If you want to have a baby, experiencing fertility problems or infertility can be a hugely emotional time. Getting the right support can help you navigate your situation and find a path forward. Here, we explore the support available and how counselling can help.
Fertility problems and childlessness
According to the NHS, about one in seven couples may experience difficulties when trying to conceive. However, the number of people dealing with fertility issues could be higher than this.
"That statistic doesn't include gay and lesbian couples or the individuals who pursue that route alone. Nor does it include the statistically invisible: the women and men who would love to have children but never find the right partner, or find them too late." - Read more in the article, Infertility and childlessness - moving on.
Fertility problems can trigger all sorts of feelings and affect people in many different ways. Some people can feel anxious about their future or perhaps experience anger, shame or guilt. Others may feel isolated, lonely and despairing.
Relationships with friends and family may come under considerable strain. If you are in a couple, you each may be dealing with the situation very differently - one person may want to talk about the situation, while the other may prefer not to speak about it.
How can counselling help?
Your partner, family and friends can, of course, be a wonderful source of comfort and, for some people, that’s enough. However, some people find it helpful to get extra support from a counsellor or people who have direct experience of their situation.
In this video, Madeline Lyons-Applebee, a member of the British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA), explains how counselling can support you.
Before starting fertility treatment
Counselling can be a very useful way to prepare for the mental impact of IVF treatment - to think through possibilities and plan practical strategies to make the cycle as manageable as possible, resulting in it being the best it can be. Many fertility clinics insist on at least one session prior to treatment commencing.
At this stage, therapy can allow you to validate how emotional the process may be or help you to consider, for instance, that it’s fine to ask for a boss's understanding at this time. It may also involve looking at best and worst-case scenarios. Most clients benefit hugely from having a backup plan in place if things don’t go well - this can take the pressure off immensely, even if it’s a very loose plan or a plan you never have to use.
During fertility treatment
Fertility treatment can be an emotional rollercoaster, so getting support from people who can relate to what you’re going through and/or a professional is very important.
Counselling sessions during fertility treatment can help to address any worries you're feeling. With your therapist, you can identify practical strategies for reducing stress as much as possible. This can help to take some pressure off you, enabling you to feel an element of control during a time when you may feel very out of control.
Dealing with relationship issues
Fertility problems can have a stressful impact on relationships. It can be isolating and impact how a couple communicates with each other and with the people around them. There can be a profound sense of loss and grief which can impact on closeness.
Infertility can carry with it a sense of denial, sadness and shock. There can also be feelings of fear, guilt and abandonment from the partner who feels the problem lies with them. All of this can put stress on your relationship.
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.
- Sandra Hewett, FdA MBACP (Accredited) AMBICA
Many clinics offering infertility treatments also encourage couples to undertake professional counselling before embarking upon investigations and treatment. This can open up channels of communication and keep a couple in contact with each other as they undergo what can be a challenging course of action.
Meeting and talking to others who can relate to what you’re going through is a type of support your loved ones might not be able to offer. There is a range of voluntary groups that offer support and advice, and some fertility clinics also have specialist support groups for patients.
Fertility Network UK and FertilityFriends both have online forums to help you connect with others who understand what you're going through.
If treatment doesn't work
Finding out that treatment hasn’t worked can be heartbreaking. Even if you tried not to get your hopes up, it’s understandable to be disappointed when things don’t work out. If you’re in this situation, allow yourself time to come to terms with it and give your body a chance to recover.
When you’re ready, speak to your doctor about whether you should try again and what the chances of conceiving might be if you do. They might suggest a different course of treatment or discuss other options for maximising your chances of conceiving.
If you’re unable to have more treatment, or you’re not sure if you want to go through treatment again, you may find it helpful to talk to a counsellor. Talking to an impartial professional might help you to process your feelings and come to a decision about how to move forward.
Deciding whether to try again
It can be so difficult to know whether or not to carry on with treatment. Every individual and couple is different so, whilst some people want to keep trying, others prefer to move on.
Ask your doctor for an honest opinion on whether treatment may work for you. If there’s a very small chance of it working, this may be a factor in your decision to stop. You should also consider the emotional burden treatment puts on you and your loved ones and, if you do decide to keep going, make sure you have plenty of support available.
You may want to think of alternative ways to create your family - through the donation of sperm, eggs or embryos. Surrogacy or adoption may also be suggested.
Talking about infertility
If you have concerns about your fertility, try to talk to someone you trust - your partner, a close friend or family member, or a mental health professional. Having issues when trying to conceive can have a huge impact on your mental health, and infertility treatments can also take their toll on your well-being. It can be an emotional time and you deserve to be listened to and supported.
How to support someone going through IVF
If someone you know tells you that they’re undergoing fertility treatment, it can be hard to know what to say or do. To help you, here’s some advice to best support a friend going through IVF.
What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?
There are no official rules or regulations stipulating what level of training a counsellor dealing with infertility needs. There are however several accredited courses, qualifications and workshops available to counsellors to improve their knowledge of a particular area. With this in mind, you may wish to check to see if a professional has had further training in this area - this could include couples counselling.
Another way to assure they have undergone this type of specialist training is to check if they belong to a relevant professional organisation representing counsellors dealing with infertility.
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