Coping With Infertility and Stress
It was the most stressful time of my life.
For more than a couple of years my husband and I tried hard to conceive a child. Months and months of taking temperatures, planning everything, doctor visits, disappointments, crying, trying new medications, grieving and testing of all kinds. It was a horrible roller-coaster ride. But, in the end, we conceived and Tayler was born. The next time around, we knew what to expect, we skipped many steps and went to the tried and true medication. And voila, we had a second son, Nickolas.
Infertility and Stress: The Secret
We told very few people, especially our families. I couldn’t deal with the questions that I was sure that they would have. I didn’t want to hear advice like, “just relax”, or hear another story about a couple who finally conceived after they “stopped trying.”
So What Do We Know About Infertility And Stress?
One Canadian couple in 15 experiences fertility issues and that stress can be overwhelming. Click to tweet
- Infertility can be caused by a systemic illness such as Diabetes, Thyroid disorder or Pelvic inflammation, or from malnutrition, an eating disorder, or just other stressors that are hard to pinpoint.
- STD’s are responsible for 20% of infertility issues.
- Depending on what the tests turn up, different treatments are recommended. Eighty to 90 percent of infertility cases are treated with drugs or surgery.
- More complex assisted reproductive technologies, or ART, procedures, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), have been available since the birth of Louise Brown, the world’s first “test tube baby.”
Infertility And Stress In Women And Men:
- Studies conducted over the years strongly suggest that emotional stress can actually impair fertility in women. Berga and Loucks found that seemingly healthy women with fertility trouble tended to have high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood. This is the same hormone that seems to shut down ovulation in female athletes. Berga estimates that about 5 percent of all women at any given time have stopped menstruating because of stress. Many other stressed-out women may have irregular periods or may go for months without menstruating. Stress can prevent implantation of fertilized eggs or mess up the timing of a woman’s cycles.
- Of the 80 percent of cases with a diagnosed cause, about half are based at least partially on male problems (referred to as male factors)–usually that the man produces no sperm, a condition called azoospermia, or that he produces too few sperm, called oligospermia. Emotional stress seems to reduce sperm counts in men. A study of 500 men published in the journal Fertility and Sterility found that sperm counts dropped when the men’s partners were going through in vitro fertilization, a difficult and anxiety-producing procedure. Another study published in the Journal of Reproduction and Infant Psychology found that couples were less likely to achieve pregnancy if the man was depressed or had low self-esteem.
Infertility and Emotional Stress:
Uncertainty about the success of fertility treatment – trying to conceive for a number of ovulation cycles is an emotional roller coaster of hope and disappointment for many couples. There are many others sources of emotional stress connected to infertility, such as:
- Grief associated with infertility diagnosis – The loss of a child who was wanted is a legitimate loss, much like suffering a miscarriage or a stillborn baby.
- Feeling of losing control – no matter how hard a couple might work at conceiving and how carefully they follow the physician’s instructions, they have limited control over the outcome.
- Loss of self-esteem
- Financial strain
- Marital stress
- Sexual pressure – Couples who go through cycles of sex on demand often find that lovemaking loses its spontaneity and playfulness. Sex becomes a chore to be performed at mid-cycle only.
- Family pressure – Many couples find it painful to be around children, particularly at family gatherings. They also might have to deal with questions from parents about why no grandchildren have yet been conceived.
- Illness. One study found that 40% of women dealing with infertility experienced depression or anxiety as well—the same rate as women dealing with heart disease or cancer.
- Insomnia. Stress causes insomnia and sleep deprivation which leads to changes in the daily rhythm of many hormones connected to reproduction.
Beverly’s Tips For Building Resiliency and Celebrating World Infertility Month:
If you are experiencing fertility issues, remember that:
- You are not alone. Reach out to those around you for support, even though it may be difficult.
- Most infertility issues are treatable. However, it may take some time to find the right treatment for you. Patience is essential, even though it may be in short supply.
- Stress reduction strategies may help. Regular physical exercises may help to release physical and emotional tension. Learn relaxation strategies such as deep breathing or take up a yoga class. Eat properly and get enough sleep to boost your overall health.
- Taking hormones can affect a woman’s mood. Try to anticipate these times and minimize their impact.
- Change your sex life only as much as you need to. Do have sex at the times your doctor recommends, but try to put a priority on lovemaking the rest of the month. Set a time when you are not totally exhausted or rushed, beginning with a back rub or a bubble bath together to relax, and spending enough time on foreplay to really get aroused.
Communicating about infertility:
- Talk to your partner about what you value about your relationship. Every relationship serves many purposes besides reproduction: companionship, emotional support, making a home together, and sharing interests.
- Decide together how to handle extended family.
- Allow yourself and your partner to grieve.
- Understand that therapy may help overcome these issues. Berga and colleagues used Cognitive Behavioural Therap in a group of women who had stopped ovulating for no apparent reason. Nearly 90 percent of women who underwent five month’s worth of CBT ovulated in the following two months. For comparison, only 25 percent of women who didn’t receive the therapy were able to ovulate. The study echoes findings described in a report in Fertility and Sterility, in which researchers studied 184 women who tried unsuccessfully to get pregnant over a period of one to two years. They divided the women into three groups: one that learned mind-body techniques (such as meditation, cognitive “restructuring,” and deep breathing) to help them reduce symptoms of depression; a support group that met once a week to discuss the effects of infertility; and a control group, which received no intervention. Within a year, 55 percent of the women in the mind-body group and 54 percent in the support group had pregnancies that resulted in a baby, compared with only 20 percent of the control group.
If you know someone who is experiencing fertility issues:
- Let them know that you understand how difficult this is for them and that you are there to listen to their frustrations, their fears and their disappointments.
- And please don’t tell them to ‘Just Relax’!
If you have some strategies to share – comment on this posting!