Infertility and Your Mental Health

infertility, mental health, coping, therapy

The average couple doesn’t expect their path to parenthood to be lined with arbitrary twists, turns, pitfalls, and roadblocks, but infertility is a surprisingly common problem that impacts as many as 1 in 8 couples of reproductive age.

Some couples are affected by primary infertility, which is the inability to conceive naturally. Others experience secondary infertility, a form of impaired fertility that makes it difficult to become pregnant or carry another baby to term following at least one successful full-term pregnancy.

No matter which category your fertility problem fits into, chances are its underlying cause — whether it’s male-factor, female-factor, or a combination of both — is physical in nature.

But even though infertility is usually rooted in the body, the resulting stress, anxiety, and psychological upheaval can exact a heavy toll on your mental health, leaving you (or your partner) feeling isolated and emotionally exhausted. Here’s what you should know.

Infertility and mental stress

When you and your partner are ready to start a family or add to your growing brood, the inability to get pregnant with ease can be frustrating and emotionally draining. Infertility can be so distressing, in fact, that many couples faced with the problem rate it as the most upsetting experience of their lives.  

As one of the major aspirations and transitions of adult life for women and men alike, many people view parenthood as something of a birthright. It can be terribly distressing when the very thing that comes so naturally and easily to most couples goes unfulfilled after months or years of active pursuit.  

Although women faced with infertility typically show higher levels of anger, stress, anxiety, diminished confidence, or depression than their male partners, men are just as likely to experience intense mental and emotional strain when the problem is attributed to a male factor.   

Over time, the psychological burden of infertility can lead to an overwhelming sense of loss, feelings of defectiveness or incompetence, sexual dysfunction, marital discord, and social isolation.

Fertility treatment strains

While infertility may leave you feeling as though you have little control over your own destiny, ongoing advances in assisted reproductive technology (ART) have made it possible for many couples to overcome common obstacles to conception and pregnancy.

Most aspiring parents are heartened by the fact that hormone therapy, in vitro fertilization (IVF), and other innovative fertility treatments and ART techniques have already helped bring millions of babies into the world. But despite the much-needed help and hope it provides, medical intervention can also be stressful in its own right.     

Although the fertility medications that are often used to improve ovulation may cause mood swings, irritability, sleep disruptions, and anxiety, most couples would say that the greatest source of treatment-related stress and anxiety occurs following a failed cycle.  

ART may offer a relatively high rate of success, but it comes with no guarantees: Some couples conceive within just one or two cycles, while others require multiple rounds of treatment to achieve a healthy pregnancy. For some couples, pregnancy never occurs.

For most couples, not knowing when or if assisted reproduction will work can be just as stressful and disheartening as infertility itself.

Effective coping strategies

If struggling with infertility or enduring a lengthy treatment process has left you feeling stressed and drained, there’s a lot you can do to restore your equilibrium and ease your anxieties.

First and foremost, practice self-care. Get enough sleep, exercise every day, talk to your family and friends, and find relaxation techniques (yoga, meditation, mindfulness, or deep breathing) that help you stay centered.  

Cognitive restructuring — choosing the thoughts and behaviors that reinforce your sense of control over those that leave you feeling anxious or hopeless — can also be extremely helpful.   

If infertility is straining your relationship, short-term counseling or interpersonal therapy can give you and your partner the coping strategies you need to navigate the treatment process as a unified couple made up of two supportive — and mutually supported — individuals who happen to be on the same journey together.

To get help finding the coping strategies that work best for you, call one of our offices in Glendale or Santa Monica, California, or use the convenient online tool to schedule an appointment with Dr. Sepilian.  

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