Monday Medical: Coping with crisis of infertility
September 21, 2009
Under ordinary circumstances, these words are offered to comfort. For a couple struggling with infertility, however, these words convey a lack of understanding of the painful journey of infertility.
Infertility is considered a major life crisis. This crisis has a variety of losses and “costs”: physical, emotional, financial, social and marital. Very strong emotions are commonplace.
Couples experience feelings of grief, loss, anxiety, depression, loss of control, isolation, misunderstanding by friends and family, loss of confidence and feelings of one’s life being in limbo.
Often, after many months of not being able to conceive, the woman is the first to be flooded with these negative emotions. Each month, the hope that maybe this is the month to conceive presents itself. Then, the bad news comes again, and the emotional roller coaster begins another steep descent.
Men often cannot understand the intensity of a woman’s emotional state and wonder if their partners are “going crazy.” Initially, men tend to minimize the problem, but after two years of dealing with infertility, their rates of distress approximate those of women.
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Studies have shown that infertility depression levels can rival those of cancer.
By definition, a couple is not diagnosed as “infertile” until they have unsuccessfully tried to become pregnant for a full year. Once diagnosed, the journey is one full of difficult choices a couple must resolve together.
Should they consider in-vitro fertilization? How much money can they afford to put toward treatment options? Is adoption a choice for them? The resolution of these choices can create stress in a marriage.
Stress can be managed in many ways. Some are physical methods, such as exercise or relaxation techniques. Others are cognitive, which involve removing negative thought patterns that create emotional distress.
Taking breaks from the all-consuming nature of infertility is often helpful for couples, allowing them to focus on finding ways to stay emotionally connected. Stress is a result, not a cause, of infertility.
Coping with infertility also can distress the couples’ family and friends. It often is difficult to know what, and what not, to say. Trying to deny or minimize the issue by avoiding the topic or by offering empty platitudes (e.g., “just relax”) is not helpful.
Do not expect the couple to act happy about attending baby showers and christenings, and give them the opportunity to decide whether to attend an event.
Probably the greatest gift you can give your loved one or friend is being a listener when they wish to talk about the infertility. As with any loss, you cannot erase the pain, but you can help diminish it with your care.
RESOLVE: The National Infertility Organization, is dedicated to information and support for couples and family and friends affected by infertility. Its Web site is http://www.resolve.org. A support group is available in Steamboat Springs.
It is normal to feel overwhelmed and isolated when coping with infertility. Women in particular report relief from attending infertility support groups.
Lynn Dubinsky, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who practices in Steamboat Springs. She specializes in couples therapy and related issues.