Managing the Stress of Infertility Treatment
Making A Place For Infertility, But Keep Infertility In Its Place
- At times, put infertility on the shelf. Cordon off or create areas of your life where you try not to think about or talk about the problem. Alternatively set aside times, places or activities that are safe havens from infertility
- Recognize the positive aspects of your current situation. Consider taking an inventory of the things that are positive about your life. What do you enjoy? What do you look forward to? What brings you happiness or satisfaction on a day to day basis?
- Consider a vacation from treatment. If life seems to be revolving too much around infertility, consider whether you might need a vacation from treatment. This could also involve trying to put aside all thoughts of conceiving - just for awhile. Put all reminders away (medications, charts, counselling, appointment cards). Consider taking a real vacation.
- Protect or rediscover ways of spending time together. Recall the life you led before you started trying to have a family. What did you do together on evenings or weekends?
- Take a break from "baby making sex". Make an effort to have more frequent "recreational sex". Recognize that sex is also one way for a couple to get closer or stay close. But also remember, from the early days of your relationship, that even "spontaneous sex" often involved some preparation and planning.
- Consider your reasons for wanting children. Is it a need to nurture, a desire to deepen your relationship, a need to make a change, a need to create stability in your life? Are there other ways you could achieve these goals or partially achieve them? Sometimes counselling can help in exploring alternatives.
- Consider getting involved in a new project or activity. Consider a new project or activity which has no relationship to infertility. For example is there an interest, a hobby or a skill you would like to develop? Is there a course you always thought you would like to take, or something you would like to create?
Coping As A Couple
- Share your feelings with your partner. Accept the fact that feelings of sadness, worry, guilt and frustration are normal reactions to infertility and treatment. Allow yourself to show or talk about these feelings when you have reached your limit. Don’t assume that your spouse is a mind reader or that she/he understands your needs and what you’re thinking. Hiding important feelings from your partner creates a feeling of distance. Let your spouse know what would be comforting or helps you to cope.
- Recognize and respect the possible effects of the hormonal medications. Moods can be affected. A woman can tell her partner how she feels, rather than showing him. Men can recognize that it’s partly the medications and not take it personally. Discuss what would be comforting or what doesn’t work for you.
- Emotional isolation - avoid it. Communication with your partner, family or friends needs to be clear and assertive in making your needs and wishes known.
- Let each other know how you prefer to cope with disappointment. What comforts you? What doesn't work for you?
- Approach treatment as a team. Consider this a couple’s venture. When organizing and preparing for a treatment cycle, work together as a team. Every couple's circumstances are different, but try to attend as many appointments together as you can.
- Foster a sense of coping together as a couple. For example, it is helpful when men take the time to educate themselves about the treatment, read the written information provided, and initiate
discussions about test results or how a partner is feeling. This can bring couples together and create a sense of coping together as a couple.
- Recognize and respect that treatment will disrupt your usual lifestyle. Discuss as a couple, how you can alter your usual schedule and share the responsibilities of treatment.
- Structure discussions about infertility and treatment. Try to designate only certain times or one place in the house for such discussion. This increases the chance that both of you will focus on discussion and ensures it's time limited. Avoid difficult discussions during supper or at bedtime except in exceptional circumstances. Supper time should be a positive time for catching up on the day. At bedtime one partner may feel too tired to listen or contribute.
- Recognize and accept that men and women often cope differently. There is no right and wrong way to cope. Some people are not very disclosing of their feelings and prefer to cope by trying not to think about the problem. This doesn’t mean children are not important or they don’t care. Others find it helps to talk about feelings and to show them. Wanting to talk about feelings is not a sign of being too preoccupied with infertility. Encouraging a partner to share feelings is not making things worse.
Dealing With Family and Friends
- Examine your expectations of others. Everyone is affected differently and no one (not the closest friend, family member or even someone else with the same problem) can totally understand your experience. You will be disappointed if you expect that others will completely understand. Instead of total understanding, look for acceptance and support.
- Be prepared to educate or coach family or friends. Identify what makes you feel better and offer suggestions to significant others. Be tactful but clear. Coach family and friends on how they can be supportive. Don't just tell them what not to do. Offer suggestions on what they can do to help. (For example: "I know you are concerned for us but, please let us bring up the subject of treatment, we will tell you as soon as we have some news.")
- Consider who you would like in your support network. Consider the possibility that infertility treatment might last many months or even longer. Who would you like to have in your support network? Consider how much you want to tell them. What is the relevant information they need to know?
- Consider new sources of support. Could you connect with others via the Internet. Internet chat rooms can provide helpful ideas, but be cautious about accepting all information at face value. Is there a support group in your area? Are there other couples without children with whom you could strengthen ties?
- Social isolation - avoid it as much as possible. Pregnant family members, friends, those with children, even toy stores and the mall can be difficult at times. Avoiding situations completely often leads to a sense of isolation. If an unexpected situation occurs, better to try and "stay in the situation" if possible. However, it is also reasonable to look for ways to control or reduce the amount of time you spend in difficult situations.
- Consider taking breaks from family celebrations/get togethers. Some special events may simply be too painful. If those involved are supportive, consider telling them your reasons. (See #7 below). Give yourself permission to re-arrange your social schedule.
- Help family or friends to understand your feelings as well as the treatment. Inform supports of the sorts of feelings that are common, especially sadness, frustration and even anger. Mention any particular comments that you find "unhelpful" (e.g. "Don't worry").
- Feelings of disappointment and loss fluctuate over time. Feelings of sadness and loss do not decrease in a steady and continuous manner over time. Remind family and friends that sadness and disappointment can come and go depending upon various events. Be willing to accept these reactions in your self.