Surviving Infertility with Your Mental Health Intact

Women struggling to conceive often express how frustrating it is to be unable to get pregnant once they’ve decided the timing is right - after years spent trying to to avoid untimed pregnancy. Many women lament the fact that friends and family members appear to become pregnant when their husband or partner “simply looks their direction;” while they may spend months peeing onto ovulation sticks, tracking basal body temperatures, and timing sexual intercourse. A friend’s pregnancy announcement on Facebook may trigger an acute sorrow for the woman who has been injecting hormones into her stomach, waking at 5:00 am for monitoring appointments, and experiencing repeated disappointments for months on end. There is no doubt, a feeling of utter unfairness accompanies one’s (unwelcome) membership to the community of women who struggle with infertility. To add salt to the wound, oftentimes “membership” is granted only after a year (or several years) of failure, after many invasive medical exams, and, in the case of repeated miscarriage, after enduring heartbreaking losses.

Managing the myriad of emotions that come with infertility can be incredibly taxing, on both male and female partners. Anger, sadness, jealousy, fear and disappointment are just a few of the emotions that may arise when struggling with infertility. Depending on an individual’s unique personality traits, history, vulnerabilities, and life stressors, sometimes these emotions become truly impairing and develop into clinical depression and/or anxiety. At CTWPS, we are attuned to these issues – we understand the emotional toll of infertility on you and your relationships, and we honor the psychological anguish that often comes with this journey. While we cannot wave a magic wand and make you pregnant, we can help you cope with the negative emotions you may be experiencing about your body, your partner, and the process of conception. We can help you develop tools for managing depression and anxiety in the face of disappointment and loss. And, through it all, we can support you by providing a safe, judgment-free space to express the full range of emotions you may experience.

When addressing infertility-related mood concerns, cognitive-behavioral therapy functions in the same way it does for many other mental health concerns. CBT aims to help the individual 1) see the relation between her thinking, mood and behavior; 2) develop skills to evaluate her thinking in order to view their life circumstances as accurately and helpfully as possible; 3) engage in healthy behaviors that promote optimum mental health; and 4) develop the ability to tolerate uncertainty, discomfort and adversity that we all invariably experience in life.

One of the primary goals of treatment at CTWPS is to increase hopefulness. To do so, we first need to acknowledge the intense fears that underlie catastrophic or fearful thoughts. These thoughts are real and significant, and yes, there is almost always a kernel of truth to our greatest fears. However, while the worst case is possible, it is almost always unlikely – and living in that place of “worst case scenarios” before it is a reality, is unproductive.

Oftentimes, our minds jump to worst case scenarios out of an innate desire for certainty: “If I know the worst is going to happen, then at least I don’t have to wonder, wait, and worry.” However, living in this dark place of hopeless negativity is counterproductive to our mental wellbeing, and may leave us feeling sad, depressed and helpless. Thus, the work of CBT is to increase our tolerance of uncertainty (and adversity), such that we can properly assess the opportunities we do have to improve or change the situation. Taking action – rather than catastrophizing – provides a sense of self-efficacy, hopefulness, and the opportunity for positive change.

Infertility can be extremely stressful and overwhelming, heartbreaking and painful. For couples who are ready to conceive, the disappointment of unrealized expectations can become emotionally disheartening or even debilitating.  At CTWPS, we recognize how lonely this struggle can be. Our goal is to support you during this difficult time by providing emotional support, by teaching you strategies for managing maladaptive thought processes, and by offering practical strategies for navigating your life and relationships in the face of infertility. Our goal is to help you live a full and balanced emotional life, whereby a set-back like infertility is a challenge, but is not life-defining.