By the time that most couples arrive at the altar, they usually have a pretty good idea of how they envision their future. They have discussed individual wishes and dreams along with their hopes and desires as a couple. They have explored career and financial goals, talked about geographical locations that they would like to live in and visit, and have usually come to some type of agreement regarding the possibility of parenthood. These future objectives become the structural foundation for marriage and are what the couple builds upon after saying “I Do.” As we all know, despite the best laid plans, life rarely turns out the way we plan. When one of the structural posts of our foundation comes into question, it can threaten the entire structure. If a couple sees children in their future, but come face to face with infertility, it can lead to anxiety, hopelessness, and confusion.
Infertility occurs when a couple has difficultly conceiving a child or maintaining a healthy pregnancy and can have far reaching psychological and emotional impacts. Fertility and pregnancy can be anxiety provoking in itself due to fear of the unknown, anticipated changes in the body, the birth and labor process, and fears about being a good and effective parent. When these fears are compounded with infertility, it becomes a ripe breeding ground for anxiety and panic.
Individuals may experience anxiety about diagnostic tests, fearing that they may be painful, embarrassing, or ineffective. People may worry about the results from these diagnostic tests, whether they are inconclusive or result in diagnosis. Although it sounds counterproductive, couples may worry about finding the cause of their infertility, as it makes the problem real and defined. Other couples worry that they may never find the cause of their infertility, being placed in a state of limbo during their fleeting reproductive years.
Couples may express concerns about the financial cost of medical interventions and worry about how they will be able to afford them. Women may fret over medical procedures that might be invasive, frequent, or intensive, especially when there are no guarantees that they will be effective. Women often experience significant amounts of anxiety about not being able to become pregnant, or becoming pregnant, but not being able to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Couples may worry about the possibility of miscarriage or about conceiving an unhealthy baby. Arguably the worst fear pertains to the fear of not being able to become a parent or being able to have a child all together.
Anxiety usually results when one feels out of control. When we cannot control things, we tend to worry about them. Infertility is the definition of a lack of control in that women often feel that they have lost complete control over their bodies and their reproductive prowess. Most reproductive interventions involve the use of hormones and manipulating the body’s natural cycles, causing some women to worry about the medical and emotional impact that procedures will have on them, on their partners, and on their marriages.
It is often beneficial for couples to seek professional and peer support if they are struggling with infertility. The ability to ask questions, to become informed, and to learn about reproductive technology and procedures can help couples to feel more in control. Thinking positively, being kind to yourself, and staying in the present can help couples from assuming worse case scenarios. Professional assistance and coping strategies can help a couple to significantly reduce anxiety that stems from infertility.
While standing at the altar, no couple ever envisions a bout of infertility when they consider their future together. Although infertility can threaten a couple’s idyllic vision of their future, it does not necessarily have to destroy it. Instead, conquering infertility and managing the anxiety that comes along with it can actually serve to make the foundation of a marriage even stronger.
Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.