Most of us grow up believing that we'll be able to start a family when we're ready. So the extreme disappointment and sorrow that come with trying to get pregnant without success is a huge blow to the majority of couples. Most of us are too afraid (and polite!) to ask a struggling couple "What is infertility like?," but it's something we should all learn a lot more about.
"People who are ready to have children are usually at a good place in their lives. Most people assume they are fertile and are excited to take the next step in their relationship, so when they have trouble conceiving, it takes them from a very high place to a very low place," says Mindy R. Schiffman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York City who often works with couples struggling with infertility.
Some women and men might also feel as if they are broken and that their bodies have betrayed them; some women may worry that their partner will leave them if they aren't able to get pregnant. These are normal feelings, but know that the worst-case scenarios will probably not come to pass. "Rarely does a partner leave, and much of the time factors can be overcome with the proper fertility treatment," Dr. Schiffman says. "And even if it turns out you can't conceive naturally, it can be comforting to have discussed the what-ifs with your partner so you know that you can be a parent one way or the other, even if it means using a donor or a gestational carrier or going the adoption route."
It's also important to recognize that, even in cases where the male is the cause of infertility, the woman is the one bearing the brunt of the medical treatments, so people may automatically assume it's the woman's "fault." Regardless of which partner is the cause -- and often it's both -- it's important to face infertility as a couple, to think in terms of having a family and going through fertility treatments together, Dr. Schiffman advises.
Because infertility and all the ups and downs that go with it can be extremely stressful, consider seeing a counselor -- either individually or as a couple -- to deal with any feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt, or pessimism that arise. Some counselors specialize in infertility. Your doctor can provide a recommendation, and many fertility centers are affiliated with counselors.
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