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Although the general perception of infertility is that it is usually an inadequacy in the woman’s body, the cause of infertility is actually quite evenly split between the man, the woman, a combination of the two, or unknown causes. Both men and women experience emotional stress from infertility, though in different ways or in differing degrees. Some common feelings include feeling inadequate because you can’t conceive; feeling guilty because you can’t give your spouse a child; depression or anxiety; even anger at your spouse if it is his or her physical problem causing the infertility.
Couples struggling with infertility often compare themselves with couples who have children. It’s hard not to. But this can accentuate feelings of loss and even cause envy, damaging relationships with those who have children. Couples can even feel judged by society, believing that people think they’re selfish for not having children or inadequate for not being able to.
Feelings of rejection are common: rejected by God, rejected by your spouse, rejected by your family or community because you can’t have a baby. You may wonder if you don’t deserve a child, if you’re somehow unworthy, or you may blame some past behavior for your fertility issues. This blame game can be very toxic and harmful to oneself and loved ones.
You may be mad at or even hate your body, or begin to feel like you’re chronically “ill” because you spend so much time at fertility treatments or thinking about your body’s functions. Medication side effects can affect your mental health – anxiety, sleep problems, mood swings, depression, and thinking problems are common. Treatment failure may renew your feelings of grief and failure. Infertility treatments are expensive, which may cause financial stress, leading to emotional or marital stress as well. At some point, one spouse may be ready to stop trying while the other wants to continue, thus compounding the problem.
If infertility causes marital stress, you might believe that everything will be all right if you just have a child. This is not always the case in that the emotional stress couples endure throughout fertility treatment and pregnancy can be carried over into parenthood. It is imperative to find ways to heal and strengthen your relationship, with or without a child.
A counselor who has expertise in assisting couples with infertility is your partner in helping you learn how to cope with fertility-related stress. Stress caused by infertility is different from many other causes and should be addressed with a somewhat different approach. The key factors in helping couples include, among others, developing a sense of optimism, feelings of control over their bodies and their environment, and a broader outlook on life and relationships. Find a marriage counselor who has experience with fertility issues. If you are in the New York City area, contact me to see how I can help you.