4 Ways to Fight Infertility With Emotional Management
Infertility has gained a spot in popular discourse recently, as more and more couples share their stories of struggling to conceive and scientists work to explain why pregnancy is easier to achieve for some than for others.
Currently, researchers understand that majority of cases of infertility have a physiological origin in either the man, the woman, or both. Still, emotions can play a significant role in fertility, too. Recognizing the psychological toll a diagnosis of infertility can take—sometimes advancing to clinical anxiety and depression—is an important element to treating the whole person and improving the chances of achieving a pregnancy.
We asked A. Nicky Hjort, M.D., OB-GYN, for her take on the emotional elements of infertility and how they can best be managed for the care of the woman, her partner, and their family—in whatever form that will take.
1. Get a Complete Work-Up.
Dr. Hjort first recommends getting a complete physical work-up by a healthcare provider you know and trust to rule out causes of infertility that are easily diagnosed and treated. Often, Dr. Hjort, tells me, she sees a connection between trouble to conceive and a thyroid issue, or a couple may not know how to optimally time intercourse to conceive. Charting your cycle via fertility-awareness based methods (FABMs) can help recognize treatable conditions and precisely identify ovulation. Similarly, showing your charts to a FABM-knowledgeable doctor can help you put a name to problems that other doctors are missing, including ones that could be solved by a simple supplement.
Keep in mind that, officially speaking, “infertility” is diagnosed is a lack of conception after a full twelve months of coitus without interference of any sort. Dr. Hjort says miscarriages technically don’t count. While the emotional toll of losing a child through miscarriage is real and valid, treatment may differ when a woman is not able to conceive versus not carry a child to term.
2. Focus on What’s Going Right.
Being diagnosed with infertility can feel like being marked with a scarlet letter. The label can affect the couple’s relationship, family interactions, and broader social life. Rather than scroll through social media and see another pregnancy announcement or gender reveal that will dishearten you, make an active choice to focus on what is going right. Are you hormonally normal? Is his sperm count good? Are your fallopian tubes clear, and can the sperm get to the egg? These are all things to be grateful for.
Dr. Hjort recommends trying to get back to the energy you had before everything was focused on getting pregnant. Stress can interfere with normal hormonal function. Removing the pressure to conceive, the feeling of failure or not being good enough, can make a big difference, and there are programs that can help with that if you’re struggling. The more you focus on what’s wrong, the more it’s going to continue going wrong, and vice versa.
3. Have Faith.
Dr. Hjort also says it’s important to have faith in the process. Try to trust that your body knows what timing is right and have faith that ultimately, everything is going to be okay, however “okay” is going to look for you. If you believe in a higher power, she says, trust in that power’s plan for you.
More concretely, you may choose to listen to lullabies at night, snuggle with a blanket you intend to give your baby, or write a letter to your future child saying, “I’m patient and I’m ready for when you will come to me.”
4. Remember There’s More Than One Way to be a Parent.
“Remember that conception the old-fashioned way is not the only way to have a child,” says Dr. Hjort. Perhaps your family will grow through fostering or adoption. These paths toward parenthood are no lesser or greater than biological parenthood. A family is about love and care of the other, and this can come to fruition in more ways than one.
Dr. Hjort says that the grass is greener, not on the other side of the fence, but rather where you water it. Be intentional about your approach to your diagnosis and lean on your partner and community for support when things are challenging.
Most of all, remember that you are more than your diagnosis. Don’t let the label define you. Understanding what’s going on with your body and leading with an open heart is the best path to a happy ending.