Advocate. Inform. Empower

Finding Safe Spaces in (Somewhat) Overwhelming Places

Couples facing an infertility diagnosis – or single or gay women choosing to go through Assisted Reproduction using donor sperm insemination – can experience a life crisis when they learn they can’t have a child as easily as they may have thought they could.

When they seek treatment they may feel there is an invasion in their personal and sexual life.  There can be shame about not being able to do something that is perceived as being so much a part of ‘being a man’ or ‘being a woman’.

Most people facing this have endured questions and comments that seem ridiculous given the amount of research and time many of them have spent on the issue such as “Have you thought about having a baby yet? – Don’t wait too long or your eggs run out”; “If you’re struggling why don’t you just adopt?”; “I had a friend who went through everything and as soon as they stopped trying, they fell pregnant! So just don’t stress and you’ll be pregnant”.

There is actually a complex relationship between infertility and stress and many theories about mind and body relationships and infertility.  However, if for example, your fallopian tubes are truly blocked, and you want to bear your own child, chances are you need to do in vitro fertilisation. Also if your egg supply and quality are being rapidly affected you may not have time to “stop trying”. Furthermore if it IS a stressful situation, working through it is a far better idea than pretending it’s not happening.

Specifically trained Infertility and Assisted Reproduction Counsellors can help with the psychological consequences and adjustment to infertility, treatment and post treatment issues.  This is different to long term therapy and may involve from one to a few sessions at different stages of the medical treatment.  A major goal is to improve the quality of life during and after treatment for the singleton or couple and to facilitate a space for reflection on a diagnosis and/ recommended courses of action suggested by the doctor during the process.  Counsellors can also educate patients about what will happen in a treatment cycle, what the chances of success are and other questions important to decision making.

The role of the counsellor requires expert information about infertility causes and treatment in the area as well as up to date global current research in the field of assisted reproduction counselling where there are several niche areas (e.g. donor eggs and sperm offspring implications; Managing stress in IVF cycles; Assisted reproduction with people with life threatening diseases such as cancer;  Counselling people with existing mental health conditions as well as infertility; People facing HIV and Infertility etc). While there is no training in South Africa, training is available overseas (which is where I trained). Most clinics have specifically experienced counsellors attached to their clinics.

Infertility and assisted Reproduction Counselling can be a useful tool to coping with the sequel of trying to conceive and possibly dealing with a precious pregnancy and offspring in time to come.

– with thanks to Cal Volks, HART fertility clinic

Cal Volks is a non-executive board member of IFAASA. She trained with the British Infertility Counselling Association and is the assisted reproduction counsellor of the Holistic Assisted Reproduction Clinic in Cape Town. Cal is also the Director of the University of Cape Town HIV/AIDS Inclusivity and Change unit. Cal has worked in sexual and reproductive health for 20 years and has presented Internationally on her research on infertility counselling. She recently published her book in 2014 “Are They Really Born Free” (HAICU).  Cal has Leila (9) and Kiera (7) following a battle with infertility.

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