According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, roughly 15% of couples in America will experience infertility at one point or another. Despite the fact that nearly 1 out of every 7 women faces this challenge, it is often overlooked and ignored by the media. At Tulip
, we have seen the devastating psychological impact this can have on otherwise physically and psychologically healthy parents-to-be.
The good news is that most women who cannot initially conceive will eventually have a successful pregnancy. Because poor mental health and stress can lower odds of conception, the challenge of infertility is especially troubling. However, even in cases of permanent infertility, many hopeful parents can find solutions by thinking outside of the box. Couples who have gone through the grieving process and come to terms with their situation can still have a successful pregnancy through sperm donors, egg donors, and surrogates.
Many people who have children later in life use assistance of some kind, but don’t share that due to shame or stigma. We think it is incredibly important to talk about these options and reduce stigma...
If you or your partner have been diagnosed with infertility, a successful pregnancy is still possible. Third-party fertility still isn’t often talked about in the media, but it is more common than most people know. Many people who have children later in life use assistance of some kind, but don’t share that due to shame or stigma. We think it is incredibly important to talk about these options and reduce stigma so that hopeful parents know there is nothing wrong with pursuing this path. Though an initial diagnosis of infertility may come as a shock, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The Psychological Impact of Infertility
Every person is different, and so is their reaction to learning they are infertile. Some people can accept their new normal and move on quickly, while others find hope in the options available to them and view the process in a positive light. However, many expectant parents are negatively affected, or even traumatized, by their infertility experience.
Feelings of grief, failure, shame, insecurity, and anger are common. These emotions are very normal when faced with life-altering news, and fertility struggles are no different. The important thing to remember is that it is possible to work through these feelings and eventually arrive at a healthier mental place.
The 5 Stages of Coming to Terms With Infertility
Grief is the most common feeling for couples to experience after learning they are infertile. Grief is not linear – there are many feelings that normally arise during this journey and may be brought on by different developments or obstacles along the way. However, we often see hopeful parents work through the five stages of grief on their fertility journey and come out to the other end with newfound hope.
Denial is the reason many people keep trying and will do ‘just one more’ IVF cycle (for the 5th or 16th time) with their own gametes in the hope they might be the rare exception and beat the odds. It can be helpful for parents to give IVF the best shot they can but repeated “failed” IVF cycles can be heartbreaking if the denial is not addressed.
After years of trying not to get pregnant in their twenties, clients are especially frustrated when a pregnancy eludes them a few years later. They may become angry when a fertility procedure fails, and eventually become discouraged enough that they drop out of treatment altogether.
We often see intended parents get their hearts set on finding ‘the one.’ “I’ll know her as soon as I see her” and “I want to fall in love” are just some of the idealistic statements we hear during the donor search. It is important that intended parents find the best donor for their family, but waiting for perfection may lead to more disappointment.
You may be having some negative internal dialogue at this point regarding your chances of having a child. The world seems bleak and everyone seems to have a child or is getting pregnant – except you. “If you just relax, you will get pregnant,” is a common but painful refrain.
The final stage of the grieving process seems to be the most elusive, but we have seen many intended parents evolve to the point where they see egg donation as an amazing opportunity to be excited about. Working with a specialized mental health practitioner can help you reach this stage much more quickly, and push through obstacles that come up along your journey.
The Benefits of Therapy
Infertility can be an incredibly difficult battle, but there are many helpful steps intended parents can take to feel better. Most important is to start by seeking therapy from a specialized fertility therapist. Unlike a standard psychotherapist, these counselors have additional training that allows them to focus on the concerns unique to couples and individuals experiencing infertility. Working through your journey with an expert who is well-versed in these complex issues and feelings is immensely helpful.
Specialized fertility therapists can not only help you work through grief but strategize about how to talk to your friends and family about your experience. They will even help you plan whether and how to tell your future child about how they were conceived. These specialized therapists are usually fully versed in a wide variety of alternative treatments that many hopeful parents don’t know about. They can help you make decisions about who you want to use as your surrogate or donor, and even write letters to potential surrogates. The benefits of this type of counseling are so clear that many egg and sperm donor services even require it before treatment.
The Benefits of Community
Infertility can seem like a very isolating experience, but it doesn’t have to be. Reaching out to the people around you is the best way to build up emotional strength in this trying time. Leaning on the infertility community, trusted family and friends, and your partner is important. Sharing the load of your grief may feel difficult, but it makes many hopeful parents feel better in the long run.
Lastly, set boundaries. Going at your own pace and respecting your own individual journey are key. Navigating the guilt and shame that comes with infertility can be challenging, so setting boundaries is essential. You can request that your family not ask invasive questions about having kids, choose to decline invitations to pregnancy showers or baby showers, and even unfollow accounts that trigger sadness on social media. There is no shame in limiting external reminders of your infertility struggle if it protects your mental health.
We are lucky in this day and age to have more fertility options than ever before. Fertility issues may arise at any point in our lives – we’ve seen them with hopeful parents in their 20’s or their 40’s! – but the technology we have to address them only continues to improve. Infertility is a difficult challenge, but we hope that the evolving options for parents and continued progress of the field can bring people hope.
Though many people conceive traditionally, recent medical advances mean that it is not the only way to have a child. Once expectant parents are able to come to terms with the reality of infertility, they can often find new hope in sperm donation, egg donation, and surrogate pregnancies.