Emotions and fertility is an challenging subject as trying for a baby is both an emotional and a physical journey that varies from person to person, but what is probably true is that after a year of trying the path becomes increasingly tough because this when the word ‘infertility’ starts to get used, and expectations with the ‘baby-to-be’ and the wider world become more challenging. It can also be when you’re expected to share the excited and sometimes insensitive delight of friends and family who get pregnant or have children. The level of uncertainty about self, your partner, what’s going on, possible treatment choices and their outcomes, as well as the question of when ‘enough is enough’ can become all consuming, depressing and isolating.
For many this really is a ‘life-crisis’ moment, but having an understanding of the situation you’re in and then being able to make informed choices goes a long way to reducing stress and anxiety and is one of the main reasons why morefertile® was started: to explain the different aspects of fertility, how to raise fertility naturally and when assisted reproductive techniques (ART) are really the right option. As many couples testify, being informed helps reduce anxiety, and is essential when considering choices for the path ahead, and we hope to offer some insight into how people often feel and cope best:
- Infertility and stress
- Women and fertility stress
- Men and fertility stress
- How to cope
Fertility medicine is different from other medical experiences as usually the visit to a doctor is to get “rid of” a problem, but in fertility it’s a “lack of” that’s the problem. This inevitably changes people’s expectations and experiences, including who to tell, how to interpret tests, time scales, ‘what the plan is’, and things like treatment options and costs. These all place stresses and strains on people individually and as couples. If you’d like to get an idea of how your stress levels are you can check on the ‘perceived stress scale’!
There’s lots of evidence that the anxiety and stress levels of parents-to-be influences their fertility (both natural and ART),i to the extent that some experts recommend patients have treatment to identify and reduce their stress before ARTs even started. Stress has a profound impact on the body in many ways (although it’s difficult to measure precisely, and varies from person to person), but stress directly affects the nervous system, and the main connection between the nervous and hormonal systems is a gland called the hypothalamus, which happens to be the very gland that controls the release of sex hormones, and these then control how egg and sperm develop.
Infertility and stress
Infertility is upsetting and distressing for both sexes, and unsurprising this is particularly true for women without children who’re actively trying for a baby.ii Some things increase a woman’s level of distress, and the two main ones are feeling isolated, and from arguments about the situation with her partner, family or friends.iii Just coming to terms with the idea of infertility is itself stressful, and the investigations and treatments to explain the diagnosis cause periods of great uncertainty and higher stress.
For some people not having a baby can lead to depression and social withdrawal, and many men also experience a physical inability to perform sexually when they’re under this sort of stress. Studies into this situation help give us insights into the emotional impact of infertility on men and women, and advice on the best (and worst) ways to cope in a healthy way.
Women and fertility stress
The women who diagnose their own infertility are actually the most distressed, which means they’re even more stressed than women who’re having treatment.iv This means that getting a diagnosis and knowing what’s going on (and the help that comes with it) really seems to reduce uncertainty and misery. However fertility treatment doesn’t necessarily bring happiness, as a year of unsuccessful treatment leaves 15% of women very depressed and nearly a quarter (23%) give up treatment during the year. What is clear is that women who felt unappreciated by the family, or who had high levels of demand and conflict with family, friends or neighbours were much more likely to stop their treatment.v
The question of “who to tell” is really important and seems to depend on the levels of support a woman feels, so as a rule of thumb it’s best to tell people who’re likely to be supportive, rather than anyone who’s likely to question the situation you’re in and the decisions you make as they’ll make things worse.
Men and fertility stress
After a year of unsuccessful fertility treatment 6% of the men become very depressed,vi and this is partly from them feeling they’re getting little emotional support or appreciation, or that their partner’s become excessively demanding. A particularly difficult issue for men is being asked to time sex to the woman’s fertile phase of the cycle, and for previously virile men having to time sex to the cycle causes