How to Deal with Infertility: 12 Powerful Coping Strategies
It’s the elephant in every room and always on your mind: the baby that isn’t coming and the belly that isn’t growing despite months and months (sometimes years) of trying.
If dealing with infertility seems to be affecting nearly every aspect of your life, you’re not imagining it and you’re not alone. Not getting pregnant can be just as stressful as being diagnosed with cancer, and it is likely to have a greater psychological and emotional impact on a woman than a man. Depression, stress, and anxiety are quite common and can worsen as the treatment period lengthens.
What’s more, it doesn’t matter why you’re not getting pregnant or which partner is the likely cause, the feelings are just as powerful. You probably feel both internal and external pressure to become a parent. Infertility is challenging even to the strongest, bravest, and most supported among us. And unfortunately, our most well-intentioned friends and family can say or do something that pushes us past our emotional limits.
In this article, we will look at why infertility is so emotionally difficult along with 12 powerful coping strategies for dealing with infertility.
The Emotional Impact of Infertility
Before we get cover the coping strategies for dealing with infertility, lets take a quick look a the emotional impact of infertility itself.
Infertility is a constantly changing roller coaster of emotions. That spike of hopeful optimism when your period doesn’t appear exactly on time is followed shortly thereafter by the crushing sadness when it finally does a day or two behind schedule. These constant peaks and valleys can put a strain on your relationship with your partner and friends and your sense of self.
Most women received some version of a baby doll during their childhood. And from early on, the “parenthood” seed is planted. Society gives us the basic lay of the land: date, marry, have kids, etc., and a general timeline. When things get off course, it’s easy to feel internal stress and feel your biological clock ticking away. Well-meaning comments from others “When are you going to make me a grandma?”, “Better get trying!“, and “What are you waiting for?” can be tough to hear and even more difficult to respond to when you’re already hurting.
Watching other couples get pregnant and start to raise families further fuels self-doubt and anxiety. It can be challenging to isolate how you actually feel from how society tells you you should be feeling. Plus the “helpful” suggestions are often tinged with subtle messages of blame: “Stop trying so hard and you’ll get pregnant.”
Partner Expectations and Relationship Strain
Infertility can take a toll on your relationship too. While some couples form an even stronger bond, many others feel the strain of sex on a schedule, disagree on when to seek help and how much information should be shared with others, and finding coping strategies that work for them. Men and women deal with infertility differently. One or both partners may begin to feel that having a child will solve all of their problems or that everything must be put on hold until they bring a baby into the world.
Sometimes who’s at fault medically can become a source of resentment, which is why it’s so important to continue to find ways to connect and keep the lines of communication open.
Fertility treatment can be costly, particularly over the course of multiple treatments and cycles. If you decide to move forward with IUI, IVF, or other fertility treatment, between the cost of medications and procedures, medical bills can be tens of thousands of dollars. This can impact your household finances. And if you have to go into debt to pay for treatment, the debt can be a source of stress for both partners. You may disagree about how to finance your treatment, whether or not to borrow money from friends/family, how much debt is too much, and even whether to start with less aggressive treatment or go straight to IVF.
1. Identify and Acknowledge Your Feelings & Fears
Your emotional response to infertility is seldom the result of just a singular stressor. More than likely, you’re experiencing feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation, and loss of control. You may also feel shame, guilt, jealousy, and low self-esteem.
These types of negative feelings about not meeting your own expectations or that of others can affect your quality of life. And whether they are justified or not, they are completely normal and must be identified and acknowledged rather than ignored.
Take the time to pull apart your web of emotions and think about your feelings and fears. Why are you feeling how you feel? Who are they about? Who are they directed to?
By trying to better understand each emotion or fear, you can gain a deeper understanding of yourself. Honesty is hugely important, and you need to be able to properly express all that you’re feeling. If you’re having a difficult time identifying your feelings, talk to a close friend or counselor who can help you sort through your range of emotions.
2. Give Yourself Permission to Cry and Be Angry
A corollary to coping with infertility strategy #1 mentioned above, is giving yourself permission to feel all the feels. Don’t turn off your emotions because you find them unpleasant or don’t think they’re justified. Feel how you feel. Allow yourself the time and space to have a good cry, punch a few pillows, or even scream.
Don’t shut off your feelings. It’s perfectly fine to cry about one more friend who got pregnant “without really trying.” Just find safe ways to release your rage or sadness.
A quick word of caution: driving and crying are not a good combo!
3. Don’t Blame Yourself
Nobody wins in the blame game, whether you’re blaming yourself or someone else. In most cases, someone’s infertility isn’t their fault and is the result of a genetic crapshoot.
Accepting that conception isn’t going to happen on its own can be very difficult. But blaming yourself or your partner wastes important energy that could be put to better use focusing on the things you can do to achieve your family-building goals.
4. Understand Your Options
When coping with infertility, it’s easy to feel helpless and not know what you should be doing and who (or if) you should be seeing. It’s important to get the facts and understand all of the options available to you. This is where a fertility doctor is the best solution. Schedule an appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist for a full fertility evaluation of both you and your partner. It’s important that both partners are evaluated since you play an equal role in the conception process.
Once you’ve had an evaluation, your provider will have the necessary information to recommend fertility treatment options that fit your goals. Creating a game plan can make you and your partner feel more optimistic about where you are and where you’re headed, and it can unify you in your quest for a common goal. It also opens the door to important conversations about what the next steps should be for you as a couple.
The great unknown is stressful for anyone. Having all of the facts can help ease anxiety about the future and allows you to feel more in control.
5. Be Open & Honest with Your Partner (tell them how you want to be helped and give them permission to feel differently than you)
When you’re dealing with infertility, it’s normal to start to feel a little bit angry when pregnancy just isn’t happening. It’s also completely natural for some of this anger to be directed toward your other half. But it’s important to not let these feelings simmer. You must remain a united front throughout this journey.
Being honest is critical, even when what you’re feeling isn’t all that pretty. Share these feelings in a healthy way. Make sure you’re listening carefully, responding (not reacting) thoughtfully, and asking questions when you don’t understand. If you’re not able to do this on your own, don’t be afraid to reach out for help and support.
And don’t be surprised if your partner experiences the emotions of infertility differently than you do. Accept that everyone copes in their own unique way. Men experience infertility differently than women. Neither experience is right or wrong. It’s a waste of energy to try to get someone else to feel the same way you do, but you can be honest about expressing your own feelings.
6. Practice Self Care
If you don’t, nobody else is going to give you the time and attention you need to feel your best. Make sure you take the time out from caring for everyone else to spend time on yourself. Go for a walk, read a book, get a massage, or take a relaxing bath. And make sure your eating and sleeping patterns are helping you feel your best. It’s okay to look out for #1. Like they say on a plane, “Put your oxygen mask on first, then help others.” This holds true on terra firma too!
7. Find Healthy Outlets, Hobbies, and Pastimes
When coping with infertility, it’s important to understand and acknowledge your feelings, but it’s not good for them to be your focus 24/7/365. Take time to participate in other healthy, non-reproductive-related outlets and hobbies.
Get active. Register for a charity walk with friends. Go bowling. Volunteer at a local shelter or soup kitchen. Take an art class or learn to make jewelry or pottery. Art can be great therapy.
Doing something positive can help you to channel some of your energy into creating happiness for others at a time when you may not be feeling happy about most aspects of your life.
8. Reestablish Intimacy With Your Partner
Sex-on-demand based around your ovulation schedule can get old pretty fast. Spontaneity goes out the window, and sex can begin to feel mechanical and 100% focused on conception rather than intimacy and pleasure. Couples need to work a little harder to connect.
Intimacy of any kind can reestablish this connection and make you feel like you (and us) again. Do some of the things you did when your relationship was brand new. Give a surprise gift, plan a special meal, or just go for a walk holding hands. Physical and emotional connections are critical. And because infertility can often be a marathon and not a sprint, it’s important to establish good habits from the beginning.
Be sure to set aside special time just for the two of you that’s not focused on conception.
9. Be Realistic, but Highly Optimistic
In the words of Oscar Wilde, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
It can be quite a challenge to remain upbeat and positive while enduring month after month of disappointment, but couples dealing with infertility need to remember to look at the stars–just with a good dose of reality. Setting realistic goals can be helpful. These can be something as basic as changing what you eat, getting more rest, or trying acupuncture. These are achievable milestones and small successes set the stage for bigger ones.
Thinking that you’ll somehow get pregnant naturally despite an ovulation issue and sperm problem may not be realistic without taking active steps to increase your fertility. It’s helpful to discuss with your fertility provider all of the things you can be doing to improve your fertility and what are realistic goals and a realistic timeline.
Small victories along the way will give you a boost and help you stay positive in the long haul.
10. Join an Infertility Support Group
Feeling understood and supported while dealing with infertility can help couples cope, , particularly when the support comes from people who have experienced their own fertility struggles. While friends and family are great, if they haven’t experienced what you’re going through, it can be difficult to relate (and super easy to say the wrong thing). Support can mean different things to different people.
Some people find one-on-one peer support to be what they need, while others like the comradery of a bigger support group of others dealing with infertility. The success stories of others can also be inspiring and help keep you positive about your own journey.
11. Use a Fertility Coach
A fertility coach is another support option. Fertility coaches help you on your fertility journey from beginning to end.
They can help you clarify your goals, set realistic expectations, reconnect with yourself and each other, and offer supplemental resources as needed. They also look to educate and inspire you no matter where you are on the road to parenthood.
12. Seek Professional Support
If you’re feeling depressed, are having trouble expressing how you feel, or you think you need more guidance than friends or a support group offer, consider getting help from a professional.
Couples should choose the structure that works best for them. This can be counseling as a couple, separately, or a combination of the two. Most fertility clinics have professionals they recommend who specialize in helping fertility patients.
For example, here at CNY Fertility, we recommend seeking the help of those at The Fertile Spirit.
Coping with Special Situations
Family gatherings can be challenging and Mother’s Day celebrations can be especially difficult for those coping with infertility. There’s a tendency to focus on what you’re lacking rather than on what you have. And family members may ask you when you’re planning to have a baby not understanding your struggles. If you’ve lost a baby, Mother’s Day can also be a tremendously sad day and a good day to honor your losses.
The best way to cope with this potentially challenging day is to anticipate and plan ahead. Look out for yourself. If you feel you’ll be uncomfortable in a certain situation, decline the invitation and plan a relaxing day for yourself. If you feel up to a family gathering, make sure you plan a response to any baby-related questions. Discuss with your partner how much you want to share about your situation and what you’ll say. Protect yourself and your emotions by carefully choosing what you can handle.
The Two Week Wait
The few weeks before your pregnancy test can feel endless. You’re hyper-alert for any possible signs of pregnancy. Your hopeful, but cautious. “Am I pregnant?” crosses your mind thousands of times a day along with a steady stream of other questions about how you’re feeling (or not feeling) and periods of anxiety. It’s always wise to stay busy. Schedule a fun outing with your partner or friends. Get a massage or facial. Find a great book that you can’t put down.
As difficult as it is, try not to focus on every little twinge you feel and what it could mean. If you can, set aside time during the day when it’s okay to worry. Write about how you’re feeling in your journal or use this time to vent to your partner or close friend. Outside of this time, try to go about your day as normally as is possible. Taking at-home pregnancy tests can be tempting, but it’s smartest to wait until at least a day after your period is due. And if you’ve been taking hormones as part of your treatment, you may need a blood test for reliable results.
Couples coping with secondary infertility sometimes feel guilty for wanting another child when they’ve already been blessed with one and stressed because the schedule they imagined for having their children isn’t going as planned. They may also feel a lack of empathy from others going through infertility who don’t have a child. Don’t let the guilt or stress weigh you down. Let your emotions out. Find a fertility support group where couples with secondary fertility are welcome.
Also, recognize that raising a child is tiring. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, make time for your partner, and eat good foods that give you energy. You need to ensure your tank is full–physically and mentally. Focus on being present when you’re with your family. And seek help from a fertility specialist if it’s been longer than a year of trying (if you’re younger than 35) and more than 6 months (if you’re over 35). Knowing the facts and your options will help you feel more confident about your path forward.
How to Deal with Infertility When Everyone is Getting Pregnant
Once you get to be a certain age, dealing with pregnant friends during infertility is pretty much guaranteed. Whether it’s a co-worker, relative, or sibling, you’ll more than likely get a baby shower invitation, a birth announcement, or run into someone sporting maternity wear and an oversized belly (and don’t be surprised if it’s on the very same day your got your period –again). These encounters can be painful and frustrating, especially when it’s someone who got pregnant when “they weren’t even really trying!” Most people are perceptive and do their best to be sensitive to your needs if they know you’ve been trying for a while, but pregnancy envy is normal and incredibly common. Feel free to decline baby shower invites, hide friends who are posting sonograms and baby photos on social media, and don’t be afraid to speak up when the “baby chatter” is just too much to take. Find a supportive friend or counselor to whom you can vent.
Miscarriage and Neonatal Loss
Though this is starting to change, people don’t feel open to talking about miscarriage or losing a baby even though miscarriage is incredibly common. Multiple studies suggest that anywhere between 8 and 20 percent of recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage and 30 to 40 percent of all conceptions end in miscarriage (though your chances are largely contingent on your age), there’s still a stigma associated with this type of loss. Coping with infertility miscarriage and neonatal loss can be an isolating experience. Emotions can waiver from surprise, sadness, guilt, and anxiety about future pregnancies. And the hormonal shifts don’t help.
Take time to grieve your loss. Some couples choose to do something to honor their child, like planting a tree or getting tattoos. Sharing your experience with other women who have been through the same thing can be reassuring. You will be surprised to learn how many women you know have experienced miscarriage. Joining a support group may help as well.
Husband’s/Male Factor Infertility
When dealing with your husband’s infertility, it’s easy to get angry and blame all of your negative emotions on him and his male factor infertility. It’s important to remember that sperm problems are not his fault and are probably genetic. Male infertility is a disease. That said, it’s easy to start to feel disconnected and less interested in sex if you’re focused on starting a family and now realize that regular sex isn’t going to lead to that result. Fortunately, reproductive technology has several solutions to help couples with sperm difficulties conceive, IVF with ICSI being the most common.
Be sure you and your partner have an open discussion about what procedures you are prepared to have, and what financial (and emotional) outlay you think you both can both handle.
If you’re having trouble connecting or agreeing, consider seeing a therapist or consider a support group.
Final Words on How to Deal with Infertility
It’s easy to make infertility the focus of everything you do. It can take a conscious effort of practicing these infertility coping strategies to ensure infertility doesn’t take over your life, to dig yourself out of a pit if it does.
When the stress gets to be too much, many couples make the decision to take a break. Time off can give you a chance to catch your breath, to remember who you and your partner were before you started “trying”, and provides a respite from the constant stress of trying and waiting.
But be sure to discuss timing with your doctor, especially if your age is a concern. And remember, the professionals here at CNY and The Fertile Spirit are always here and happy to help.