Emotional Issues of Infertility
Infertility and its impact can have a very significant impact the man and the woman involved and the psychological and emotional impact of infertility can be as strong and as important as the physical components.
The International Council on Infertility Information Dissemination (INCIID) considers a couple to be infertile if they have not conceived after 6 months of unprotected intercourse, or after 12 months if the woman is over 35 years of age, or if there is incapability to carry a pregnancy to term.
Infertility is a widespread and growing problem. Just looking at the United States, there are more than six million couples, or approximately 10% of the reproductive age population, with infertility issues. About 35% to 45% of these 6 million couples suffer from male factor infertility, 35% to 45% from female infertility factors, and the remainder with combined or unexplained factors.
The physical and psychological impact of infertility can be crushing to the infertile person and to their partner. Infertility frequently results in anger, depression, anxiety, and feelings of worthlessness. Psychological counseling, surrogacy and adoption are some of the options open to those for whom infertility cannot be overcome.
Men and Women are Affected by Infertility in Different Ways
If you are experiencing infertility, you may feel sad or depressed, feel worthless, guilty, angry, frustrated, anxious, and/or numb. However, men and women often experience the emotional aspects of infertility in different ways that are rooted in the roles that men and women have accepted for themselves.
Women are typically seen as the emotional caretakers and providers of the relationship. Women, more so than men, feel responsible not only for everyone's bad feelings, but also for anything bad that happens. As a result, it is common for the woman to assume responsibility for the emotional impact of the infertility and for her to experience strong feelings of pain, anger, fear, shame, or depression. The woman may show quick shifts in her emotions, looking for an emotional connection at one moment and in the next withdrawing emotionally from her partner.
Since it is the woman who gets pregnant and gives birth, she has historically been the first to get attention and help. Much of the treatment, literature, and support is even directed towards the female partner. But this picture has been changing and the man has now been getting some needed attention.
On the male side of the picture, men are traditionally seen as the financial providers of the relationship, think of themselves as responsible for protecting the family, and typically feel more threatened expressing themselves. The man is often overwhelmed by the intensity of his partner's emotions and often lacks the skill of being able to express himself emotionally. Accordingly, he often feels helpless to make the situation better for his partner and, as a result, may give off messages that his partner is too emotional or too sensitive, hoping that this will reduce the intensity of her emotions. However, often the woman hears this as criticism of her coping ability rather than as an expression of his fears.
Working Through the Emotions of Infertility
Infertility is often ranked as one of the most distressing life crises. The long term inability to conceive a child can evoke significant feelings of loss and depression, feelings of being alone and feelings of anger, guilt and blame. The blame may be directed at the person's body for being “inadequate”, or they may blame their partner, their doctor or may feel they are being punished for something they did in their life.
Since, in most cases, infertility and sexual intimacy and sexual behavior are linked, intimacy often becomes one of the first areas complicated by infertility. What was once spontaneous and pleasurable becomes a "problem to be solved". Once infertility enters a relationship, it is all too easy to stay focused on the baby goal and forget about other aspects of intimacy. While it may not be possible for you to eliminate this problem with intimacy, you can reduce intimacy problems by remembering to focus on each other's pleasure in ways that have nothing to do with sex, things like a small gift, hugs, affection, all the little things you did when you were first courting each other.
One of the difficult components of infertility is dealing with the uncertainty about outcomes and the challenge of having to decide when to move on to a different treatment or when to stop infertility treatment and look into adoption or other options.
If you and your partner are experiencing infertility, you may have a variety of emotional issues that are common under the circumstances. However, if you experience depression, strained interpersonal relationships, and negative thoughts and feelings over prolonged period of time, you may benefit from working with a mental health professional.
Mental health professionals with experience in infertility treatment can help. Make sure you choose a psychologist or other mental health professional who is familiar with the emotional experience of infertility. The therapist's goal is to help individuals and couples learn how to cope with the physical and emotional changes associated with infertility. By teaching patients problem- solving strategies in a supportive environment, mental health professionals help people work through their grief, fear, and other emotions so that they can find resolution of their infertility.
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Infertility often has profound psychological effects. The man and/or woman may become more anxious to conceive, ironically increasing sexual dysfunction. Marital discord often develops in infertile couples, especially when they are under pressure to make medical decisions. Women trying to conceive often have clinical depression rates similar to women who have heart disease or cancer. In many cultures and subcultures the inability to conceive bears a stigma. In closed social groups, a degree of rejection (or a sense of being rejected by the couple) may cause considerable anxiety and disappointment.
A therapist, experienced in infertility and infertility options, can often be an invaluable resource to help the infertile person or couple.
For more about infertility and adoption and/or for more specific information on receiving psychological help and treatment, visit the websites and resources listed below and please feel free to contact me, I have been helping people with infertility issues and adoption for over 35 years.
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