Are you desperate to have a child but have not been able to conceive after months or years of trying?
Could you use some non-judgmental support as you debate the pros and cons of adoption, fertility treatment, continuing to try to conceive naturally, or choosing to remain child-free?
Are you barely holding it together as other women around you get pregnant and have babies, (seemingly all at once!), while you fake a smile, seething with longing, envy, anxiety--even rage--underneath?
Infertility is a diagnosis that can feel like a condemnation. To someone diagnosed with male or female infertility the label can mean uncertainty, hopelessness, and guilt. As I know from personal experience, infertility can feel as though the rug of your assumed future with children has been suddenly pulled out from under you.
Infertility rips the illusion of control away.
The choice to become a parent or not is one of the most important and personal we have in life, and though there are different ways to expand a family, when you are told you may not have the chance to have your own biological child, the belief that you can choose your own life path takes a serious hit.
Friends and family—if we choose to tell them—are full of good intentions, and yet it is rare that they understand what it feels like to be in our shoes or know what to say. They may say things like, “It will happen when you stop trying,” “You can always adopt,” or “You’re a great couple with or without kids,” out of a desire to offer hope but also, though they may not realize it, to ease their own discomfort witnessing your suffering. Unfortunately, the effect of these comments is often a feeling that we cannot show our pain, that what others want is for us to be positive and put on a brave face. In fact, when we are in the thick of it, sometimes what we need is for someone to just listen and acknowledge the gravity of what we are facing, rather than try to make our situations ok or attempt to instill hope.
Infertility depression is valid and painful, and grappling with the many decisions and indignities involved in coping with infertility can be crazy-making. Whether you choose to adopt, undergo fertility treatment, or remain a family without children, there are many options to sift through and hoops to jump through—and the process puts pressure on everything else in your life.
When I was going through the process of trying to get pregnant with my children, it felt as though everywhere I looked, someone was pregnant or cuddling their newborn. No doubt many other women around me were struggling to conceive, but unless you are looking for it, you don’t see infertility. In a culture in which parenthood and pregnancy are idealized and childlessness is stigmatized, there is very little openness about infertility. The silence and critical attitudes toward childless women, older mothers, and people who do not have children "on schedule," predispose us to shame when we do not fit the mold. Shame adds a layer of suffering to the pain we feel when we have been struggling unsuccessfully to make the family we want.
Shame is the fear of disconnection—it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection.
–Brené Brown, Daring Greatly
Infertility counseling can help you face the future and the present.
With the support of an experienced and caring infertility therapist, you can learn to ride the unpredictable waves of your process and come out stronger, wherever that process leads you. If you are creatively inclined, (and all of us can be if we are open to trying), you may work through your inner experience with art-making in a session with me. You can also expect to learn skills to defuse the power of self-defeating thoughts and endure painful feelings without allowing them to overwhelm or control you.
Infertility has a way of brutally confronting us with our unmet expectations for ourselves. Sometimes, however, we find that those expectations are internalized familial and cultural expectations. Through examining core values and envisioning alternative futures, you may discover ways to live by your values and have the kind of family you want without following the exact path you once assumed was necessary. Clarifying core values is a key element of infertility therapy and it can be extremely helpful to work with an infertility counselor with proven tools to help in that process.
But you may still wonder if infertility therapy can help. . .
“My husband is supportive and I’m getting the best fertility treatment out there. I think I can do this without therapy.”
Coping with the grab bag of emotions infertility brings is an isolating, painful, and confusing experience that deserves support from someone who understands. It is so helpful to have a supportive partner, but when he or she is directly involved in your struggle it is challenging to be fully present and impartial. It is also difficult for someone who cannot relate to wanting to become pregnant and carry a baby to be fully empathic toward someone who does. Therapy can be an important complement to the medical treatment you may be receiving. Going through IVF, while trying to be productive and care for others at home and at work, was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Individual art therapy and a support group were immensely helpful in enduring the process. Just as your body needs care, so do your mind, heart, and spirit, and they are intertwined. Psychotherapy can ease your suffering and transform your outlook.
“I’ve been to therapy before and it didn’t do much for me.”
Therapy that focuses on infertility can be quite different from other therapy experiences you may have had. When it is challenging to conceive, we may struggle with self-esteem, identity, relationships, values, body image, and existential issues. It can involve grief—current and past loss—and a host of decisions about what to do to pursue parenthood if that remains a goal. A good infertility therapist takes these things into account and gently treats the whole person in a way that meets the client where he or she is. I have over 15 years in the mental health field and personal and professional experience with infertility. The modalities I typically practice, Creative Arts Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, have proven effective in helping men and women cope with the painful impact of infertility.
“If I get pregnant or adopt, or I decide to stop trying, will you stop seeing me?
Absolutely not, unless you choose to end therapy. Just because you make a decision to stop pursuing pregnancy or parenthood, or you achieve your goal of expanding your family, does not mean you do not continue to benefit from support. As you move forward with your next chapter, you may continue to sort through the effects your journey has had on you and your family and the new challenges your next phase brings. Although I am an infertility therapist, this is not my only specialty and I will continue to support you through whatever comes next.
If you would like to schedule an appointment or discuss any questions you may have about infertility treatment, please contact me here or call me at 720-336-5852. I am happy to do a free, 30-minute in-person or phone consultation. I do my best to return all voicemails and emails within one business day.