Tips for Coping with Infertility
by Melissa Estes, LCP, LMFT
Struggling with infertility is emotionally taxing. Patients often feel stressed, guilty, sad, and under pressure to have a baby right away. There are often ups and downs throughout the journey-feelings of hope, sadness, excitement, and anxiety. These tips, grounded in solid physiological research, can help you cope with your fertility journey.
Recognize that a fertility problem is a crisis. A fertility problem may be one of the most difficult challenges you’ll ever face. Acknowledging this is a key to coping, says Kate Marosek, who has counseled couples with fertility complications in the Washington, D.C., area for more than ten years.
“It’s normal to feel a monumental sense of loss, to feel stressed, sad, or overwhelmed,” says Marosek. “Don’t chastise yourself for feeling this way.” Facing and accepting your emotions can help you move beyond them. Talking through your emotions with a therapist can be very helpful, because it can help to talk to someone neutral.
Don’t blame yourself. Resist the temptation to get angry at yourself. Ignore the little voice in your head that’s saying, “I shouldn’t have waited; I’m being punished for having that abortion; I should have lost more weight or taken better care of my health; I shouldn’t have assumed that I could have children when I wanted” or whatever negative thoughts you may be having. These thoughts will keep you stuck in a bad place emotionally.
People can get caught in negative thinking patterns that only make matters worse, says Yakov M. Epstein, a psychologist at Rutgers University and co-author of Getting Pregnant When You Thought You Couldn’t: “Instead of berating yourself, look forward to how you and your partner are going to manage the situation.” Focus on your future. This will help you to have hope and to think positively.
Work as a team with your partner. You and your partner should help each other through this time (and not blame each other for your difficulty getting pregnant). This is a time when you really need each other and need to be working together as a team.
Check on your partner to see what your partner is feeling. “If you’re taking care of each other emotionally, you can unite to fight the problem,” says Marosek.
Work together to find ways to decrease stress and to help each other. Have one person keep track of the finances so the other can focus mainly on the treatment they are getting.
Educate yourself. Learn as much as you can about fertility problems from reliable sources and ask your provider questions. It can help to make a list of your questions ahead of time and bring it to your appointment. Staying educated is especially important when you’re dealing with a fertility problem because the technologies behind the treatments are complicated and change quickly. “You’ve got to understand what’s happening medically,” says Epstein, “or you won’t be able to make informed choices.” Try to avoid reading negative stories on the internet that aren’t from credible sources, because this may cause you to worry more.
Set limits on how long you’re willing to try. Some couples decide that they won’t go to extreme measures to have a baby. No one can tell you when to stop trying to conceive — that’s a decision you need to make with your partner and provider — but you’ll feel more in control of your life if you start thinking in advance about how far you’re willing to go to get pregnant.
Start by discussing your medical odds of getting pregnant with your provider, which treatments you’re not willing to try, and your end goal.
Decide how much you’re willing to pay. Since fertility treatment can be expensive, it’s normal to feel anxious about money. To cope with the anxiety caused by the high costs of treatment, sit down and develop a financial plan. Start with your insurance: find out exactly what it does and doesn’t cover. It can help to talk with your provider’s office billing representative if you need help.
“You should always have a plan B,” says Alice Domar, a psychologist and assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Harvard University Medical School who specializes in helping couples with fertility problems. “Because nothing, especially with fertility treatments, is certain.”
Get support from professionals and others with fertility problems. Society often fails to recognize the grief caused by infertility, so those denied parenthood tend to hide their sorrow, which only increases their feelings of shame and isolation. It is very helpful to talk about what you’re going through, because if you don’t then it will build up and up, coming out in anger or a breakdown.
“Finding other people who are going through the same thing can help you see that fertility problems are widespread and your disappointment is understandable,” says Linda Klempner, a clinical psychologist and mental health consultant at Women’s Health Counseling and Psychotherapy in Teaneck, New Jersey.
It’s ok to say no to baby-focused activities. If certain celebrations or situations are too painful for you — if all your siblings had babies in the last two years, say, or you keep getting invited to baby showers — give yourself permission to decline the invitation or have a good cry afterward.
To avoid hurt feelings, send a gift but choose children’s books or an online gift certificate to save yourself a troubling trip to the toy store or baby boutique.
Balance optimism and realism. “You need to be optimistic to go through a procedure,” says Epstein, “but if you’re too hopeful — if your hope is unrealistic — you’ll be setting yourself up for a huge fall.” By keeping current on the technology and your diagnosis, you can get a good handle on what chance of success you have with each treatment. Staying realistic can help you make smart choices as you work your way through the emotional minefield of treatment.
Take care of yourself by pursuing other interests. Being treated for a fertility problem can feel like a job, so it’s important to keep up with some of the activities or hobbies that bring you pleasure. This can help make you happy and feel less stressed.
“It won’t be easy,” says Marosek, “especially if you’re doing something like going in for a blood test every other day, but look for ways to take care of yourself.” She recommends that people get a massage, have a pedicure — anything that can give them relief from the focus on fertility treatment.
If your old activities are painful — maybe all your friends are parents now — look for new activities. Maybe you have always wanted to try yoga, Pilates, painting, dance, or take a cooking class. Now is a good time to try a new fun activity.
It’s helpful to try to stay positive even when it’s extremely hard to. Laughter is one of the best healers. Use humor with each other, watch funny movies together, or go to a comedy club. It’s important to have date nights and continue to have fun with each other. It may seem like you won’t get through your fertility journey, but you will and things will get better. You are strong and you can get through this.
It can help to attend a support group at Aspire Fertility. It helps to share your feelings with other people and have people that can relate to what you’re going through.
About the Author
Melissa Estes, LPC, LMFT, is the counselor at Aspire Fertility clinic in Houston, TX. She is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist. She studied psychology at Texas A&M University and earned her masters in marriage and family therapy from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Melissa is active in the community as well. She has been interviewed by local TV and radio programs, including Great Day Houston. She has also assisted in teaching counseling techniques to counseling students.