The Emotional Experience of Infertility
Infertility is an extremely emotional experience. The diagnosis of infertility catches people off-guard. You have not planned for or anticipated an infertility diagnosis, and are now experiencing the many emotions associated with infertility. You may be wondering if these emotional experiences are normal. You may also be wondering why you and your spouse may be experiencing different emotions when you are going through the same thing.
Let me start off by telling you that the emotions you are experiencing are NORMAL. Emotions are innate responses to life situations. The diagnosis of infertility is a very difficult life situation. You are destined to respond to infertility with a number of emotions, especially because a diagnosis of infertility will most likely impact many parts of your life. For instance, an infertility diagnosis may cause you to question your future goals, body image, purpose in life, religious beliefs, romantic relationships, family roles, etc. You will have different emotional responses to the different situations you are faced with, which is why you will experience many emotions during your journey through infertility. The emotions or reactions to infertility that you may experience include guilt, shame, grief/loss, anxiety, and jealousy,
Guilt is an emotion you experience when you feel like your behaviors are harmful to other people. The experience of guilt may be related to:
Blaming yourself for the infertility
Your inability to provide your parents with grandchildren
Not being able provide your spouse with children
Using reproductive technologies that do not align with your religious beliefs
Shame is similar to guilt but instead of feeling like your behaviors are bad, instead, you feel like you are bad. Infertility can lead to feelings of shame. Examples of how infertility can lead to feeling shame include:
What did I do to deserve being infertile
My body is defective
I cannot even be a real woman or man
I am being punished
Grief occurs when you have experienced a loss. When someone experiences grief they may experience other emotions such as depression, sadness, and anxiety. You may experience grief related to:
Your infertility diagnosis
The sense of mourning the anticipated life goal of parenthood
Losing the ability to have a biological child
The physical reminders that you are not having a baby
Anxiety is a feeling of stress, worry, or nervousness we experience when we are uncertain about an outcome or situation in our lives. The diagnosis of infertility leaves you with many unanswered questions. Your anxiety may be caused by:
Wondering about what is causing your infertility
Uncertainty about the future
Nervousness about having sex on schedule
Stress over the financial cost of fertility treatment
Jealousy is the emotional experience of inadequacy or insecurity, particularly around loss of connection. An infertility diagnosis can create many moments where you feel inadequate or insecure, evaluating yourself against other people. You feelings of jealousy may be a result of:
Seeing other people around you successfully carry a pregnancy to full-term
Getting an invitation to a friend or family member’s baby shower
Hearing stories of young women easily becoming pregnant
Feeling disconnected from friendships because you do not have a child
Let me also tell you that it is okay if you and your spouse have different emotional experiences. Infertility will be difficult for both of you. You may be asking why you and your spouse are experiencing different emotions. You will have different roles in the attempts to become pregnant and with different roles come different emotional experiences. It is important for each of you to communicate your emotional experiences with one another. I encourage you to become curious about your spouse’s emotional experience.
Providing a safe space for you and your spouse to discuss their emotional experience is critical to better understanding each other. Remember, infertility caught you off-guard, do not repeat this cycle. I encourage you to not blindside your spouse with this conversation. You may want to decide on a time when you two decide to talk about your experience with an infertility diagnosis. This conversation could be emotionally difficult, which is why it is best to plan a time.
Prepare for the conversation. What questions would you want to ask your spouse? Having a list of questions will prepare you for this conversation. Below is a list of questions you may consider asking your spouse.
What has our infertility diagnosis been like for you?
Can you share with me some of the emotions you are experiencing?
What is it like for you to experience these emotions?
When is the infertility diagnosis most difficult for you?
What emotions do you experience when you see my emotions related to the infertility diagnosis?
What helps you cope with your emotional response?
Remember, your spouse may become curious about your emotional experience. Think about what you hope to share with your spouse about your experience. Reflect on your own personal journey. You want to encourage these conversations, so be ready to engage in this emotional conversation with your spouse.
If you and/or your spouse continue to have difficulty with the emotional experience of infertility please reach out to one of the therapists at The Center for Growth/Sex Therapy in Philadelphia at 267 324 9564.