As an infertility therapist, I think the question that I am most commonly asked is whether or not the pain from infertility ever goes away. During those dark periods during infertility treatment, it can seem as if things are always going to feel as bad as they do at that moment.
I can always offer reassurance that things will indeed eventually feel better, but I cannot say with confidence that the pain of infertility goes away completely. In my experience, people do generally go on to resolve their infertility issues in one way or the other, and lead happy and rewarding lives. Even within those lives, however, there are moments in which the pain of infertility resurfaces. I will never forget feeling that familiar, bittersweet pain and envy upon hearing a friend was pregnant--except that I myself was actually pregnant at the time! It is almost as if the pain and envy had become a reflexive response, conditioned over the years. A few months of pregnancy had done nothing to extinguish it.
The above example highlights one of the ways feelings about infertility may reemerge--through exposure to familiar situations and cues. Certain dates, times of year, people, and places may all be evocative of painful experiences, events, or realizations. Although in retrospect such painful feelings are completely understandable, they often take people off-guard if they are not prepared for them.
Another time infertility-related feelings commonly resurface is during major life transitions. For example, perimenopause and menopause bring up feelings about reproduction for almost all women, but if there is a history of infertility there may be more intense feelings about closing this chapter in their life.
A history of infertility also is known to increase anxiety during pregnancy and parenthood. Because you have already experienced things not going according to plan, you become more aware of all the frightening, albeit relatively improbable, possibilities during pregnancy, childbirth, infancy and childhood. So many times, I have seen women who had repeatedly fantasied about how happy they would be once they were pregnant become overcome with anxiety once the long-awaited pregnancy occurred. Although this is a shame, I think in a certain way it's probably unavoidable given the types of infertility experiences they had endured.
Infertility is usually a profound, life-changing experience. Studies have shown it to be only slightly less traumatic than the death of a parent and on par with a divorce in terms of the stress it produces. As a striking example, I worked with a woman who experienced infertility, but then went on to have several children. Along the way, she encountered several difficulties. One of her children had a serious, but correctable medical condition. She herself experienced medical difficulties in which her own life was hanging in the balance for months. During this time, she also unfortunately experienced a great deal of interpersonal conflict and disappointment. When I asked her which one of these situations had been the most difficult, she answered without hesitation, "Infertility."
As a silver lining, I have found that each time feelings about infertility reemerge, it is an opportunity to work through them again. This can allow you to have more closure and to better understand your own experiences. With time and distance, you can see things more clearly, and may able to resolve some of the hurt feelings of the past.
So in sum, yes, it really does get better--a lot better! But when something this profound happens to us, we can't expect ourselves not to have feelings about it for a long time to come. However, those painful moments can often often contain the seeds of future psychological growth, and thus our lives may actually be enriched.