What is the emotional impact of infertility?

Infertility is something that unfortunately impacts many lives, and those struggling with this issue seem to be on the increase. The latest ONS report found that 18% of women aged 40 were without children, while the NHS states that one in seven couples have difficulty conceiving.

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Many couples (and single people) choose not to have children and live happily with this decision, however for those who wish to be parents, the struggle to conceive is something that causes immense pain, and many feel this pain goes unrecognised. Below, I look at the emotional impact of fertility issues that those going through this may experience.


Loneliness and Isolation

Many people struggling with fertility experience immense loneliness and feelings of isolation. This could partly be due to the significant impact that procedures (such as IVF) have on one’s social life. A stricter, considerably healthier lifestyle is usually encouraged, which often puts a pause on the old ways of socialising with friends, which may have previously consisted of evenings in pubs and restaurants, or midday brunches.

When you do decide to spend time with others, some feel that this backfires; for example, friends with the best will in the world can cause untold pain by simply asking how the most recent round of IVF went, along with work colleagues excitedly asking, “Are you pregnant?!” when they notice you are opting for alcohol free drinks at the bar. In order to avoid this, it isn't uncommon for those going through fertility treatment to avoid social interactions all together, resulting in feelings of loneliness and a sense of being “cut off” from others and the life they once knew.


Keeping it all in

Quite often, those going through fertility treatments don’t want to feel as though they are dominating conversation with fertility talk, or they don't feel able to share the pain of what they are experiencing. It may be that no other friends or family members are experiencing this so there is a feeling that they may not be able to relate. This results in a retreat inward, holding all the thoughts, feelings and experiences in.

While there is nothing wrong with privacy, (and keeping ‘fertility talk’ restricted to certain spaces certainly has its benefits) it could be said that, if we do not allow ourselves the right to share our feelings then we bury the painful emotions like a seed, and instead of relieving the pain it in fact grows.


Existential crisis

Being a mother is something most women expect to naturally happen at some point in their lives. When there is a struggle to conceive, and the realisation dawns that maybe, being a mother isn’t in fact on the cards, many women feel they are suddenly left looking out towards the rest of their life thinking “What now?”. There may be a jarring realisation that your career doesn't quite fulfil you like you felt it once did. Many ask themselves “What is my purpose? What does my future look like without children?” It is not uncommon for deeper questions about the meaning of life to arise, which can feel incredibly daunting and overwhelming.


Anger

Even the most passive of people going through fertility treatments can feel immense anger regarding what they are going through. Anger may stem from feelings of injustice; you may know that you would be a loving parent and it just does not feel fair that you are not able to conceive. You may find yourself being triggered by friends and family announcing their pregnancy news which results in you shutting yourself off from others.

Anger may also be triggered by stories of unfit parents that sometimes seem to dominate the news; it can be rage-inducing to read about cases where children have been neglected and abused by their parents, and can leave you thinking “Why on earth can people like that have children, while I am struggling?”


Frustrations over the lack of acknowledgment from others 

During unsuccessful periods of fertility treatments, it is not uncommon to have those around you naively asking the ever-frustrating question; “Why don’t you adopt?”.  Most friends and family asking this are without a doubt well meaning, however many feel this question doesn’t take into account the enormity of what going through adoption entails and doesn’t fully acknowledge the pain of being unable to conceive your own biological child. While adoption is a viable option for many, it is certainly not a “quick fix” for those who can’t naturally conceive.


Feelings of failure

As I mentioned above, as women, many of us expect that pregnancy followed by babies will come naturally. Even as children, we exercise our motherly instincts by playing with baby dolls. Motherly instincts seem to be nurtured from a young age (and it could be said encouraged). When one experiences trouble conceiving, it isn't uncommon to feel as though you have somehow failed biologically or that your body has let you down. These feelings of failure can have a derogatory impact on your mental health and significantly dent your self-esteem, resulting in a lack of self-worth.  


What now?

Hopefully this article has shed some light on what those going through fertility issues may be experiencing. If you are going through fertility treatment yourself and feel like any of the above resonates with you, speaking to a professional who specialises in this area within a safe confidential space can help you with finding a way forward. Please feel free to get in touch with me if you would like to arrange a free, no obligation initial consultation.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, Barnet, N12
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Written by Victoria Jeffries, MBACP (Accred) MSc
London, Barnet, N12

Victoria Jeffries is a BACP accredited Psychotherapeutic Counsellor with a Master of Science in Therapeutic Counselling. Victoria now works full time in private practice and is able to work with clients throughout the country via zoom.

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