Infertility is one of the most difficult challenges that a couple can face. It takes a toll on the happiness and well-being of both members in the relationship. Processing the notion of the possibility of not being able to have children is a form of grieving a loss. However, unlike the protocol that is often recommended to help an individual process grief, psychotherapy is not often enough incorporated into the treatment plan for infertility.
The primary treatment for infertility in western cultures is to take a medical approach to assist the body in becoming pregnant. This can include treatments ranging from medication that is designed to increase ovulation (i.e. Clomid, etc.) to more invasive procedures which have an intense impact on the female body (i.e. IVF). Although many women are willing to put their bodies through these procedures at the hope of becoming pregnant, they often do not realize the emotional ramification that such procedures can bring forth. According to a study referenced in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, “women with infertility felt as anxious or depressed as those diagnosed with cancer, hypertension, or recovering from a heart attack”. Given this information, it appears that the need for psychological treatment should be one of the treatment considerations that medical professionals should highlight during infertility treatment consultations.
Most medical doctors specializing in infertility will often refer their patients to therapy once the patients begin to verbalize their feelings of depression or anxiety. However, I would hypothesize that there is a significant number of women who are feeling these same emotions but are unable to verbalize them and are, sadly, slipping through the cracks. Given the physical, hormonal, and financial stress that infertility treatment creates for many women and couples, it is only natural that emotional dysfunction and mood disorders will accompany soon thereafter.
It is my belief that infertility treatment should always be accompanied by psychological therapy. Processing the feelings associated with this high stress time in a couples life is a necessary component of infertility treatment and can serve to bring the couple closer through this difficult time. In addition, practicing techniques that can be introduced through therapy (such as mindfulness) can help ease the anxiety and stress of trying to get pregnant and may actually increase the chances of a successful pregnancy. Our brains are very powerful tools and learning to take control of our thoughts and emotions by attending therapy can make the process of infertility treatment one that is associated with growth as opposed to negativity. Please feel free to email or call me if you or someone you know would benefit from therapy during this difficult time.