Infertility has become more and more common among couples. The widespread availability of contraception, more women in the work force, and the age at which couples choose to get married and start their families have all contributed to increased infertility rates.
Experiencing infertility, at any age or stage, can have a tremendous personal emotional impact and a considerable impact on a couple’s relationship. There is much research that diagnoses of infertility have been associated with higher levels of anxiety, depression, and feelings of hopelessness in both partners.
Important but Less Well-Known Consequences of Infertility
Infertility can have a profound impact on identity.
For many women and men, although more common among women, the dream of becoming a parent starts well before trying for a baby. When experiencing infertility, a woman’s ‘womanhood’ might feel threatened. She may feel like her entire future is out of her control. This is especially painful when women are surrounded by friends and family members, who are pregnant, able to get pregnant easily, or who announce their pregnancies.
Infertility can have a tremendous impact on the couple’s relationship.
Infertility is one of the life’s greatest stressors and can contribute to marital breakdown. The process of infertility forces a couple to come together, make decisions together, self reflect and develop mutual levels of empathy. Unfortunately, many couples cannot withstand the turmoil of infertility. In both my professional and personal life, I have witnessed first-hand many marriages dissolve because of infertility and the couple’s inability to withstand such pressure.
In my practice, I always deliver the same underlying message to couples trying to conceive: couples must be on the same wavelength to move ahead with fertility treatments, at every stage. They must wait for their partner to be at the same place before any future decisions are made. This way, they will grow together in their journey rather than veer off into different directions or end up resenting each other.
Sometimes, a diagnosis of infertility in both men and women, could lead to diagnoses of other underlying health issues.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Endometriosis, Low Sperm Mobility/Motility, complications from previous pregnancies or eating disorders, etc. Often, individuals are not ready or willing to hear that ‘they might be the reason’ that they are not able to have children. Not only does this force them to seek treatment for other health related issues, but it results in a tremendous amount of guilt.
For men, in particular, having low motility/mobility sperm has been researched to have a tremendous impact and threat to their masculinity, possibly leading to performance anxiety as well as to shame and embarrassment with his partner and extended family and friends.
Sex and love making becomes a business transaction.
There is no other way to frame it. When couples are trying to conceive, the spontaneity in their lovemaking is taken way. They are on a schedule of when to do it, as well as when not to do it. During this time, there is an increase in erectile dysfunction in men who have never had problems, and performance anxiety for both men and women. Talk about throwing coal onto the flame. Couples have a tremendously hard time bouncing back from this. If the struggle with infertility is a long one, it is easy for couples to fall out of the habit of having intimacy and spontaneous sex. Over the long term, even well after ‘trying for baby’ is long over, many couples’ relationships are impacted and they have a difficult time reigniting that flame.
When to Seek Professional Emotional Support for Infertility
The emotional impact of infertility is well researched, and there are many other factors on the self and on the couple which could be affected. Too many for the scope of this article. It is wise to seek the services of a social worker if one or both partners start to feel the emotional impact or require support at the following stages:
- when treatment has failed
- when new major decisions need to be made
- when a new phase of treatment is beginning
- when the couple is considering stopping all medical intervention
- when the couple is considering the use of third party gametes such as sperm, egg, or embryo donation
- when the couple is considering using a surrogate or adopting
- when relationships within the couple or with friends and family continue to be strained
- when feelings of discomfort, sadness or anxiety will not go away
I welcome your thoughts,