I am not a mental health professional. I am a layperson. I have no formal training in psychology.
That’s my disclaimer (same one that Carrie Van Steen and I make before facilitating Ladies Night In, RMACT’s peer support group). I have been running peer support groups for a long time. Years, even decades, still, that does not qualify me as a therapist or counselor. And so my opinion here is strictly that, a layperson’s opinion.
What I’ve noticed in twenty-five years of being in the fertility (infertility) world, both as a patient and as an educator/advocate, is that our disease of the reproductive system mimics other diseases. Symptoms that are more often associated with depression and anxiety are often felt by those of us who are trying to conceive and are having problems doing so.
Infertility is a Disease
Disease. Infertility is a disease of the reproductive system. Its main symptom is the inability to become pregnant in a timely fashion (one year under the age of 35 or six months if over 35) or the inability to carry a baby to term. That’s the simplest, most pared down definition of infertility.
It could be successfully argued that most of us are not infertile, but are in fact, subfertile. The reason that it could be argued successfully is that so many of us become pregnant, stay pregnant and go on to becoming parents.
Feelings often noticed while experiencing infertility include extreme sadness, helplessness, frustration, disappointment and fear. Excitement, hopefulness and growth are very often mixed in as well. We feel our strength and ability to persevere in the midst of what sometimes feels like a perfect storm in NOT getting pregnant.
Those are the some of the feelings that we feel. Not all of us all of the time. Not even all of those feelings some of the time.
It’s just very normal and typical to experience a lot of what is described above.
Infertility and Depression
To my point about our disease of infertility mimicking other diseases, some of those feelings hint at depression. Sometimes the feelings we experience while waiting for answers to tests or procedures can sound an awful lot like anxiety.
Maybe this is comforting, maybe it is not.
The depressed and anxious feelings that come up during fertility treatment are very situational based.
Infertility and fertility treatment can cause a lot of anxiety and fear. We don’t know how things are going to go, we often don’t have a firm timeline, we don’t know how to plan the rest of our lives (social or professional), we don’t always feel comfortable sharing what we are going through so we are more isolated than usual, there are no guarantees that fertility treatment will work, and so on.
Does any of this sound familiar? Have you thought or wondered about those things while trying to conceive?
If so, you are not alone. While you are a unique individual, you are not unique in having these kinds of fears or worries.
Does having these types of fears or worries mean you have a clinical diagnosis of depression or anxiety?
I have no idea.
I do know how completely normal it is to feel these things while in fertility treatment.
Coping with Infertility in Support Groups
I also know that if fear and anxiety are interfering with your life in substantial ways, i.e. you are unable to go to work frequently, you’ve disengaged from things that you previously enjoyed, your sleeping, eating or exercise patterns have changed, you have suicidal thoughts, you are not sharing with people you normally share with (isolating), then it is very worthwhile to check in with a mental health professional.
At RMACT, we have our Director of Mental Health Services, Lisa Schuman, LCSW and Melissa Kelleher, LCSW, whose expertise is with men and women trying to conceive. They are compassionate, knowledgeable and very capable sources of support and information.
You do not have to do this alone. In fact, if you are, you are at a disadvantage. Infertility and fertility treatment are so very difficult, please don’t make it harder on yourself by thinking it’s a sign of strength to do it alone.
We are here to help. From peer led support groups (Ladies Night In) to professionally led support groups (led by Lisa Schuman and Melissa Kelleher).
Know that we are here for you.