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Understanding and Coping with Infertility
The anticipation of one day becoming a parent often goes unexamined until the unexpected happens. Culture, family and personal desire all contribute to the expected picture that adulthood will somehow naturally include parenthood. The discovery that one is not able to have a child at will can be experienced as a trauma, one that seems to touch many aspects of an individual’s life. Infertility, generally defined as the inability to conceive a child after at least 1 year of unprotected, regular, sexual intercourse affects more than one in ten couples.

Ellen Piel Cook describes the experience of infertility as a, “biopsychosocial crisis” She is referring to the multiple domains that are often affected, including the sense of oneself, challenges to the couple relationship, potential tension with family and friends, and impingements on career and finances.

Sense of oneself:
Anger, grief, anxiety and depression are common reactions to the experience of infertility. Feelings of competence and success may be challenged when the body does not respond as expected The invasiveness of the medical interventions coupled with the effects of hormones can further intensify painful feelings. The rollercoaster nature of infertility treatments can leave one depleted and resentful.

Coping Strategies:
– Develop and implement stress reduction strategies; including exercise, eating well, recreational activities and relaxation activities such as meditation and/or yoga

– Gain an increased sense of control through information and knowledge. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, select a doctor who is willing to provide you with the information you seek

– Join an informational and support group such as RESOLVE (a national, non-profit organization with local chapters dedicated to the support of individuals dealing with infertility challenges)

– Recognize when you may need a break from treatment

– Become aware of thoughts and feelings as they come up and explore options for talking with trusted friends/family or seek professional counseling


Challenges to the couple:
The stress of infertility and its treatment can have a profound impact on the couple. If not addressed and worked through, partners may feel guilty or blaming regarding the causes of infertility. Couples often have differences in the way they cope with the infertility. Unspoken expectations can lead to misunderstandings and to an increased sense of alienation. Sex that is prescribed and monitored often has a debilitating effect on intimacy and desire. Differing attitudes regarding the extent and length of treatments may also be an area of conflict.

Coping Strategies:
– In your relationship, focus on communication. Recognize that you each of you may have different styles of coping with infertility challenges. Acknowledge reactions to the infertility treatments including; time commitments, financial impact, and the effects on intimacy and sexuality.

– Attempt to spend time together doing and discussing things unrelated to infertility.

– Discuss your bottom line with regard to treatment…. What are the parameters for continuing? What are the possibilities for considering other options?

Consider exploring alternatives, such as the use of a surrogate, donor assisted reproduction, adoption or choosing to live childfree.

– Consider counseling; individually, as a couple or as a member of group. Counseling can help you identify and work through the emotional, psychological and physical challenges associated with infertility and its treatment.

Family, friends and community:
Individuals and couples may find it difficult to share their experience with others. Consequently, family and friends may engage in behavior that is experienced as insensitive or hurtful. Invitations to baby showers, and first birthday parties can take on new meanings when a couple is dealing with the demands of infertility treatments. Difficulty handling conflicted feelings may cause a couple to withdraw from their typical social interactions.

Coping Strategies:
– Decide how, what and with whom to discuss your situation

– Decide what social situations are acceptable and which may be too painful

– Be prepared to let close family and friends know when you are having difficulty attending functions

– Utilize the support of RESOLVE through networking with other couples who may be experiencing similar difficulties. Group support can be invaluable. A discussion with other couples dealing with similar issues provides an opportunity for support, exchange of information and social interaction.

– Be patient with yourself and your partner, your reactions are intense right now but will probably lessen with time

Career and Financial Impact:
Infertility treatment is a commitment both financially and in the large investment of time and energy. Involvement and possible preoccupation with treatment protocols; including ovulation cycles, hormone injections, timed sexual intercourse or retrieval schedules certainly impacts one’s typical involvement and investment in the work routine. Additionally, most infertility treatments are non reimbursable through health insurance and compound with each added round of treatments.

Coping Strategies:
– Be clear what will be required of you. Discuss with your treatment team the time and financial requirements

– Discuss with your partner how this will impact your financial and work worlds. Explore options; understand the parameters of what is workable for you as a couple

– Again, consider how, what and with whom to discuss your situation