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!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Infertility treatment and the "Type A" personality

I can only imagine what must be like to be able to get pregnant and have children easily, without much effort.  The analogy that comes to mind is the ease with which I taught myself to read, at age three.  Watching public television along with my older brother, I learned the letters, their sounds, and how to put them together very quickly.  I had my own library card by the time I was in preschool.  Reading never felt like work--it was just something I did, and I took it for granted that I could read whatever I wanted. I had no idea that this was an exceptional experience, so I couldn't understand, and was probably insensitive to, other children to whom reading didn't come quite so easily. 

Of course, while reading was my strength, other academic struggles presented themselves.  My poor visual-spatial skills have created constant fodder for jokes for my friends and family.  Math, physics, and chemistry did not come naturally.  However, I was still able to achieve good grades in these subjects in school by working hard and pushing myself.

Society seemed to support my view that hard work was the only necessary ingredient for success.  After all, I learned that watching public television too.  In high school, I once remarked to my social studies teacher that a person could do whatever they wanted to in life as long as they worked hard enough.  A wise man, he sighed, took off his glasses, and told me that was completely untrue.  I argued with him, but he simply insisted--a person cannot do whatever they want just by working hard, as different people have different abilities, and there is also the involvement of luck. At the time, I felt he was being negative and discouraging, and I did not believe him.

Well, I believe him now.

Like almost everyone, I assumed that when I wanted to get pregnant, it would happen according to my schedule and my timeframe.  I couldn't fathom that it might not happen when I wanted it to, much less at all--and if so, there might be very little I could do about it.

In the early stages of infertility treatment, I clung to my approach of working hard in order to achieve my goal.  When treatment started going badly, I resolved to fight harder, to do more, and to keep pushing myself.  I felt that if I just tried hard enough, I would get pregnant.

When it finally began to dawn on me that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't overcome certain biological problems, it caused a great deal of emotional turmoil.  Not only was I very upset about my infertility; my entire world-view had been shattered.

I know that my story is far from unique because I hear it from my clients every day.  In so many cases, infertility is the first real life stumbling block that cannot be overcome by hard work.  Like me, my clients also must grapple with their grief and anger about infertility in the midst of developing a new approach to solving problems.

If you are reading this blog, chances are that you are also a hard-working, high-achieving sort of person yourself.  If you too are struggling with the fact that your typical life strategies aren't working with your infertility treatment, know that you are definitely not alone.

It's important to realize that however hard you work at your infertility treatment, it will not be the deciding factor in whether or not is successful--that ultimately, success is left in the hands of biology, chance, and perhaps fate.  By acknowledging this, you can let yourself off the hook a bit, and see that your don't need to work as hard as you have, perhaps exhausting or depleting yourself in the process.

On the other hand, it's important not to stop working hard altogether.  Although hard work cannot ensure that treatment is successful, it can give you the best opportunity you can have to get pregnant.  By making sure you understand your diagnosis and treatment options, and by following your treatment protocols to the letter, you can at least ensure that you've given treatment the best try possible.  That's important later on--you don't want to feel that you have regrets that you could have done more.

In the end, it's like so many things--a balancing act.  We must work hard enough to make sure we get the best treatment possible, but then we have to acknowledge that there is a limit to what our hard work can achieve.  Once we've done everything we can do to further treatment, then we should rest, and try to focus on other areas of our life.  This, of course, is easier said than done.  But by recognizing that hard work alone doesn't cure infertility (or many other problems, for that matter) we can have more energy to devote to other aspects of our lives, thus making infertility treatment more bearable.


  1. I couldn't agree more with this post. "Trying harder" and getting absolutely nowhere has been one of the most frustrating and difficult aspects of the past 3 years. It's the first time in my life that I've really truly "failed" at something, certainly something that I've wanted this badly and put so much energy into. I know that effort and determination betters my chances, but the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness can be overpowering, making it hard to take that next step (or get out of bed). It's certainly been humbling. We all probably could've used your social science teacher's wisdom in our upbringing, it's so counter to the messages we're surrounded by. And those same messages are what I think brings on the feelings of shame, since you feel others must be thinking the same thing - "you must not be pregnant because you're doing something wrong... look at me."

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  2. This was so spot on for me! I too have always worked hard and then ended up with what I was trying to achieve so when getting pregnant didn't happen, I thought I just need to 'try' harder for lack of a better term. And after my first IVF cycle was a negative, I had to realize everything you mentioned about it all being in the 'hands of biology, chance and fate,' is so true. This is exactly what I needed to 'hear.'

  3. While I agree there is a big aspect of life that is beyond our control, and we need to let go, I do believe that on the whole to get what we want involves hard work. Everything I have has been achieved through hard work. The job I have now. The husband (I had to choose to go online and find him). Even my pregnancy (I had to choose to pick up that phone to phone the fertility clinic). Yes a lot of this is from the grace of God and definitely a miracle (I tell everyone this pregnancy is a miracle) but at the back of my mind I firmly believe that I did have to work (take vitamins, eat right, take meds, do the operation, take injections) all of which is damn hard work and needs to be aknowledged. I understand there is a point when nothing you are doing is working and you have to give up and go to other plans, but in my experience... 1% inspiration, 99% persperation...

  4. I can definitely relate to Mrs. Brightside's feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Our infertility is male factor, so there really is nothing I can do, other than give my husband the injections he needs and hope they start to take effect sooon. It's a lot of waiting when I would much rather be doing. In the meantime, the only thing I can do is work to make sure my body is in the best physical shape it can be for (eventual) pregnancy. But it's so frustrating to feel like anything I do now is moot until we get some swimmers.

  5. couldn't have said it better myself. It was so hard to understand that there was nothing I could do about my infertility, I couldn't work harder at it. The only thing I could do was let someone else try to fix it for me. It took a while but we got there in the end.

  6. I would wager that us Type A women would feel more angry as well when treatments are not working. Hard work typically equates to success, in some things but not all. I have been thinking of this as we start our second DE cycle. I can still do my part in terms of following the treatment protocol and modifying my diet and lifestyle to fit with pre-conception, but the rest is not up to me. It's just not in my hands.

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