Many people consider coping with infertility (involuntary childlessness) and its various treatments as similar to being on a roller coaster. The roller coaster effect refers to the huge ups and downs that couples and individuals go through in their attempts to achieve a pregnancy. Affected couples and individuals have to deal with the emotions of the infertility investigations and treatment. Furthermore, those that succeed will have to deal with the emotions of achieving a pregnancy and the anxieties that this generates, while those that do not succeed have to deal with the emotions of carrying on with their lives childless.
Infertility can cause a life crisis, possibly the first one that many people will have, and this can be of a very deep and difficult nature. It affects every aspect of their lives, including relationships between partners, with family members (particularly parents who are often seen as potential grandparents), and their apparently fertile friends. It not only affects the present as they go through long periods of treatment but also tarnishes the future with worry about how they will cope if their goal is not achieved. It can also colour the past with regret about missed opportunities.
There are different stages and stresses along the difficult road of coping with infertility. Although it is a difficult journey, most couples come through the process (whether they achieve their goal or not) having grown within themselves and their relationships. This helps to ensure a fulfilled life albeit on a different route than they had originally planned.
Getting to treatment
People who decide they want to have fertility treatment need to understand that this can be a lengthy process. Many people initially deny they have a problem thereby delaying getting help. Most people do not envisage fertility problems so when it occurs it can hit them very hard, especially the realisation that one or both of them may have a problem. Suddenly, something they always considered would be private becomes public. It can equally be difficult when no reason for the infertility is found, leaving the couple in a dilemma as to what they could be doing wrong.
Couples grapple with various unpleasant emotions in these situations, including denial, anger, guilt, blame, self-pity, jealousy, envy and feelings of worthlessness. Most couples will experience these feelings at one stage or another, and these are reasonably normal within the circumstances. Talking the problems over with sympathetic family members, friends or a trained counsellor can help people to cope better.
Once couples get to the stage of treatment, disillusionment can quickly and easily set in if their dream is not achieved quickly. This is frequently accompanied by feelings of isolation because they increasingly begin to feel different from other couples. Life during this stage of the proceedings may be put ‘on hold’ out of a natural anxiety about missing hospital appointments or treatment. Couples may often also have feelings of frustration, anger, resentment, anxiety, and moods that swing between great highs and lows depending on how well the treatment is progressing. This is not helped by the inevitable focus by the couple on the medical treatment. “Failed treatment is a failure of nature not of you”
Couples will have mixed emotions and stresses if the treatment is not successful. Some individuals will have feelings of relief that treatment is now concluded and they can get on with the rest of their lives. For some, there is a deep emptiness that they hopefully learn with the passage of time to accommodate but not forget (as with any other significant loss).
Other couples go on to consider other options like adoption and will hopefully be aware that this has many other emotions attached to it. Some couples will feel they have really grown together through the whole experience and will be happy to stop and enjoy the rest of their lives together. Some people can get joy and satisfaction from other people’s children, but some find this hard.
- Try to take things one step at a time
- Don’t leave it too late to get help
- Try to talk to someone who’s been through it
- Keep supporting and talking to each other, make time to talk
- Try not to put life on hold, find enjoyment in other things
- Find other relevant information and discuss them with your healthcare providers
- Keep asking questions at the clinic
- Use the services that are provided, especially counsellors and support groups
- Try to reach difficult decisions together
“You are valuable with or without children”
British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA)
69 Division Street
Sheffield S1 4GE
Tel. 01342 843880
CHILD (Support organisation)
43 St. Leonard’s Road
East Sussex TN40 1JA
Tel. 01424 732361
Donor Conception Network
PO Box 265
Sheffield S3 7YX
Tel. 020 82454369