When we grow up, most of us who plan to have children assume that we will meet someone, fall in love and have a baby and that the process is as easy as that. For many people, it is that simple, but for a lot of people, the reality is so much more complicated, and often heartbreaking, especially when it comes to getting pregnant and having a baby.
In America, it is thought that more than seven million people have had problems with conceiving, or have accessed fertility assistance services. That is a considerable amount of women – and men – for whom the process of having a baby has not been so simple. That isn’t even including the countless amount of people who decided against help for whatever reason or that yet know about any potential problems that they might have.
When we think of infertility, and the treatment for it, we generally only think about the effects it has on the body, which of course, is pretty immense. What we often forget to take into consideration is the effect it has on someone’s mental health. Some studies have shown that the psychological toll that infertility and the treatment that comes with it is comparable to the stress levels that people who are suffering from cancer experience, and that levels of anxiety and depression are high in people who are experiencing fertility issues.
Many of these emotional issues will come from well-meaning but insensitive comments and questions. People assume that once you are settled in a stable relationship, babies will come next, and when they don’t, eyebrows are raised, and questions are asked. These questions and comments aren’t the only sources of upset, however, and here, we look at some of the other reasons as to why infertility can affect mental health as well as physical health.
Getting pregnant generally brings a lot of uncertainty anyway, but throw infertility treatment into the mix and well – it can be even worse. If someone is going through IVF or freezing their eggs, they have to think ahead a little and plan for the first round not working. No one ever wants to think about something not working, but it is something that has to be done. If you have started the egg retrieval recovery process, you then have the anxious two-week wait to see whether it has been successful. If you are fortunate enough to get that positive pregnancy test, you then have all the usual worries and uncertainty that comes with pregnancy and childbirth.
Infertility treatment is an emotionally taxing process, and as such, will take its toll on even the strongest of relationships. Couples can disagree on how many rounds to try and whether they can financially afford it. When undergoing treatment, there are often restrictions on physical and sexual activity which can cause a strain, as well as the disappointment that follows if it is not successful. If it does work, there are all the usual demands that pregnancy and impending parenthood can bring about on a relationship.
3) Anxiety around medical procedures
More people than you realise suffer from anxiety when it comes to even the most minor of medical procedures. IVF brings about a lot of quite invasive procedures, which may involve lots of blood tests and injections. If you are already experiencing anxiety over needles, but are desperate to have a baby, this can feel almost unbearable.
4) Financial concerns
Fertility issues are expensive – there is not beating around the bush about it. One round of IVF costs more than $12,000, which can be out of reach for many couples, and with a success rate of less than 30% for women under the age of 35, many will need multiple tries. The financial strain that this puts on people should not be underestimated, nor should the complexity of having to deal with medical insurance.
5) Hormonal Changes
If someone is undergoing IVF, there are going to be hormonal effects that are likely to have an impact on their mental health. The woman is pumped with various hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. The sudden increase in these hormones will affect almost everyone, but if someone is particularly susceptible to shifts in hormones, there can be a rise in anxiety levels and mood swings. This, of course, not only puts additional strain on the woman but the couple’s relationship.
Infertility and struggles with conceiving are something that many people only feel comfortable discussing with their partner, and, as such, can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. They think it is private, or they are ashamed, or they just do not want anyone else involved in their business. Whatever the reason they have for keeping it quiet from family and friends, it can be very isolating. They may not want to be around friends who are pregnant or who have young children, or want to attend birthday parties, weddings, baby showers or other social events that may involve being around young children or babies – and that is perfectly understandable.
On top of that, the pressure from society to have a family can also be isolating, especially if they have no idea what is going on in the background.
Sadly, while most cases of infertility can be resolved with either medication or surgery, for some couples, there is no treatment. In this instance, they have to come to terms with not being able to have a biological child of their own, and the grief that this comes with can be the same – if not worse, than losing a close family member. Feelings of extreme sadness and anger are entirely reasonable, and for some, a sense of relief that the investigations and often intrusive processes are over. Even if the fertility issues are resolved, it is not unusual for there to still be feelings of grief or anger. We expect being able to get pregnant and carry a baby until term to be a natural and easy process, and when it is not straightforward, it can bring about a lot of extreme emotions.