Guest blog by Monica Bivas, a holistic health coach.
Infertility is perceived as a biological incapacity to contribute to conception or the inability to carry a pregnancy to full term. It refers to a problem across all cultures and societies, and it can affect both women and men, largely in couples of reproductive age.
It is essential to understand that you are not alone – fertility struggles impact millions of people and couples in the world, and the numbers grow every year. It can also have different meanings:
- For women under the age of 35, infertility is the inability to procreate after a year of unprotected sexual relations.
- For women between 35-40 years, infertility is the inability to conceive after six months of unprotected sexual intercourse.
- For women over the age of 40, infertility is considered after three months of unprotected intercourse without pregnancy.
Every person or couple reacts differently, but this phenomenon does impact mental health for most going through fertility struggles.
Nowadays, couples tend to start a family later due to their educational and professional development goals. Increasingly, women are intentionally delaying pregnancy to the age of 35, which is relevant to the risks related to conception and pregnancy, partially explaining the increase of involuntary childlessness and smaller than desired families.
Other factors can contribute to the diagnosis: anatomical abnormalities, genetic, hormonal, and metabolic problems. It is also often related to age, infections, lifestyle (smoking, for instance), cancer treatments, antiphospholipid syndrome, environmental chemicals, and other diseases.
Although infertility is not a disease, it is a life crisis in sociocultural, emotional, physical, and financial aspects. Infertility and its treatment can considerably impact your life, causing even various psychological-emotional disorders or consequences, such as depression, anxiety, guilt, shame, frustration, anger, or feelings of inadequacy.
In terms of sociocultural patterns, couples can suffer a huge change when they experience fertility challenges. It may lead them to isolation, depression, shame or guilt. More often than not, couples become frightened about facing society and about being judged. So, they isolate themselves and face this process alone. Fertility struggles raise the levels of stress, depression, or anxiety. However, emotional distress can also be responsible for physiological changes, like infertility.
Furthermore, fertility struggles may also affect a couple’s sexual performance and self-esteem. Usually, couples have sex to connect emotionally. However, when this intimate moment becomes an obligation or associated with failure and frustration, couples lose this emotional connection. The fertility treatments put couples under pressure to procreate, making sex less spontaneous and, consequently, their relationship, leading to another problem: couple separation, once spontaneity and emotional connections become challenging.
Another area that can lead to anxiety, depression, frustration or worse, is finances. Couples may be struggling to pay for all medical treatments, and frequent medical appointments can disturb the ability to maintain one’s job.
There are multiple ways to seek support for those experiencing fertility issues and struggling with their mental health. Depending on your fertility struggles, your doctor might recommend some treatments to lead you to conception. Infertility may represent the first medical crisis that a couple faces together. It is demanding, rigorous, and requires help from mental health professionals.
Mental health professionals have an essential role in guiding patients to reduce the negative symptoms impact by providing couples with tools to cope with stress, depression and anxiety. These tools may include cognitive-behavioral strategies, training in triggering the relaxation response, training skills to cope with some circumstances, and communication skills training.
The last tool is especially helpful because couples tend to conflict due to guilt, shame, or other factors stemming from fertility struggles. This training allows you to identify your partner’s triggers and overcome the situation through communication.
Fertility has a solution. However, as every case is particular, it should be recommended by your doctor. Still, in cases where fertility treatments prove to be unsuccessful, professional mental health help is more important than ever.
In conclusion, the relationship between mental health and fertility struggles presents complex challenges and a wide range of clinical situations. Therefore, a biopsychosocial approach is necessary for the diagnosis and management of the whole experience. Mental health professionals play an essential role since they can provide patients with tools for treatment. This treatment can be based on medication, therapy or other methods. The most important thing is to reduce negative symptoms, avoid anxiety and depression, and develop a couple’s communication strategies and techniques.
Monica Bivas was inspired by her own experience with IVF, her road to motherhood was not an easy one and she knows what it is to walk in the shoes of fertility issues, and she now works with couples on their own IVF journey.
She promotes love, positivity and her main mantra “Where your thoughts go, energy flows”. Monica coaches and mentors women and couples all over the world going through IVF. She offers three different 1:1 programs on IVF depending on what fertility journey you are on, as well as group programs. Learn more about Monica by visiting her website.