How can fertility counselling help you?
Discovering that you are unable to conceive a child without medical intervention is a very distressing life event. Fraught with uncertainty and for many, a very difficult medical process, it is known to be an emotional rollercoaster. Anxiety is common, particularly in women, but other emotions include guilt, shame, jealousy and resentment, sometimes acknowledged, sometimes not.
This is a time of loss and grief, but the urge can be to put feelings to one side for fear of letting anxiety ‘jinx’ the chances of pregnancy - the idea of ‘keeping positive’ has taken hold. And if there are two or more cycles of IVF to be faced, people often feel guilty if they do not feel positive, ready for the next.
Research  shows that most people handle the stresses and anxiety of fertility treatment without counselling. Partners might support each other, single people may have someone to talk to. However, this isn’t always enough, and some struggle without the professional counselling that could help them cope better through the process – and beyond, without children, if that is the outcome.
Infertility has many different causes/situations, including being single, gay couples, transgender, vasectomy, cancer and infrequent (or no) sex between a couple. The journey has potentially many stages and decisions: The first step of going to a GP, investigations, diagnosis (or none), deciding on treatment, NHS funding (now not always certain), private finances, cycles of treatment, pregnancy tests and the eventual outcome; and then sometimes the cruelty of miscarriage.
Relationships can become strained, family members and friends try, not always successfully, to be helpful and decisions need to be taken about what to tell employers and colleagues. The end of treatment (voluntary or otherwise) can be both traumatic and yet a relief. Even pregnancy and children can be more worrying than with natural conception. Some families are created by donor conception, which involves emotional issues such as genetic connection, ‘known at 18’ donors and telling the child.
In short, it is likely to be one of the most complex aspects of your life. Counselling can address a whole range of worries and fears, which, if resolved, will help you continue with your life with more acceptance and fulfilment.
So how does counselling help you?
At its basic level, counselling is an opportunity to express and explore your fears and feelings. For a couple, it is a chance to talk openly together, which can help you continue talking together at home. For single people, it may be the only outlet you have to explore the loss of a relationship and express your fears of the challenge ahead.
Counselling can help you consider your choices, which arise throughout the treatment and to make more thoughtful decisions.
Although fertility counselling is not relationship counselling inevitably some couples will want to talk about issues that arise, such as a lack of communication between them or how their relationship has changed. Men and women typically cope differently with the stresses of IVF and loss and this can cause rifts. Other relationships with family and friends can also become difficult.
Fertility counselling also offers clients the chance to explore the meaning of children and family and look for purpose in a child-free life, if that is the outcome. It invites you to be hopeful and supports you in times of anxiety and distress.
All fertility clinics in the UK will have a qualified and trained counsellor who is a member of the British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA). Counselling is funded in NHS clinics (the amount varies between Trusts) and is chargeable in private clinics.
 Pengelly, Inglis and Cudmore 1996
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About Sandra Hewett
Sandra Hewett FdA, MBACP (accred), MBICA
Sandra is a fertility counsellor working for two NHS ACUs in Surrey. She also sees private clients both face to face and by online counselling.