Fertility issues can be trying at best. Some would say fertility issues are among the most challenging a person or couple can face, especially if despite all your efforts, the results you’re hoping for continue to evade you. The experience impacts physical and emotional well-being, and can be quite costly. Because there are usually no outward signs of fertility issues, many couples feel very alone with their concerns.
Many people facing fertility issues find the experience confusing. You do not have to do this all on your own – a team of medical and counselling professionals working together with you will support you and those closest to you. Friends and family are sometimes at a loss, just as you may be, and the experience may put extra strain on those relationships you now need more than ever. The good news is that coping and finding your way through the crisis of infertility is possible, especially with the support of a good team.
Fertility Issues Impact Women, Couples and Families
If you have been unable to conceive a child, or to carry a pregnancy to full term, your physician(s) may have diagnosed you with infertility. The word itself, like the experience, often gives rise to strong negative emotions; loss, grief, anger, and feeling betrayed are among the most commonly reported. People often describe that they feel a loss of purpose, as couples have often anticipated what their lives would have been like with a child, and these dreams may have been longstanding.
Fertility issues can also have significant impact on a couple, as each person faces the experience in their individual way, and often people withdraw physically or emotionally during the intensity following diagnosis. This may come at a time when the other person wants more closeness. Not uncommonly, people may feel guilty, particularly if one person has been identified as a primary contributor to the infertility. Sometimes that person will fear that their partner may leave the relationship. Even very solid relationships are challenged by the emotional ups and downs of fertility problems.
Beyond the couple, there are often close friends and family members who have been involved on the sidelines. As time passes and fertility problems persist, some couples withdraw from friends and family, particularly those who are pregnant or have young children. Couples facing fertility issues sometimes dread being asked how it’s going, or common social pressures by those who are not aware, encouraging the couple to start their family. Because fertility is not a visible problem, couples often describe this as a hidden, private grief without cultural rituals of healing.
When to seek the help of a couple and family therapist
Fertility issues are primarily diagnosed from a medical perspective, though many physicians recommend including a couple and family therapist to support the couple through the ups and downs of fertility treatment. Couples may face difficult decisions, failed attempts, challenging treatment regimes, or decision making about how and when to talk with friends and family about what they are going through. Sometimes treatments could involve consideration for surrogacy or donors for eggs or sperm. Sometimes, the financial cost means that couples have to decide whether or not to borrow from family. Other times, couples reach the point of discussing alternatives for growing a family, and could benefit from the resources and support of a couple and family therapist.
Because life doesn’t take a vacation while couples are working through fertility issues, other concerns may distract from the success of fertility treatments. Couples may consider involving a couple and family therapist if arguments between them are increasing in frequency or intensity, if relationships with extended family have become difficult, if either partner is struggling with excessive tension, persisting low mood, anxiety, sleep problems, withdrawing from others, inability to function at work or usual routines, or thoughts of suicide or dying.
How a couple and family therapist can help
If you’re working with a physician to resolve fertility problems, you may have a lot of things you’re trying to sort through. A couple and family therapist can support your relationship to come through this experience intact. Counselling provides a venue for safely discussing what you’re going through. When you nurture your relationship and attend to your mental health, this allows you to make important decisions thoughtfully. Working with a counsellor also supports you to work together, to better understand each other’s experience, and to moderate some of the intense emotions that often accompany fertility concerns.
Sometimes the source of intense emotion comes from outside the couple, and a couple and family therapist is trained to work with all elements of the extended family, including friends. If the people close to you are inadvertently adding to your stress, this is where a couple and family therapist’s specialization in navigating and restoring relationship harmony will be of great service.
Clear communication within a couple and between a couple and their closest supports will help prevent or resolve conflicts that are common during fertility treatments. While couple and family therapy is not medical in nature, relationship counselling can enhance overall well-being, which supports the success of the medical care.
Working with a couple and family therapist through the process can support you to work as a team through the many questions, challenges, and decisions you will be faced with. It is common, for example, for each member of a couple to have their own threshold about how far to pursue medical treatments, or which options to choose. Intensity of emotions regarding the decisions may be quite strong, leading to increased risk of conflict in the couple. Therapy can support couples to make decisions together, and to negotiate any areas of disagreement. Therapy can also assist couples to explore alternatives.
Because infertility can be a very private and isolating experience, many couples find it helpful to meet with someone outside the family where they can discuss their experiences individually and/or together. Infertility calls upon couples to rise to challenge after challenge, both physical and emotional. An ideal team supporting you through this includes professionals who specialize in both of these areas. Including a couple and family therapist’s support as part of your ‘team’ will support your resilience through this journey.
If you have questions, and would like to find out more about working with a couple and family therapist, please contact Michele for a complimentary 15 minute telephone or in-person consultation.