A diagnosis of infertility can be a devastating and life-altering event that impacts many aspects of a patient’s life. Infertility and its treatment can affect a patient and her spouse or partner medically, financially, socially, emotionally and psychologically. Feelings of anxiousness, depression, isolation, and helplessness are not uncommon among patients undergoing infertility treatment. Strained and stressful relations with spouses, partners and other loved ones may develop as treatment gets underway and progresses.
Strategies to cope with stress
There are several strategies that can assist couples during this time:
- Become informed about IVF. Understanding the process of IVF and knowing what to expect will lessen your anxiety about the procedure.
- Be realistic about your expectations. The chance of establishing a pregnancy is 20% to 60% each treatment cycle. Also, each cycle contributes valuable information that can be of assistance in subsequent cycles.
- Make decisions ahead of time. Discuss with your partner your feelings about cryopreservation, donor sperm and eggs, the number of cycles you will attempt, and who will be included in your confidence.
- Provide for emotional support. Talk about your feelings, especially with your partner. Ask each other how you can help or better share the emotional burden. Men and women often have different needs and will not readily recognize them in each other.
Talking about your experiences and feelings with others who are also dealing with or have dealt with infertility can provide a substantial support. Knowing that your feelings are not unique and hearing ideas from others can be a relief. In the Richmond Metropolitan area, Resolve runs several periodic support group. Visit www.resolve.org for more information. Considering creating a support group of your own from family, friends, and others.
Seeking help from a professional
While it is normal to experience emotional ups and downs when pursuing infertility treatment, it is important to recognize when these feelings are of a severe nature. If you experience any of the following symptoms over a prolonged period of time, you may benefit from working with a mental health professional:
- loss of interest in usual activities
- depression that doesn’t lift
- strained interpersonal relationships (with partner, family, friends and/or colleagues)
- difficulty thinking of anything other than your infertility
- high levels of anxiety
- diminished ability to accomplish tasks
- difficulty with concentration
- change in your sleep patterns (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, early morning awakening, sleeping more than usual for you)
- change in your appetite or weight (increase or decrease)
- increased use of drugs or alcohol
- thoughts about death or suicide
- social isolation
- persistent feelings of pessimism, guilt, or worthlessness
- persistent feelings of bitterness or anger
Mental health professionals with experience in infertility treatment can help. They have a primary goal of teaching patients and their partners how to cope with the physical and emotional challenges of infertility and treatment. They can help to control stress, anxiety and depression, as well as assist patients in working through grief, fear, and any other emotions they may be experiencing. They may also help with decision-making such as deciding between treatment options or when to explore other family-building solutions.
Virginia Fertility Associates suggests that all patients undergoing infertility treatment consider meeting with a professional to learn tools to handle the treatment process from a positive emotional perspective. In addition, professional counseling should be considered by all patients who will be using donor eggs, donor sperm or a gestational carrier.
Virginia Fertility Associates Center partners with several counselors who offer our patients and their partners a general session on infertility and IVF, including what to expect and how to cope with the stress and emotions involved. This session may or may not be billable to insurance; however, the counselors offer a very reasonable rate to our patients for this session.
Our counselors have many years of experience in psychology and have a special interest in infertility, adoption, and family counseling. They are an excellent resource for any patient considering infertility treatment.
Debbie Daniels-Mohring, PhD
2200 Pump Road, Suite 220
Richmond, VA 23233
Jill FitzGerald, LCSW
Grief Resource Center
3932 Springfield Road
Glen Allen, VA 23060
(804) 257-9348 or (804) 360-2884
Robin Zelinger-Casway, LCSW, PC
1753 S. Dover Pointe Road
Richmond, VA 23238
Mental Health Professionals can also be found through the American Society of Reproductive Medicine’s Mental Health Professionals Group, Resolve, or the American Fertility Association.