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Welcome!

This blog addresses various emotional aspects of experiencing infertility. It is written by a clinical psychologist who specializes in infertility counseling. Thank you for reading, and best of luck with your journey!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Do feelings about infertility ever go away? Long-term psychological implications of infertility treatment

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.

23 comments:

  1. It depends on the outcome doesn't it? On so many factors I don't believe it's helpful to generalise.Any loss we deal with effectively should in theory take us to a better place.Menopause has it's sad factors but it does bring the closure of possibility.

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    Replies
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  2. This is so true. I know I have been forever changed as a person but I'm Ok with that. My experiences were a little different-secondary infertility-but I can still relate!

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  3. Thank you for this post. I am going through a dark period right now. I have had another failed cycle and I feel very alone and am uncertain as to whether I can ever feel better.

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  4. I come from ICWL but found you a little before that. I appreciate your posts! Like another poster said, the outcome is what makes the difference. Trauma is easy to forget when we get what we want...I think it makes us more compassionate, nonetheless.

    ICLW #44

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    1. I respectfully disagree. We conceived after doing IVF, experiencing 2 miscarriages and then eventually going through open embryo adoption to have our twins. But even after having the twins, I still have moments when I still mourn our infertility. We can't just go try to get pregnant again. Financially, we can't afford to. So, while we have been so blessed and while I have been fortunate enough to experience motherhood, the fact remains that we are infertile and cannot have children together and will most likely never have the opportunity to have additional children.

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  5. New to ICWL and stumbled upon your blog. It's a different perspective than I usually read, and I appreciate your posts. I'm looking forward to reading more.

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  6. interesting to hear. I was kicking this topic round for a future blog entry. I don;t expect pregnancy to be a happy stress free time for me, quite the opposite. Although I have experienced that - once only.
    Its also good to hear (in a wrong kind of way) that this infertility/miscarriage stuff is recognised as such a source of stress (I know you're not exactly external to this!), internally I know and feel the stress and anxiety but externally there is often very little recognition or acknowledgment of what is going on. You know, when the internal and external experiences seem conflicting? Possibly shouldn't need validation on this, but this stuff definitely rocks you to the core

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  7. What a great post. I can completely relate and have been reading more recently how truly profound the pain of infertility is which in some weird way makes me feel better in knowing that I wasn't overreacting or being too weak at this situation.

    Thank you for your enlightenment!

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  8. Hi there. Dropping in from ICWL. I've been thinking about this topic a lot lately myself. I have a beautiful baby girl, and I feel SO blessed and lucky every single day of my life, but what I experienced, and will experience again if I hope to have more babies, is always with me. It changed me as a person, me as a pregnant person, and me as a parent. I'm still sorting through how much this changed me and am coming to terms with the fact that, while I feel like I'm on this beautiful little vacation from infertility right now, that's really not true. I haven't figured out how to separate myself from it even though I'm a mama now. I feel like I don't fit in either world now. I'm an infertile with a baby. It's hard to get away from your infertility struggles even after you have the outcome that you always wanted. But all that I went through got me my Bean, and for that, I'm willing to deal with it.

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  9. Hi Lisa,
    Thank you so much for your blog. You have correctly captured so many of emotions and struggles and given a voice to all of us who are going through this. I have just begun my journey and am already finding solace in your words. I also work in the mental health field and feel like I have a connection with you.
    I look forward to your upcoming posts.

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  10. I suffered through infertility and subsequently adopted three children with my first husband. Recently remarried to a great guy, but honestly it is painful that he shared children with another woman. Now in my fifties I recently had a hysterectomy due to cancer. I felt like this womb that cheated me out of childbirth now wanted to kill me! I feel like I am not part of the sisterhood. Outsider. And my second husband is much less understanding of my feelings because obviously HE didn't go through any of it with me! I think the pain of infertility will always be there. His daughter recently had abortion, and I was especially angry. How can it come so easy to some--but again my husband thinks I am loony and I should have gotten over this years ago.

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  11. ordinary girl, you have spoken my mind, i to and infertile with a perfect baby girl, I still feel like a "broken" person, still feel the pain of intfertility daily, every time I look at my perfect IVF baby, I know how lucky i am to have my daughter, and i thought that this pain would go away once I had her but I still feel like I am sat on the edge of a dark cave, with my baby just waiting to be sucked back into the dark place again..... I suppose only time will tell, I send my love and best wishe to you all, I hope you are all as lucky as I have been, and manage to find something to keep you out of the dark x

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  12. I have been trying for a baby for 7 years, I just turned 24. I feel like menopause is just around the corner, I think about a baby every day of my life, I am addicted to it, I have lost my mother and yes it hurt really bad. But time healed that wound, this wound I have now I festering, never ending agonizing pain that I will feel for the rest of my life, I don't even know what's wrong with me I have never been tested because of the cost, not knowing makes it worse but I'm also afraid to know, but as afraid of menopause as I am I would welcome it in the later years if I knew it would stop my wondering and sadness, I feel like my life will never move forward without a child, I will never have family Christmases or see grandchildren playing in my yard, I feel my husband and I are destined to be just the two of us until we die. When I see a negitive test it feels like I've been punched in the stomach and my heart was just ripped out. I feel I'm losing my mind literally every month.

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  15. Sounds like Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

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  16. My husband and I went through infertility over 30 years ago and the pain is still there. We never had a child after trying to get pregnant, miscarriages, 3 ectopic pregnancies and 5 years of IVF treatments. I resolved myself to never becoming a parent and with 25 nieces and nephews; it's been therapeutic to throw myself into being active in their lives. The most difficult thing of late has been seeing my relatives and friends now enter the grandparent stage. I think my husband and I would have been awesome parents, but I believe we would have been extremely awesome grandparents. My brother in law and sister in law recently lost their 24 year old son to a car accident and I cannot imagine the pain they are going through. The whole family has gathered around them for support and comfort and although our pain is not on the same level as theirs is; I feel that no one understands the trauma of infertility and no one gathered around us for the support and comfort that we could have used at that time. I've even had unfeeling relatives tell me that we don't know how lucky we are not to have had children as their kids reach their teenage and early 20's phases of difficulty. I know they mean well but REALLY??
    This next phase of our lives is now being spent to looking forward to retirement, but I know I would love to have those grandbabies visiting me so we could spoil them.

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  17. I cannot have children and I hate the resentment I feel towards everyone, as everyone I know has kids. I also cannot stand not being able to make my wife happy as it is something she really wants.The feeling is that I would have better not been born. I hope the feeling shall go away soon because it is affecting me seriously, even my relationship.

    Sorry for the long post but I cannot say this to anyone since you know, men should be 'hard' and not care, and I am the 'strong' one in the relationship and it could be too much for my love.

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