Infertility: Navigating the Emotional Journey
By the author of A Couple's Handbook for When You Want to Have a Baby (More Than Anything Else)
Questioning why infertility happens is normal. We live in a country that upholds the “cause and effect principle,” therefore, searching for answers comes naturally. So the ability to accept randomness is foreign and often uncomfortable. Infertility often poses the first threat to our belief that we can control life events. This desire for control is not uncommon. Typically our past efforts have always led us to believe we do have control over life events. Infertility experiences bring our control into question, and can lead to increased anxiety about other areas of life. I call this the mushroom effect.
In order to prevent the mushroom effect from occurring it is beneficial to acknowledge areas of your life that you do control and accept those that you can’t. For some individuals turning toward spirituality can provide comfort and support in the process of letting go of the need to control. Often one of the benefits of infertility is the opportunity to develop a greater appreciation for life. The knowledge that sometimes bad things can happen often inspires an increased enjoyment in good things when they occur.
Many times the quest for an explanation for the infertility can lead to self-blame. Individuals who have experienced a sexually transmitted disease, abortion, sterilization, or thoughts of never wanting children are at increased risk for feelings of blame or guilt. Taking on feelings of blame and guilt can lead to decreased self-esteem. Therefore, it is important to challenge negative thoughts. Remember that it’s always easy to come up with a better answer after we see the result of our previous decisions. Yet, second-guessing does more harm than good.
For some couples unspoken feelings of blame and guilt can lead to marital sabotage. Sometimes one partner makes a decision that the other deserves a better life and an opportunity to parent. In an effort to make this happen they will either ask for a divorce, or make life so difficult that the other partner is forced to leave. Remember that you are together because you love each other and wanted to share your lives, not for each other’s reproductive capacity. Unresolved blame and guilt can cause you to feel stuck. This can lead to an unending pursuit of treatment for self-punishment, or refusal to try treatments because of a belief that you don’t deserve to be a parent. When feelings of blame and guilt are deeply ingrained, it is beneficial to explore counseling in an effort to better understand the impact these emotions can have on you and your relationship.
Infertility is a personal experience. Often couples are uncomfortable discussing their fertility with others. Issues of embarrassment talking about sexuality and reproduction, and feelings of inadequacy or shame can lead to cutting off potential support of others. Many times being around others who have children can be a source of pain. The reminder that “they have what I want” often leads to sadness and jealousy, and, ultimately, a distancing in the relationship. Unfortunately, elimination of social connections can lead to increased isolation and lack of support. Be aware of your reasons for distancing yourself from friends, family and colleagues. There certainly are people who “just don’t understand” and can say hurtful things. With some education and direct communication you will find that friends and family do want to help, but just don’t know how. Remember that direct communication of your needs benefits both you and those who wish to help. I certainly don’t advocate discussion of your situation with everyone. It is a good idea to consider which individuals are support systems, and which are systems that you are supporting. Typically if someone is willing to just listen and respond to your needs, they are supportive. On the other hand, if you find yourself “acting fine” or saying “I’m doing great” when in fact you’re not, that is someone you are supporting.
Support groups can be very helpful in decreasing the feeling “that we’re the only ones who can’t get pregnant.” Often you may feel that no one else has ever been infertile. Support groups can be helpful in normalizing the prevalence of infertility and your emotional responses to this experience.
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