Infertility is one of the most stressful experiences one can go through in life. Yet many people find it difficult to seek out emotional support, whether it be from friends, family, a spouse, or a mental health professional. People who would never hesitate to seek medical help for a medical problem somehow feel that they should be able to handle emotional difficulties by themselves. Or they are in denial that there really is a problem, i.e., that they really may be infertile, or simply do not face it until the feelings build to a crisis point.
Infertility patients whom I have seen for counseling often admit fearing that they will be assessed as “crazy” or perhaps unfit for medical treatment if their true thoughts and feelings about their infertility are revealed. Admitting that they are infertile and struggling with it may mean giving up the safety of denial and stirring up a whole range of uncomfortable feelings. They may fear that the depression, anxiety, or anger that follows may be too much to tolerate. I believe that it is hard to seek out emotional support because people fear feeling emotionally out of control at a time when they are already experiencing an enormous loss of control around their body’s ability to perform a basic function. They are afraid that sharing their feelings and turning to others may leave them even more vulnerable and inadequate than they felt before. Not only is it difficult to seek out professional help, but for some it is even hard to ask for support from friends, family or even one’s spouse. This can lead to feelings of intense isolation at a time when you may already be feeling alienated from the whole “fertile world.”
It is important to recognize when infertility is taking its toll on you emotionally and when it can be beneficial to turn to others for support. Some signs that it may be time to seek out emotional support include:
finding yourself thinking about infertility all the time but being unable to decide on a course of action or treatment plan, i.e., “spinning your wheels”;
feeling sad or depressed much of the time, a loss of interest in activities that are usually pleasurable to you, loss of energy, and a sense of hopelessness about the future;
feeling a sense of isolation and alienation from others, and wishing you could connect with them and share your pain.
However, you need not wait until you are at the end of your rope and have depleted your emotional reserves before turning to help. Many people I have seen for counseling or in support groups say they only wish they’d done it sooner! This can be seen as a positive step towards emotional healing and stress management rather than as a sign of weakness.