Psychological Issues for Fertility Patients
Infertility profoundly affects how we view ourselves and often comes as an extremely painful shock. Everyone navigating this path may cope differently- some by crying, some by stoicism, some by praying, some by talking with others who have experienced the same pain, some by buying another book on infertility. Some will be able to stay optimistic and others will protect their hearts by predicting failure. There is no right or wrong way.
One of my roles at PFC is to help patients navigate their emotional journey. To do that, the doctors at PFC offer all patients one session with me at no charge. A recent diagnosis of infertility, as well as the stress and/or disappointments of treatment, can lead to feelings of isolation and depression. Some patients have had a failed cycle and are having trouble coping with the losses. Other patients have experienced a miscarriage. Both of these scenarios can leave patients feeling bereft and not sure how to move forward. During a session, I can help them understand the grieving process and we can discuss ways that they might ritualize their loss in order to move forward.
There are those who are at a critical decision point and are seeking help thinking through their reproductive alternatives. This may include deciding whether or not to do one last IVF, move on to egg donation, select an egg donor or complete their family through adoption or childfree living. In the session we discuss and explore the pros and cons of a decision from the unique perspective of their life beliefs and situation.
Others may need help with developing positive coping mechanisms and stress reduction techniques such as setting aside time each day to discuss infertility with their partner, rather than allowing it to be a constant topic of conversation. We may also discuss how they can reduce their isolation possibly by talking with others who are having similar experiences. We may even explore how to include moderate exercise in their schedule to reduce symptoms of depression.
Another way we try to help patients cope is to offer monthly Mind/Body Stress Reduction classes. The jury is still out on the connection between stress and infertility. Recent studies indicate that there may be a stronger connection between depression and infertility than between anxiety and infertility. Our classes not only teach people simple ways to relax, but the small group class gives them the experience of being in a safe environment with others who are all experiencing infertility and know what it's like to be going through treatment. This group experience helps to reduce stress and may be helpful to ease mild depression. Class participants will practice yoga for fertility, learn mindfulness meditation and techniques for breathing that lowers oxygen consumption, reduces blood pressure and allows for stress to run backwards, calming the tense body, and quieting the anxious mind. Participants will also have time to talk with others who are experiencing many of the same feelings. One undisputable fact is that it makes good sense to reduce our stress to the lowest levels possible. At the very least, class participants will feel better!
www.pacificfertilitycenter.com/treatment-care/patient-support/infertility-stress-test to take the test online. The test is brief and generates a stress level score with comments.
It may also be helpful to consider the following suggestions:
- Give up any and all feelings of guilt for how you are feeling. There is no right or wrong way to experience infertility. Your feelings may run the gamut from indifference to intense anger and despair and everywhere in between.
- Chose the gatherings you attend carefully. If being around children or babies upsets you, gracefully decline invitations to events where they are likely to be present. Know your limits and stick with them.
- Communicate with your partner to let him/her know of your feelings. Even if you and your partner are feeling differently it may help to share. If you are single, call a friend with whom you feel safe to share your feelings.
- Meet and talk with others who are experiencing similar feelings. Finding that you are not alone helps.
- Continue to get moderate amounts of exercise. Eat healthily and get plenty of rest. You will feel better if you treat your body with care.
- Peggy Orlin, MFT