Coping with infertility
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Dr Helen Macallan Chartered Counselling Psychologist, MBACP
7th September, 2009
Medical statistics tell us that about 10% of couples trying for a baby have problems conceiving. What the statistics don’t report is the heartache behind these numbers. Struggling with infertility is a long, hard and lonely path. Being unable to conceive often leads to feelings of helplessness, frustration, loss of control, anxiety, low self esteem and guilt. Relationships frequently suffer and may even break down. There is also a profound sense of loss and sadness which is often secret and unrecognised by others. Added to this are the pressures of going through infertility treatment - the constant hospital visits, injections, the cycles of hope and despair, the financial strain, and a sense that your body has been invaded by the medical team.
It is no wonder that many men and women end up with emotional and psychological difficulties as a result of infertility problems and need some help and guidance coming to terms with all that has happened to them. A recurring theme, especially for women, is one of identity. As one author (Harriet Goldenberg) put it - “Who am I if I’m not a mother?” For most of us, becoming a mother and having a family is the next step in the journey of life and when this fails, many questions arise about who we are and where we are going. In my own research among women who were unable to have children, I found without exception that all the women I interviewed had grappled with the issues of identity and purpose. The women who seemed more able to come through this crisis were those who had sought help from others- either through therapy, support groups or pastoral care. Talking with others allowed these women to regain a sense of control and ownership of their lives.
Therapy then can be very helpful for individuals or couples struggling with infertility problems. This is true both for those going through treatment and the emotional roller coaster that entails, or for those who have exhausted treatment options and for whom the future can look very bleak. Having a safe space to express your feelings, to work through the grieving process and to regain a sense of identity is for many people very productive. As one participant in my research said: “We decided to have some counselling and we came away from that .. knowing that the door in front of us was open, if you like, that we could actually move on”.
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