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Infertility and Mental Health

Many couples around the world struggle with the heartbreak of infertility. In fact, roughly 10-15% of couples will experience infertility. It's a fairly common issue, but it's one that is not often talked about. One reason for this is that infertility is a difficult issue to face, one that is closely associated with depression and other mental health issues.

A Grief Process

"The stress level for infertility is comparable to the stress level of being diagnosed with cancer," says Jamie Hales, a licensed clinical social worker at Huntsman Mental Health Institute.

In other words, the trauma of not being able to have children is very real and very powerful for both women and men.

Many people consider having a family part of their life plans, and infertility can really throw a person's vision for their life into disarray. At the same time, many people feel a lot of societal pressure to have babies and failing to do so brings feelings of guilt. In many ways, the sorrow brought by infertility is very similar to the grief felt by those who have lost a loved one.

A Repeating Cycle

Due to the nature of infertility, depression and anxiety related to it follows a pattern. Couples try for a baby during the fertility window each month and wait several weeks before they are able to take a pregnancy test and find out if they are having a baby. It is truly an emotional rollercoaster each month. Those who discover they are not pregnant must go through the cycle again and again, with spikes of hope followed by depression and anxiety with each negative pregnancy test.

Altering Expectations

Infertility is not the same for every couple, and there may be many reasons why a couple is not able to conceive. At the same time, some couples are never able to conceive, while others do manage to conceive after a long time and often many interventions. No matter where a couple might be on the infertility spectrum, anxiety, depression and grief are still factors.

For some, this is the result of naïve expectations. As Hales puts it, "For many people, it has never occurred to them that the process could be difficult. We are often under the impression that you decide to start a family, you conceive, and nine months later you get to take home a baby."

In reality, many perfectly fertile couples may take a year or more to conceive a baby. It is when couples have been trying for over a year that they are eligible to be evaluated for infertility.

Coping With Sorrow

The depression caused by infertility can be compounded by other factors, such as the high financial cost of fertility treatments. The stress and strain can even destroy relationships, causing divorce.

To cope with these struggles, experts recommend talking about it.

"One of the things that is most helpful for people is to find social support," Hales says. "It's nice to know that there are other people who have been dealing with this stuff and that it's not your fault."

A support system and talking to a mental health professional can go a long way in eliminating the negativity surrounding infertility and helping those afflicted to find a balance and hope for the future. Nobody is alone, especially when it comes to infertility.

If you're dealing with the emotional effect of infertility, the National Infertility Association or the Utah Infertility Resource Center may be able to help you.