Stress & Infertility

Stress & infertility at a glance

  • Infertility is a medical condition that has many emotional aspects: a sense of inadequacy, guilt, sadness, anger, sleeplessness, and anxiety; this can affect relationships, self-esteem, and perspectives on life.
  • Choosing from the many options of infertility treatment, as well as going through the treatments, can be another source of stress.
  • An experienced counselor may help when considering infertility treatment.
  • There are many effective strategies to reduce stress while dealing with infertility.

About stress & infertility

Infertility is a medical condition that has many emotional aspects: a sense of inadequacy, guilt, sadness, anger, sleeplessness, anxiety. It may affect relationships with others, perspectives on life, self-esteem, and self-image. The relationship between the partners in an infertile couple may be stretched and tested beyond anything either had ever anticipated. Both women and men may find it difficult sharing feelings with family and friends, which can lead to isolation. But there is hope. First, these feelings are normal responses to infertility; second, many couples experience them; third, there are tested ways of dealing with these emotions.

One point of stress is that there are many options in treating fertility. Coming to a joint decision with your partner about goals and acceptable therapies is important. Thinking and being positive also helps relieve stress. Setting endpoints for any specific therapy may also be advisable, so you know when to move to the next level. Around 85 percent of couples can conceive with careful planning, management and persistence.

Reproductive technologies are very stressful

The choice to seek a clinic for reproductive medicine will add a series of actions that can be quite stressful: medications on precise schedules, temperature taking, masturbation and collection of semen on cue, constant inspection by doctors and nurses, insertion of needles and tubes, unending talk about fertilization of eggs, and, too often, failure at the end of a month of treatment and the need to to begin again. And the cost is often not covered by insurance. Despite the fact that most, if not all, clinics are quite supportive of their patients, stress is just part of the process. Stress must be acknowledged and dealt with.

Though a little bit of stress is normal, couples in fertility therapy need to recognize their limits – they must set threshold, a tolerance for stress. So as the stress increases, they do better, but only up to a point. As their stress level continues to increase, their health may begin to suffer.

Infertile women report higher levels of stress and anxiety than fertile women, and infertile women are more likely to become depressed. This is not surprising since the far-reaching effects of infertility can interfere with work, family, finances and sex.

Finding ways to reduce stress, tension and anxiety can make a couple feel better and work together successfully during fertility therapy.

When to seek counseling

An experienced counselor may help when considering infertility treatment. Signs that you might benefit from counseling include:

  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Persistent feelings of sadness, guilt, or worthlessness
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Loss of interest in usual activities and relationships
  • Increased mood swings
  • Constant preoccupation with infertility
  • Marital discord
  • Difficulty concentrating and remembering
  • A change in appetite, weight, or sleep patterns
  • Persistent back or neck pain
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Social isolation
  • Thoughts about suicide or death
  • Difficulty with scheduled intercourse

What are the most effective strategies to decrease stress?

Each person and each couple must approach this on an individual basis. There are several techniques that can be useful. The choice of options may depend on previous experience, or simply what seems to fit an individual couple’s need. Suggestions include:

  • Group or individual counseling
  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Massage
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Meditation
  • Writing in a journal
  • Social and family support
  • Acupuncture

An excellent book is available online by Atlanta Counsellor Carol Jones.