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Infertility and the mental trauma that it can cause is a difficult topic. It is often discussed in terms of grieving. And it can, of course, play into pre-existing or formative mental health disorders.
A woman experiencing the unexpected trauma of infertility needs validation. She needs understanding about what she’s feeling and how the pain of infertility trauma relates to other mental health conditions.
How the News of Infertility is Like Grief
Losing a loved one comes as a shock. In the same way, the revelation that a woman is not able to have children or was diagnosed with infertility issues can come unexpectedly. Also, it can have a profound impact on a woman’s life much in the same way as the death of someone close.
Infertility grief, however, is not readily recognized by many people as a type of grief. Yet it summons many of the same feelings that someone going through grief over the loss of a loved one experiences. Grief of any kind typically does not go away suddenly or spontaneously. It takes time, patience, understanding, and a willingness to go through the various stages. That’s difficult, and many people experiencing grief from the news of infertility may need help and support to manage their emotions.
How Traumatic Situations are a Real Mental Health Threat
Overcoming trauma is difficult, no matter when it happens or to whom. Trauma from infertility is no exception. Whether the traumatic experience is current or happened in the past, the mental (and often physical) scars remain. Without treatment, the consequences can be devastating.
Treatment may include counseling, participation in peer support groups and the support of a loving and understanding family and friends. The lingering effects of traumatic situations constitute a real threat to mental health. In fact, for at least some women struggling with infertility, addressing unresolved trauma may be a crucial step to eventual pregnancy success.
Anxiety, depression, PTSD and other diagnosable mental health disorders can result from going through traumatic situations. This includes the trauma of experiencing infertility, the loss of hope of having a family. Trauma also produces episodes of fear, powerlessness, hopelessness, as well as rage, isolation, shame, regret, and guilt. The longer a woman must deal with her infertility, the deeper she may sink into despair. She may incorrectly believe that nothing can be done, and life will never get better.
Childhood Trauma and the Struggle with Infertility
Research published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology found that adverse trauma experiences in childhood can lead to irregularities in the menstrual cycle. Consequently, this trauma can negatively affect fertility. Childhood neglect, abuse, parental substance abuse and growing up in a dysfunctional household are among the adverse childhood trauma experiences reported. Researchers theorized that these early life stressors “may predispose the individual to adaptively suppress fertility when situations are less than optimal,” and that this can “lead to periods of fertility difficulties even following previous births.”
Suicide is the ultimate tragedy. It can result from untreated trauma stemming from the pain of infertility and underlying mental health disorders such as depression.
In a 2018 study exploring the relationship between infertility and stress, researchers highlighted a “recent concerning study on suicidality in 106 women with infertility,” That study found that “9.4 percent of the women reported having suicidal thoughts or attempts.” Researchers reviewed the literature for the prevalence of psychological symptoms related to infertility. They concluded that the number of individuals with infertility reporting psychiatric symptoms ranged from 25 to 60 percent. Their depression and anxiety levels were higher than control groups of fertile women.
For women with infertility, suicide may be a final desperate attempt to end their pain.
Common Suggestions for Facing the Pain of Infertility
Each woman who faces the pain of infertility undergoes a wildly fluctuating ladder of emotions. The pain they feel encompasses emotional, physical, financial, marital and social aspects.
- Their marriage and sex life may suffer.
- Fertility treatments are costly and take a long time.
- Hormonal changes can create unexpected, uncomfortable and difficult physical and emotional changes.
- Trying to adjust to societal expectations and cope with an inability to conceive takes its toll.
Expecting the pain to miraculously go away is unrealistic. But there are effective ways to help cope with grieving infertility, surviving infertility, accepting infertility and overcoming infertility.
Tips for Dealing with Infertility
In dealing with infertility, instead of being pessimistic, feeling actions are futile and succumbing to overwhelming sadness, and grief, allow time to grieve. This is more than telling yourself that time heals all wounds. It’s opening the mind to the possibility of things changing for the better. Unless there’s space for this desire and hope to flourish, there’s little chance for it to enter the consciousness.
1. Practice Good Self-Care
Many women who find themselves infertile have underlying physical conditions that require attention. Others let their self-care suffer as they sink deeper into the emotional turmoil the pain of infertility causes. Now, more than ever, it’s important to prioritize personal health and well-being. No shortcuts. Eat healthily, exercise and be good to yourself. Take time to enjoy friends and activities, engage in meditation, yoga, mind-body techniques and make long-term plans with a spouse or loved one.
2. Find a Therapist Specializing in Infertility
Not every therapist is equipped to counsel a woman who’s experiencing infertility issues. Therapy at licensed and accredited drug and alcohol rehab centers can help. This is even more necessary if there is underlying depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, or a substance use disorder. However, to get at the core of addressing the pain of infertility, it’s best to find a therapist who specializes in infertility. This person can speak directly to the loss, pain and grief you’re going through.
3. Learn to Identify and Cope with Infertility Loss
Struggling with infertility and the loss associated with not being able to conceive a child can be overwhelming. So, it’s important to be able to identify and recognize the signs and symptoms of infertility loss as they occur. A therapist specializing in treating infertile women can be extremely helpful, especially in offering proactive ways to deal with the pain.
4. Forgive Yourself
Some women blame themselves for not being able to conceive. Others sense the disapproval of others and believe they are somehow less than a woman because they’re infertile. Engaging in unhealthy or addictive behaviors as a means of coping with this pain only worsens the problem. Drinking and drug use, for example, may bring about temporary relief, but it doesn’t last. Such behavior can escalate into a pattern and result in addiction. Forgive yourself and open your heart to healing.
5. Open Up and Share What You Feel
Talking with others about the turbulent emotions and myriad challenges involved in dealing with infertility may be the last thing a woman wants. Research shows, however, that opening up is an integral part of the healing process. Sharing feelings, speaking honestly about the pain, confusion, guilt, loss of control, anxiety, grief, relationship problems, anger and resentment is cathartic.
Support Groups for Those Struggling with Infertility
Consider joining a support group that consists of members going through the pain of infertility. Sharing experiences with others who’ve been unable to conceive and listening to their stories may help end some of the isolation and pain. It’s comforting to know that you are not alone. Talking with someone who’s felt the same type of grief over infertility, or who has contemplated infertility suicide can make a tremendous difference.
There are also infertility support groups for those women undergoing or considering in vitro fertility treatments after being unable to conceive a child. In vitro fertilization process is time-consuming and costly. It can result in an emotional rollercoaster that adds to the mix of painful emotions surrounding infertility. Again, hearing the experiences of other women who are going through the same thing can be profoundly cathartic. It may make the struggle with infertility and dealing with the pain of infertility less overwhelming and life-altering.
The pain of infertility doesn’t need to control any woman’s life. Look for supportive, understanding people who can help. Learn how to cope, accept, and overcome this trauma and go on to live a healthy, happy life. For anyone who doesn’t feel hope right now, reach out and ask for help, ideally in a women’s treatment program. Most of all, believe that you are worth it and deserve to be happy.