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!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My top ten tips for dealing with infertility

I've been in the infertility world, both personally and professionally, for a long time now. Over this time, I have witnessed some strategies for dealing with infertility which seemed to consistently move things in a positive direction. I thought it might be useful to summarize these strategies for those who may be just embarking on their infertility journey, or who are ensconced in the middle of their struggle. Of course, like most retrospectively formed lists of advice, this is more of a "do what I say, not what I do" type of exercise! My hope is that by sharing these strategies, I can help someone avoid some of the pitfalls I experienced. After all, we all don't always have to learn everything the hard way!

1. Take the outlook that infertility isn't personal. It is a medical condition, plain and simple.

It eludes me how a much controversy exists about whether or not infertility should be considered a medical problem. I guess I can understand why an insurance company executive would wish to avoid this truth. However, I am continually flabbergasted by how many people seem to believe that there is some moral judgement involved. If you are of reproductive age and you can't conceive a child, then it is obvious that something physical is wrong!

2. Realize that yes, this happened to you, and that it is totally unfair. However, if you spend too much time thinking about this, it might drive you a little crazy.

Infertility almost always comes as a bit of a shock, and it is natural to feel cheated when others can conceive easily. It is one of life's mysteries as to why this happens. My best advice is just to try and accept this as a mystery--trying to figure out why unfair things happen usually isn't successful, and it just makes us feel bad.

3. Don't always try to be positive.

Many people feel that if they don't always maintain a positive attitude, they will somehow be inviting bad energy, luck, or events into their lives. However, this simply isn't a realistic expectation. Some situations, by their nature, are just hard, sad, and painful. I feel it is more important to allow yourself the freedom to feel whatever emotions you are having. If you work to express them in a productive way, your feelings will lessen in intensity, and you will be able to move forward.

4. Educate yourself as much as possible about your diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment options.

Although it can be complicated and time-consuming, it is very helpful to know as much as you can about the medical conditions with which you are struggling. This is very helpful in terms of making treatment decisions. In addition, this knowledge can also help you gain a better emotional understanding of your situation, and can also provide emotional closure should you need to move on to other family building options.

5. Don't expect anyone else to care about your infertility problems as much as you and your partner do.

Your medical treatment team, although they may be dedicated to your case, has a lot of other patients and issues with which to cope. You cannot rely on them to be on top of every detail of your treatment--you have to do this for yourself. Also, remember that even though your friends and family care about what is happening to you, they have their own lives and issues. Sometimes, you may need to remind them about what is happening or what help you may need from them.

 6. Learn from your painful experiences and mistakes.

Infertility is complicated, and there will be times when you may make the wrong decision, or end up having regrets. This is inevitable. The important thing is to not be afraid to use these experiences to change your problem solving strategies--whether that means changing doctors, clinics, treatment modalities, or going down a different path of family building altogether.

7. Be as proactive as possible.

Infertility is a major life crisis, and the task of having children is one of the most important things you will ever do. Thus, you must do whatever you believe will give you the best chance of success--even if it's hard, inconvenient, or expensive.

8. Recognize that some people are going to say stupid or hurtful things--no matter what.

I wish this statement wasn't true, but the fact remains that many people harbor misconceptions about infertility, or are insensitive to other people's feelings. It is a small comfort, but the fact is that people will say stupid and hurtful things about any number of subjects, not just infertility alone
9. Try to identify who you can get support from, and focus on those relationships.

Sometimes it is surprising to discover who among your friends and family you can count on, and who you can't. Don't feel guilty about not sharing information or being as close as you were to people who, for whatever reasons, cannot be helpful during this phase of your life. You are in a crisis, and you need to focus your energy on those relationships which can provide you with support and understanding.

10. Remember to take the long view.

An important factor to consider when making decisions about infertility treatment is that you are trying to keep yourself from having major regrets later in life. Try to think about how you might feel about your decision ten, twenty, and thirty years into the future, after the window for making these decisions has long past. This perspective may prompt you to do things that are harder in the short-term in order to prevent long-term regrets. Although this is difficult, you can be confident that your future self will appreciate your hard work and sacrifice!