
- At a treatment crossroad
- Deciding between alternative treatment possibilities
- Exploring family building alternatives including adoption, third-party reproduction (gamete donation, surrogacy), child-free lifestyle
- Having difficulty communicating with your partner or if you have different ideas about what direction to take
- Grieving the myriad losses typically with infertility or miscarriages
Goals of Infertility Counseling
The primary goal of infertility counseling is to help individuals and couples learn how to cope with the physical and emotional changes associated with infertility, as well as with the medical treatments that can be painful and intrusive. By teaching patients problem-solving strategies in a supportive environment, infertility counselors help people work through their grief, loss,guilt, shame, disappointment, anxiety, depression,isolation and other emotions. A good therapist can help sort out feelings, strengthen already present coping skills and develop new ones, and help couples maintain a positive and communicative relationship.
Psychological Assessments and Counseling for Gamete Donors and Recipients
It is necessary for every gamete donor and every gamete recipient individual and/or couple to receive a psychological assessment and counseling. It is a way to successfully prepare the participants for the treatment and assist in the adaptation of the family created through this reproductive technology. The goal of counseling for the gamete donor is to assess their appropriateness, assist in the donor’s understanding of future effects of donating their genetic material to another person and in providing support and education. The goal of counseling for the gamete recipient individual/couple is vital in assessing the individual/couple’s readiness to proceed with treatment as well as in providing support and psychoeducation. Assessments and counseling enables all participants to consider the psychological consequences of the procedure.
Read about our infertility counseling specialist Kristen Mulheren Levitt, MS, LCSW, on our Staff Page.