By Sonja Ladbrooke, Counsellor, City Fertility Centre Melbourne.
The journey to having children is sometimes fraught with difficulty due to a whole host of reasons. However, with one in six Australian couples experiencing problems conceiving, those facing this challenge are certainly not alone.
When experiencing fertility issues it is only natural to feel emotional, and keeping your relationship intact is of prime importance. I have therefore shared some of the common advice I give my patients when faced with fertility issues.
Accepting the fact you need fertility help
If you are having trouble conceiving, it is important to reassure your partner that you are both on the journey together, and facing issues with a united front can help to overcome one person bearing the burden.
Sometimes there may be differing opinions about when to seek fertility help, with one person in the relationship feeling that they should just keep trying while the other may want to investigate potential issues. The best advice here is always: if you are under 35 and have been trying for 12 months without success, or over 35 and have been trying for over 6 months without success, it is wise to seek advice from your doctor as a starting point.
If the reason for the difficulty in conceiving is discovered, tensions can sometimes arise if the cause is identified as being due to one person in the relationship as this can result in feelings of blame or fault. It is often helpful to reframe infertility as being a joint issue, regardless of whether the problem may be with sperm, eggs, ovulation, etc.
Importantly, regardless of the cause, the aim is still to try to have a child together and blame isn’t particularly constructive in this journey.
What is the normal emotional response?
There may be a range of emotions when infertility is diagnosed, and throughout the treatment process. Initially it may be shock, as many times infertility causes have no signs or symptoms. There may also be a feeling of relief if a cause is identified, particularly after many months of trying to conceive, which can also be highly emotional. Many patients will express feelings about the unfair nature of infertility – particularly when friends and family may conceive quickly and easily. Sadness, fear and guilt are often mixed with feelings of hope associated with fertility treatment. This mixture of feelings contributes to the “roller coaster” of emotions that may be attributed to infertility.
What is expected of each partner during fertility treatment?
Often within a relationship, there may be different ways of coping, and of expressing emotions. This can be misinterpreted as one partner not caring as much, when in fact it may just be that one partner copes in a different way: for instance, focusing on the positives in attempts to try to cheer the other partner up. Talking helps keep relationships healthy. When we ask for support, we often need to be specific and outline ways that it could be shown, such as: “I would like you to come to appointments with me.” Or at other times we may crave alone time and by communicating this to our partner it needn’t be misinterpreted as shutting the other person out. Discussing things openly and not keeping feelings hidden helps to reduce the impact of infertility on the dynamics of a relationship.
What happens if we sometimes disagree over what fertility path to take?
Counselling can certainly be helpful when there are differing opinions about what path to take next. Speaking to a third party can help tease out the reasons you may be in a different place in terms of making a decision. At other times, compromise may be needed, for example: we agree to try naturally for another three months, and if we still are not pregnant then we can start treatment.
What are some coping mechanisms?
There are several ways to make the process less stressful and emotional and in turn ensure it doesn’t impact negatively on your relationship. Some useful tips are:
- Make time to focus on your relationship, to talk openly, and to remember why you were attracted to each other before you started trying to fall pregnant.
- Plan time together – schedule dates where you agree to have a break from the topic of fertility. Respect each other and the way you each choose to cope.
- Bring intimacy back into your relationship where the goal is not just about getting pregnant.
- Get active together – exercise is a great way to help with stress and worry.
- Take a break if you need to – sometimes, taking a month off can be helpful.
When should I seek further help to cope?
It is usual to find the process of infertility treatment emotional and stressful at times. However, support is available, and speaking to an impartial third party can be greatly beneficial. Some couples may find it helpful to attend counselling together, while others may find one member would benefit by being at the session on his or her own. If infertility is starting to impact on other areas of your lives, such as work or study, your relationships with your partner, family and/or friends, then this is a good time to seek additional support.
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