“I’m sorry to say that your test results were negative.”
Moments before the answer, I knew the nurse was about to deliver another bout of crushing news. The tone in her voice and subtle hesitation quietly revealed that despite our best efforts with a superovulation cycle, I was still not pregnant.
After the call, I brushed a stray tear aside and went back to my desk to finish the work day, only to release buckets of emotion the moment I slid into the driver’s seat of my SUV to head home.
Infertility, like many physical health conditions that have mental health implications, often goes unnoticed by well-intentioned friends, family, and co-workers, yet thousands of couples ride the roller coaster of hope and disappointment each month in an emotional quest to start a family. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in eight couples have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. Approximately 7.4 million women – about 12 percent – have received infertility services in their lifetime.
It’s a common problem with far-reaching implications for mental and emotional health.
Infertility and Relationship Strain
The infertility journey can wreak havoc on even the strongest relationships. When partners are inundated with appointments, research, and disappointment, frustration can build and bubble over. One partner may blame the other for their physical issues contributing to the infertility, even though infertility issues are split equally between men and women according to the National Institutes of Health. One partner may also feel like he or she is handling the brunt of the work.
And let’s face it, scheduling sex for an ultra-specific window of time to maximize the chance of conception is anything but romantic and exciting. Couples may feel pressured to perform and lose focus of the unconditional love that serves as the foundation of the act.
Financial Stresses of Infertility
Medical diagnoses can come with staggering financial commitments, which can quickly drain your savings. With infertility, insurance coverage varies by state and by plan. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) does not require coverage for infertility treatments, and many couples spend thousands of dollars on specialist consults, medications, and assisted reproductive technology.
With finances noted as one of the leading causes of divorce, financial stress should not be overlooked when navigating infertility. The stress of funding a long medical journey to have a baby is more than dollars and cents – it’s rooted in a deep frustration that new life requires a financial commitment before you even buy your first pack of diapers, while other couples simply enjoy the process and a heftier safety net.
Loss of a Support Network
Facing any life-changing challenge or diagnosis can lead you to reassess your surroundings and the people in it. In the case of infertility, living from cycle to cycle and appointment to appointment can quickly separate you from peers who are blessed with normal, healthy pregnancies. Even the closest friends may struggle to relate to your experience and offer unwelcomed platitudes like “it will just happen.”
A changing support network can leave couples feeling isolated and alone. This makes infertility and loss support groups and accessible therapy options like Talkspace more important than ever.
Infertility’s Anxiety and Depression Risks
The long road of infertility is marked with daily worries that can drastically impact a couple’s overall mental health. A study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility noted that the emotional stresses women with infertility face are similar to cancer and cardiac patients.
“I worried I’d never be a mother. I worried I would have a bad reaction to the medication. I worried I’d be unable to keep myself from spending all our savings, gambling for a chance to become pregnant every month. I worried about the size of my follicles or whether I was eating enough protein to make quality eggs,” an anonymous writer admitted in a Verily blog post.
Without proper coping tactics or support, this worry can escalate to anxiety and depression. And women with a past history of mental health concerns like depression are more likely than other infertile women to become depressed during treatment, according to Harvard Health Publishing. With millions of people already suffering from anxiety disorders and clinical depression, infertility serves as another risk factor.
Hope for the Future
As one of the thousands of women who yearn to hold a healthy newborn in my arms, or tend to a restless baby in the shadows of a carefully constructed nursery, I’ve felt both the despair and the cautious optimism.
Infertility is a life-altering journey that requires strength and resilience to address the mental health concerns that arise along the way. But armed with the right tools — a strong mental health foundation — you should be well prepared to weather the emotional turmoil that can accompany infertility and its treatment.