From Heartbreak to Hope: Strategies for Coping with Infertility
By: Jen McWaters, Psy.D. | July 14, 2023
June was World Infertility Awareness Month. As someone who has experienced infertility firsthand, I know all too well the heartbreak and emotional toll it takes. Coping with infertility can be a difficult and isolating experience. Throughout the process it’s important to remember that you are not alone. In this article, we’ll explore strategies to cope with infertility and how to find support during this challenging time.
Infertility and Its Impact on Mental Health
Infertility is the inability to conceive after one year of trying or six months for women over 35. Infertility affects approximately 12-15% of couples in the U.S. (with rates increasing) and can be caused by a variety of factors including age, hormone imbalances, environmental exposures, and reproductive issues.
The impact of infertility on mental health is significant. The grief and loss associated with infertility can lead to feelings of sadness, anger, and hopelessness. It’s important to acknowledge and validate these emotions, and to seek support from loved ones and trained professionals who understand what you’re going through.
Coping with Infertility
Grief and loss
Grief and loss are common experiences for those struggling with infertility and often underestimated by those going through it. Grief can look like loss of time, unfulfilled dreams and expectations, and sorrow when parents pass away before they have the chance to meet their grandchildren. Many couples going through infertility also experience miscarriage and other types of losses.
It’s important to give yourself permission to grieve and find healthy ways to cope with these emotions.
Strategies to cope with the grief and loss of infertility:
- Acknowledge and validate your emotions
- Find healthy outlets for your emotions, such as journaling or creative expression
- Seek support from loved ones, a professional therapist, and/or a coach
- Participate in support groups with others who are experiencing infertility
- Connect with friends or other community members who understand what you are going through and who “get it”
Anxiety and depression
Infertility can lead to a range of psychological issues, including anxiety, depression, and stress. The time and financial burden of infertility alone can lead to stress and mental health issues. Aside from the high cost of traditional fertility treatments, many couples choose natural and holistic interventions such as supplements and acupuncture to support their fertility which can cost a small fortune.
The process and the emotional toll of infertility can be overwhelming. It’s imperative to prioritize your mind, body, soul, and relational health. For example, mindfulness and meditation, prayer, exercise, spending time in nature, coaching, individual or couples therapy, and quality time with your loved ones can help increase your resilience and cope with the stress of infertility. Communicate openly with your partner or loved ones about your emotions and needs during this time and find healthy self-care outlets to ensure that stress doesn’t build to an unmanageable level.
Something I always advocate for is the importance of taking vacations. It can be tempting when you’re going through infertility to live month to month mentally and forgo vacations “just in case” you get pregnant or need to do a fertility treatment cycle. It’s important to keep living your life and making plans that you can look forward to.
Don’t put your life on hold, it’s not beneficial in the long-run and can exacerbate your stress.
The Rollercoaster of fertility treatments
Fertility treatments are emotionally taxing, as they often involve a great deal of waiting and uncertainty. Fertility treatments do not guarantee success and can vary in effectiveness from person to person and body to body. It will be tempting to compare your journey to others (and maybe it’s unavoidable.) Instead, focus on your unique process and stay mindful of your thoughts and when they lead you down unhelpful pathways.
The process of navigating infertility is as individual as each one of us, and comparing our journey to others will lead to more distress.
Lifestyle Changes to Improve Fertility and Mental Health
To help improve fertility and mental health, the following lifestyle changes can be helpful:
- Eat to feel good (a healthy, balanced low-inflammatory diet)
- Include healthy movement into your daily routine
- Reduce stress through relaxation techniques
- Avoid smoking, alcohol, and drugs
- Practice good sleep hygiene for a good night’s sleep
- Use holistic interventions such as acupuncture, supplements, herbs, and chiropractic care
Securing support during the infertility journey will help reduce your stress, cope with grief, and manage fertility-related burdens. It can be helpful to lean on friends and family and connect with others who are going through similar experiences. Participate in support groups (either online or in-person), online forums or social media groups.
If you’re struggling with infertility, working with a therapist who specializes in trauma and grief and perinatal mental health and who has experience working with infertility will provide you with the needed support, guidance, and coping strategies during this difficult time in your life. They can also help you navigate the emotional ups and downs of fertility treatments and provide a safe place to express your hopes, fears, and raw emotions that you may not be able to safely share with others.
Strategies for Maintaining Hope
Maintaining hope during the infertility journey can be challenging, but it’s possible. Some days you might feel optimistic and hopeful, while other days you might feel quite a lot of grief, sorrow, and hopelessness. Moving back and forth between emotion states is completely natural and you are not alone! It takes effort to continually bring yourself back to what grounds you and anchor yourself in the things that bring gratitude and hope.
In addition to the coping resources we’ve already discussed, the strategies below will help you maintain hope throughout your journey:
- Focus on the present moment, rather than worrying about the future
- Set realistic expectations for fertility treatments
- Connect with others who had successful fertility outcomes
- Practice gratitude and positivity
- Find joy in other areas of your life
Infertility can be a difficult and isolated experience, but it’s important to remember that you are not alone. There are strategies to cope with infertility and find support during this challenging time. When you acknowledge and validate your emotions, practice healthy ways to cope, and seek support from loved ones and professionals, you can navigate the infertility journey with hope and resilience.
If you’re struggling with infertility and need support, meeting with a trained San Diego psychologist at Therapy Changes can help. If this is your first time reaching out for help, we honor the courage it takes. It may be helpful to learn more about How Therapy Works and What to Expect.