Infertility affects 12% to 15% of couples in the United States. The emotional pain caused by infertility can be quite intense and can be triggered by almost anything: the sight of children, a pregnant woman, or an invitation to a baby shower. Well-intended comments may inadvertently add salt to the wounds. I help many clients gain strength as they go through infertility treatment while their friends and loved ones are having children.
If you are experiencing strong emotions, depression, or relationship problems due to your infertility, please seek out the help of a therapist who specializes in infertility counseling. One of the main focuses of my practice is helping both individuals and couples who are experiencing infertility, and I can provide strategies and communication skills to help heal the hurt and improve your relationships while you work towards building your family.
Dealing with family and friends
In my experience, I have found that many individuals and couples are reluctant to discuss their situation with family and friends, which can increase feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. This can be very triggering, especially if you’re getting comments like “So, when are you going to start having kids?”
Your family, if you feel they are there for you, is your natural support system, and your friends are your chosen support system. Don’t leave them unaware of the most important issue you’re dealing with right now. They will want to know how to support you and what to say and not say.
Here are a few suggested conversations you can have with those closest to you:
- Please recognize the intensity of the emotions I am feeling and do not try to minimize them with statements that are intended to be helpful but diminish our struggle. Statements like “Just relax and it will happen” or “Well, at least you get to do what you want without a baby to deal with” will only make me feel worse. Comments like “I’m so sorry you have to go through this” and “Please let me know how I can help” are helpful to me and make me feel loved and supported.
- Please don’t compare me to other people by telling me what worked for your friend. I’ve probably heard it all, and I already know there are cases of people who get pregnant right after they adopt, by “just relaxing,” or after taking certain supplements. If I ask you, please share what you’ve heard. If not, please know that I’m trying everything already.
- If you’re pregnant or have been pregnant, please don’t complain or say “You’re so lucky you don’t have to deal with morning sickness/swollen ankles/hormone fluctuations/stretch marks.” I would gladly endure all those things.
- Please don’t talk too much about other people who are having lots of babies or gush over the latest newborn. Yes, if my sister has a baby, I’m happy for her, but it will probably make me feel sadder for myself, so please don’t overdo the discussion in my presence, because it will feel like “rubbing it in.” Please don’t be offended if I can’t bring myself to go to a baby shower. I will send my love and a gift, but an extended celebration of someone else’s baby is too painful.
- At the same time, please don’t shut me out of the family because you want to spare my feelings. Please invite me to things. I want to be there. I will judge for myself based on how I’m feeling if I can attend, and believe me, I am trying to work on my emotions so that I have a healthy emotional outlook and can comfortably attend events and rejoice in other people’s families as I work to build my own. But understand that it will take time.
These are some suggestions to get you started interacting honestly with the people who are most important to you in your life.
Dealing with co-workers
You do not owe any information to co-workers. If you receive off-hand comments such as “So when are you having a baby?” You can choose to be polite and tell them, “This is a sensitive topic for me and I prefer not to talk about it.” For a person who tends to be rude or obnoxious and whose opinion will not affect your job, you can just tell them it’s none of their business.
If a co-worker is pregnant, congratulate her. If she is talking a great deal about her pregnancy or showing ultrasounds, try to politely extract yourself, or tell her that while you are happy for her, it is difficult for you, and you are probably not the most appreciative audience. Suggest she talk to another co-worker who you think would appreciate her stories and pictures.
If your direct superior needs to okay your frequent doctor appointments or breaks for medication, you may give him or her just the basic information necessary. Otherwise, do not share any details with co-workers, even friends, because things tend to get around the office.
Dealing with your own inner voice
We often don’t recognize our own self-destructive patterns of thought without the help of a trained therapist. In my practice, I utilize psychodynamic and cognitive therapy approaches to help people understand their unique thought processes and help them make more conscious choices with regard to their emotions and their lives.
Women who experience infertility often experience depression or anxiety or blame themselves for past mistakes that they believe caused their infertility. They may feel “unworthy” to be a parent. They may allow themselves to develop resentment or envy toward pregnant women or mothers with young children. When these feelings are directed toward family members or friends who are able to conceive, the feelings are extremely destructive. Please reach out for help.
Men also have strong emotions about infertility, which differ from those of women. They can become angry, feel guilty, or feel like their virility or “manhood” is in question or diminished by infertility. Men are less likely to show these feelings, so they may bottle them up which might affect their marriage or their work.
Besides addressing the emotions of the individuals, I help couples find ways to communicate their needs to each other and find things they can enjoy together that strengthen their bond, irrespective of children in their lives.
By taking the time to work through your own interior struggles you will grow closer as a couple, be less triggered by people and events around you, and be able to handle the fertility treatments with more peace in your heart. You will be stronger as a couple, as you look forward to the future hope of being a strong family. Reach out to me to see how I can help you.