Coping with Anxiety and Infertility

Alexis Dent
September 27, 2020

Family planning is typically (and often ideally) a subject that’s discussed early on in a relationship. The hope is that by the time it comes to making a decision about the size of your family, you and your partner will be on the same page. But what if things don’t go according to plan? Whether you and your partner plan to have one child or many, struggling to conceive and/or being met with news of infertility can cause a plethora of emotions. From frustration to anxiety, you and your partner may experience it all as you contend with infertility.

Anxiety and Infertility

Preparing for parenthood is tough enough. There is so much that is unknown, causing anxiety and uncertainty. How do we plan to raise our children? Do we plan to raise them according to a certain religion? Where will they go to school? How will we discipline? How many children can we comfortably afford? At which age will we start trying? How far apart do we want to space out our children if we have multiple? The list goes on. However, the question most couples don’t think to ask themselves is: “How would we handle infertility?”

After all, no one thinks they are going to have to deal with infertility – especially if they don’t have a family or medical history that would indicate problems conceiving. Nevertheless, infertility is a reality for many couples. All of a sudden, a couple is faced with a new set of questions. Which one of us is infertile? Is the source of infertility reparable or permanent? What if both of us are infertile? Are we open to other methods of building our family? Even if we are open to other methods, can we afford those methods? How does this affect our timeline? Are we going to share our struggles with friends and family? What now? All of these questions are incredibly important — but they’re also incredibly overwhelming and anxiety-inducing.

If these worries resonate with you, there’s no need to feel guilty. As you begin to address infertility, you may feel as if your anxiety is compounded by the numerous doctor’s appointments and diagnostic tests required in order to address (and hopefully) treat your infertility. Yes, all of that on top of your existing worries. It’s scary. Both individually and as a couple, you may also worry about the financial expense of these treatments, as well as about the potential expenses to be incurred down the line. These are all valid concerns indeed, but here’s the thing: this anxiety is getting in the way of conceiving a child.

Anxiety Inhibits Fertility

If you are feeling anxious about your struggles to conceive, you may unknowingly and unwillingly be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anxiety take a toll on the body in ways that interfere with getting pregnant. The negative effects of anxiety on fertility are the result of the “fight or flight” effect, during which “any system that isn’t necessary for survival shuts down, including your reproductive system.” This is precisely why, for example, a woman may have a late period solely as a result of stress. If you’re worried about conceiving, that worry alone could be exacerbating the problem because your reproductive system may not be operating as it should.

Therefore, it is critical to decrease stress and anxiety when trying to conceive. Remember: anxiety alone could be causing continued infertility.

However, this is often easier said than done — especially when the root of infertility isn’t as “simple” as addressing anxiety. In some cases, finding out that one or both partners may be infertile is a devastating blow. Luckily, counseling can ease this process and contribute to better fertility outcomes thanks to the benefits of stress management and healthy decision-making as a couple.

How Does Counseling Play a Role in Infertility Treatment?

Infertility can feel isolating, and that’s why we’re here to remind you that you and your partner can absolutely make it through the journey and come out the other side as a happier and more whole couple. Whether your infertility problems are the result of massive anxiety or a more deeply rooted medical problem, receiving counseling will ensure that you and your partner are coping with the flurry of emotions in healthy and sustainable ways.

Better yet, it’s possible to receive counseling right from the comfort of your home. Gone are the days where you had to meet with a therapist in person; you can now do so whenever and wherever thanks to online therapy solutions. Online therapy offers so many benefits. Not only can you receive treatment in your “safe space” — wherever that may be — but you can also pick and choose until you find a therapist who you feel understands what you and your partner need out of counseling sessions.

Additionally, counseling throughout infertility is beneficial if you end up considering the possibility of building your family in ways beyond traditional conception. While one partner may be open to a process like IVF, another partner may be hesitant to incur the hefty costs of a procedure that may still fail. Likewise, one partner may be interested in surrogacy, egg and/or sperm donors, or adoption — while the other partner may be completely opposed to any method of building a family that is not “natural.”

Your counselor will help you and your partner navigate these tough conversations, and no matter the outcome, you’ll know that you made these pivotal decisions together.

Infertility Can Make Your Relationship Stronger

While no one wants to experience infertility, it can indeed make the bond between you and your partner stronger than either of you imagined possible. Whether you are married or unmarried, the pain associated with infertility cannot be understated. However, it can absolutely be overcome.

Throughout the course of any relationship, there will be peaks and valleys. Even when infertility feels like the most unrelenting and undeserved battle, there is always a peak if you keep pushing forward. Navigating these peaks and valleys with your partner by your side will strengthen your relationship and ensure that, no matter how you choose to build your family, you will be building your family on solid ground.

Alexis Dent

Alexis Dent is an essayist, author, and entrepreneur. Her work is primarily focused on mental illness, relationships, and pop culture. You can find her writing in Washington Post, Greatist, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, and more.

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