It is important for those experiencing infertility to be able to access counselling when they need to. The empathy and objectivity of a fertility counsellor can be helpful. The fertility counsellors’ role is to help people deal with the stress and emotions involved in trying to achieve a pregnancy or in dealing with other fertility issues. This may include providing support with relationship difficulties and helping couples or individuals explore better ways of dealing with anxiety or stress, work through the complexities of treatment decisions, debrief and share experiences, and explore family building alternatives.
Don’t wait until you are in crisis to seek help. Try to use counselling as a resource, not a last resort!
At Fertility Solutions Sunshine Coast and Bundaberg we offer a fully funded session of counselling which is included in the global fee for all patients undergoing fertility treatment. Additional sessions may be partially covered by private health insurance or new Medicare items for psychological services depending on your eligibility. In order to receive a Medicare rebate for psychological services, you will need to discuss your eligibility with your G.P. and request a referral.
Managing The Stress Of Infertility
Infertility can be a major life crisis involving a massive readjustment. Not being able to have a child when you want one is extraordinarily difficult. Your dream of starting a family now includes a number of health professionals, your health fund, and an assortment of invasive tests and medications! Feelings of shock, depression, guilt, anger, frustration, envy, anxiety, isolation and loss of control are all common reactions and the power of these emotions generally comes as a surprise. Let’s face it, we spend most of our adult lives taking precautions to prevent pregnancy. Being confronted with infertility when we are finally ready to start a family can be a huge blow.
Unfortunately, our society often fails to recognize how extensive the adjustment to infertility can be, affecting as it does privacy, attitudes, expectations, lifestyle, goals, finances, relationships, support networks, work and one’s body. Given this, infertility is often not understood or even shared with others and normal support systems may not be accessed. Some women may feel uncomfortable around children and consequently start to isolate themselves from family and friends who have children. Increasing isolation can leave the couple without social support networks to overcome feelings of sadness and frustration. Therefore, we encourage you to share the information in this booklet with a small support team. This will help them understand what it is you may be going through so that they can best support you during this tough time.
A level of stress and anxiety is almost inevitable with infertility treatment and some individuals will experience chronic stress. Research has shown that women undergoing treatment for infertility have a similar level of stress to women who are dealing with life-threatening illnesses such as cancer or heart disease. Studies have found that of 200 pre-treatment couples 49% of women and 15% of men found infertility “the most upsetting experience of their lives” as compared with other serious losses such as death or divorce.
Whilst at this time there is no convincing research evidence that stress affects the outcome of treatment, there is plenty of evidence that infertility is stressful. Such intense stress can certainly become an obstacle to effective living and the reduction of stress is important for you and your relationships. The good news is that even though at times it may feel like you can’t cope, most people do cope.
Some Important Points To Remember Are:
You are not going mad! If you have days when you are not coping, it doesn’t mean you are going crazy; it is just that at the moment the stress has become too much.
You don’t have to be in control of yourself and your emotions all the time, rather when you need to be.
You can cry when you like.
Your worth as a person is not dependent on your ability to conceive a baby.
Ideas That Might Help
Don’t worry about being stressed. Stress in a normal response to infertility. The first step in reducing stress may be to stop feeling panicky about feeling rotten!
Talk to other people and build a support network. Even the most insensitive person can usually be educated about the impact of infertility and can be taught by you how to be helpful and supportive. Whilst you may only feel happy talking to your partner, you may need more than that. In handling any feelings of grief, the essential component to therapy involves talking about your feelings, thoughts, and actions. Again and again, not just once. Holding it all in and trying to cope without the help of anyone else usually doesn’t work. It creates a pressure cooker and sooner or later the lid explodes.
Tell your partner how you want to be helped. Partners are mere humans, incapable of mind reading. If you need to pass up the family gathering with five nieces and nephews under two, then say so. If you want to be hugged, massaged, left alone or listened to without any response, you’ll more likely get what you want if you ask.
Get out! A change of scenery can do wonders. Go for a walk, watch a movie, or have a cup of tea with friends. It matters less what you do than that you do something – away from your home.
Exercise daily. Anything that gets you up and about will improve your state of mind. Yoga, tai chi or relaxation classes can help you focus, relax and overcome stress.
Inform yourself. Becoming informed about infertility and treatment options helps people to feel that they are in control of the situation. There is no crystal ball, but you can reduce some of your uncertainty by collecting information.
Allow yourself to cry. It is appropriate to express your emotions so don’t try to shut off your feelings.
Don’t blame yourself for what you have or haven’t done in the past. You did or didn’t take the pill, you did wait to start having children, you did have an earlier abortion. What has happened has happened. There is no point in living in the past or the future. Live for today.
Focus on things you can control. Take control of what you can and leave the rest up to science. Get back to the things you used to do before infertility such as sport, hobbies and interests, relaxation, and recreation.
Don’t let infertility run your life. It is important that you don’t put life on hold and live in limbo. This may be difficult to do, but it is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your partner. Have some fun and pursue other activities. Sometimes this might mean taking a break from treatment, other times it may mean going on that holiday, starting that study program or changing jobs.
You And Your Partner
Infertility can put a great strain on even the best relationship. Issues of communication and gender differences with coping and feelings of guilt and blame may have an impact. Couples find themselves planning their lives around treatment cycles and having sex by prescription only. Sex for procreation only can be mechanical and not very satisfying and hence, infertility can impact on your sexual relationship.
Men and women often cope differently too and it can be counterproductive to expect your partner to cope in the same way you do. Just because he isn’t thinking about this constantly and crying easily doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care. Many men feel that they must be strong and in control to best support their partner. As for her, just because she is crying at the drop of a hat and is being remarkably irritable doesn’t mean that she blames you, doesn’t love you anymore, or is going ‘nuts’. Recognizing and accepting these differences can be helpful. Try to see your different styles of coping as complementary rather than adversarial. Combine the best of both traits – the stereotypically sensitive, understanding female and the logical, problem-solving male – to strengthen your relationship.
Some Tips Are
Be there and let your loved one know that you are there when they need you. Sometimes ‘being’ will be more valuable than ‘doing’.
Listen. The most valuable gift you can give is your attention. It is natural to want to say something comforting but at times there will be nothing you can say to make your loved one feel better, so try to refrain from giving advice. Listening and trying to understand how they are feeling and acknowledging those feelings can be very supportive and sometimes all that is needed at the time.
Try not to judge. Sometimes your loved one may do or say some things that you think are irrational. At times their feelings about their infertility may defy your understanding, so try not to judge.
To protect your relationship it can be useful to remind each other that infertility won’t last forever. This is a chapter in your lives and either you will become pregnant, or you will choose an alternative path. Make time for things you enjoy doing as a couple, express your love for each other and work together to support each other through this difficult time.
Sharing some of the difficulties with a trained and experienced counsellor can be the first step to finding a way to resolve some of these issues. Incidentally, there is no evidence that the incidence of separation or divorce is higher for couples undergoing fertility treatment and many couples find that the whole experience brings them closer than ever before. Successfully coping with infertility can result in many couples feeling confident that they can tackle any future problems together.
Fertility treatment is not a single hurdle, but rather a series of hurdles where each has to be completed before proceeding to the next. This can make it a tiring process full of highs and lows that many describe as a “roller coaster” ride of emotions. The first part of the cycle tends to commence with optimism and hope and after a big build up and a lot of medical attention, embryos are transferred and then there is a long and anxious wait. If there is no pregnancy, many experience an emotional crash.
Waiting for results is often the most difficult part of the process and this can be a time of sensitivity and vulnerability. Feelings of excitement and optimism may be tempered by the possibility of impending bad news.
The coping response that seems to work best for most people during treatment is one of realistic optimism. You will want to be optimistic enough to have the energy you need for pursuing treatment, but not so optimistic that you find yourself emotionally devastated if treatment isn’t successful this cycle.
Patient Support Groups
Be reassured, there are others out there that have been through this before and have survived. Once you are further down the track you might feel that sharing your own experiences of the fertility journey could help others (or just yourself even). There are a number of support groups available within Australia and locally.
If you prefer the anonymity of the Internet – there are any number of message boards and chat rooms dedicated to fertility treatment. Many of these attract people from all around the world.
Bear in mind that some of the drugs and treatment options available overseas are not available in Queensland (or vice versa).
ACCESS (www.access.org.au) is the largest Australian based support group for all types of infertility issues and treatments. They have excellent information on their website and can arrange contacts between people undergoing treatment for mutual support.
At Fertility Solutions, we have a closed IVF Support Group Facebook Page for our patients only – have a look and request to join https://www.facebook.com/groups/1017791948366103/