Fertility Treatments: How to Survive the Emotional Roller Coaster and Emerge Stronger
Fertility problems are one of the most explosive challenges in relationships. Recent studies have found that couples undergoing fertility treatment are three times more likely to separate or divorce. The feelings of personal failure, loss of control, and being betrayed by one’s body, alongside the frustrating cycle of hope and disappointment, rattle the emotional ecosystem of both partners and lead to conflict. Even for women who are trying to conceive without a partner, the repeated attempts to become pregnant undermine self-confidence and the sense of femininity, creating anxieties and great tension.
The fertility treatments themselves are painful and unpleasant, disrupting both daily routine and the ability to be spontaneous; and the intense schedule they dictate pushes off other plans. They make sex technical, goal-oriented, and filled with tension. When the treatments last a long time, it is rare that they do not negatively affect the emotional state.
Moreover, women and couples undergoing fertility treatments are forced to deal with peer pressure and intrusive questions from those around them. Questions such as, “Where’s the baby bump?”, “What are you waiting for?”, and other such comments, underscore feelings of isolation and intensify the sense of helplessness.
N. and B., 40 and 39: “We’ve stopped going to social gatherings because we can’t bear to hear people talking about their children or see couples flaunting their pregnancy in our faces.”
L., 42: “I feel like I no longer know myself or my body. The mood swings drive me crazy; I’ve gained weight; I’m swollen and sore; and I don’t even know if it will pay off and I’ll get pregnant, or if all this suffering will be for nothing.”
B., 38, not in a relationship: “I’m constantly anxious and second-guessing myself. Will I be a good single mom? Will I be able to raise a child alone? Will I have enough money? Will I be strong enough psychologically? Who will help me? And there’s always the question – should I undergo the treatments now, or wait and keep looking for a life partner? Or a co-parenting partner? It’s incredibly difficult to go through the suffering of the treatments when I’m not sure of myself and constantly wondering if I’m doing the right thing.”
“We Don’t Need Couples Therapy, We Need to Get Pregnant”
Psychotherapy during fertility treatments can be conducted individually, as a couple, or a combination of the two. Many couples initially avoid it because of the perception that “we don’t need couples therapy, we need to get pregnant”; but these are not mutually exclusive. Fertility treatments put people in a frightening and unfamiliar space, facing great uncertainty; it’s a short road from here to a destabilized relationship.
Therapy for people experiencing fertility problems provides support and emotional guidance. In our conversations, we will create a safe and permissive space for processing the emotions that accompany fertility problems – emotions that the immediate environment may find difficult to understand and empathize with.
As part of the therapy, we will improve the ability to cope with the effects of the treatments, work on strengthening self-esteem, and stabilize the foundations of the couple’s relationship.
We will learn techniques for relaxation, self-soothing, and coping with pain, and work on improving communication with the people in our surroundings and building support systems.
Many couples and individuals have actually improved their lives and relationships in spite of the chaos that fertility problems bring. Don’t try to handle this alone.
B., 38: “Therapy is where I can express my most difficult feelings. This is where I don’t have to be strong or think about others who might have a hard time carrying my sadness. It’s liberating. Therapy has helped me feel less alone among all the deliberation, anxiety, and disappointment. It has helped me make decisions that align with my desires and strengths, and strengthened my faith that I can get through this.”
L., 42: “In therapy I learned that it’s natural for me to experience mood swings, and that it’s OK to feel great sadness for every treatment that doesn’t work – each time is actually another loss. I realized I’m not crazy, that these feelings are normal. I was given the tools to deal with the letdowns and failures, and learned how to stop expecting the worst and start to see the situation more optimistically. This is how I managed to feel a bit more hope. The length of time I felt sad and depressed after an unsuccessful treatment got shorter, and the intensity of the emotions diminished as well.”
A. and N. (34 and 38): “In therapy we learned to better manage our family and social connections during this difficult period. We talked to our parents and explained which reactions aren’t good for us right now, which questions we’re not comfortable answering. We told them what could help us and what we needed from them.
We decided which friends we should stay in touch with, and which we should keep at a distance – we need to preserve our energy and spend time with people who are good for us right now.”