Stress is typically a result from anything that you feel is threatening or harmful. The inability to get pregnant, or maintain a pregnancy, for months and sometimes years, feels threatening and harmful to most people. Being diagnosed as infertile may be the most devastating news a young person, or couple, has ever received. Although it is commonly known and understood that infertility is stressful, there is an abundance of misinformation about the relationship between stress and infertility, and further what can be done about it.
There seems to be a universal assumption that infertility is caused by stress. This is demonstrated by the painful, yet well- meaning, comments made by family and friends. Comments such as “Take a vacation and just relax, it worked for me,” or, “If you would stop thinking about it all the time, it will happen.” Finally, the comment that almost everyone experiencing infertility hears at some point, “If you adopt, you’ll get pregnant.”
It is important to understand that there is not any definitive research that supports the assumption that stress causes infertility. What research does show is that being diagnosed with infertility, and going through treatment for infertility, is very stressful. It has been studied and proven, that women with infertility have the same levels of anxiety and depression as women with cancer, heart disease, and HIV+ status. For men, I have seen time and time again how helpless they feel in supporting and comforting their partners on their journey to become parents. This can lead to high levels of stress for men, which can in turn put stress and strain on the relationship or marriage. It can become a vicious cycle for couples that is hard to break.
With respect to stress and infertility, there also seems to be a universal tendency to underestimate the stress caused by infertility. If you are experiencing infertility, it is essential for your well being to become aware of all the areas of your life that are being impacted by infertility. Becoming aware is an important first step so that you can then identify ways to more effectively cope, and to educate your friends and family on how to better support you on your journey.
Finally, accept that you are currently coping with the stress of your infertility the best way that you know how. If you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, or frequently preoccupied with your infertility, you may want to consider learning different ways to cope.
—The above was authored by guest contributor Kerry Christifano, M.A., LPC. Kerry is the Executive Director of Counseling and Mind/Body Infertility Services for Complementary Care Group for Infertility, located in Kansas City, MO. She has been helping individuals and couples with infertility-related psychological and emotional issues utilizing mind/body approaches since 2005. In addition, she makes herself available to Reproductive Resource Center (RRC) patients as they face infertility issues.
-image courtesy of goldenmemorialplans.com