By Tanya Rubin
Life is made up for us as humans, of things that matter. Our value system becomes that of things that matter most. Everything in life supports our relentless pursuit of meaning and through focusing on things that matter, we collect numerous meanings. Infertility has an enormous impact onfinding meaning in life.
Suddenly your life which seemed well-planned and successful is out of control. Infertility puts your entire life on hold. The inability to have children can be one of the greatest challenges that a person or couple will ever face. It affects people emotionally, physically, and financially. It can place tremendous stress on a couple’s relationship and on their relationships with family and friends. Almost no one expects to be infertile. Most people think that they will grow up, get married and have children, just like everyone else around them. So when a couple learns that they are infertile, they are often surprised at how devastated they feel.
It is evident that infertility rates worldwide have increased with 1 in 3 couples struggling to conceive. Most experts describe infertility as a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse. Infertility can strike at any life stage. But while the causes of infertility are overwhelmingly physiological, the resulting heartache – often exacerbated by the physical and emotional impact of infertility treatment – may take a huge psychological toll. A diagnosis of infertility is an extremely distressing event; creating upheavals similar to those associated with a death in the family. Initial denial followed by feelings of shock, disbelief, anger, grief and depression are common.
Infertility can thus be viewed as a life crisis. It is a chronic trauma, the impact of which is often underestimated by those surrounding the individual. Since infertility is shrouded by secrecy, individuals often carry the burden alone. As the process continues over months and even years, the couple’s privacy is invaded time and again, physically and emotionally.
Since infertility is a chronic trauma, it often overwhelms one’s ability to cope. It will most likely lead to psychological and/or emotional trauma. Infertility is almost always unexpected, happens repeatedly and leaves the individual feeling powerless and helpless. The list of negative effects of infertility is long and difficult to manage. Typical reactions include grief, depression, anger and frustration as well as a loss of self-esteem and a sense of a loss of control over one’s destiny.
The road to infertility can be a long and lonely one which can be impossible to navigate alone. An individual’s psychological and mental health is often chronically compromised. Fertility can be seen as an innate and natural wish that bonds us all. However when infertility strikes, it is a major life crisis with its own roller coaster of emotions. Many patients feel an overwhelming sense of loss and fear coupled with enormous hope and despair. The loss involved in infertility can be described as an intangible loss in that it is the loss of a hope, a dream, a wish, a want and a desire. It is unlike any other medical condition and cuts across all races, all religions, and all socio economic groups.
Infertility has an enormous impact on every aspect of an individual’s life. The impact financially is huge with the costs of infertility on the rise. Physically couples have to navigate many challenges and demands. Emotionally and spiritually, a roller coaster of hope and despair is coupled with an often difficult leap of faith. It can lead to an intense spiritual crisis where one’s belief system is temporarily challenged. Since the loss if more often a silent one and an intangible one, many patients feel isolated and misunderstood in their journey.
Infertility was once described as “Infertility is so abstract. I won’t die from this disease. I haven’t lost any limbs. I don’t have any visible scars. I haven’t lost anything tangible really. I haven’t been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. The only difference is that I have nothing to show – nothing to show for my pain, my indescribable hurt, my grief”
Infertility is an experience that continually fluctuates in intensity, so that at different times patients may have different needs and experience different emotions. Infertility is a heartbreaking condition that causes tremendous stress. It can trigger debilitating sadness and depression.
Although the psychological challenges of infertility can be overwhelming, most patients ultimately reach some type of resolution. It is important however to take cognizance of the fact that although the loss and impact is enormous, there is still hope. Some tips on how to cope with the journey include:
- Identify your own personal wounds and journey
- Take the risks necessary
- Become informed
- Take one day and treatment at a time
- Mourn the losses
- Know that grief is an inevitable part of the journey
- Figure out what makes us unique
- Develop a fertility plan
- Be flexible in responses to life situations
- Seek Counselling and Support
Tanya Rubin is a Social Worker who has worked in the field of Infertility for the past 10 years. She is currently in Private Practice. Previously she was involved in counselling patients at Vitalab Fertility Centre for Assisted Conception. She is also a qualified Logotherapist. Tanya has experience in both the corporate world dealing with communication skills, assertiveness and leadership training as well as in the addiction field as an addictions counselor. Her passion lies in dealing with patients who are faced with infertility challenges and her main focus is on infertility, bereavement and grief counselling.