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Therapy and Infertility

It is hard to imagine an experience as stressful as battling infertility. To address the emotional aspects of infertility, some fertility clinics (including ours), offer an in-house marriage and family therapist who is available to discuss the key psychological issues affecting individuals and couples experiencing infertility. I had a chance to discuss with our in-house marriage and family therapist, Peggy Orlin, MFT, about why patients come to see her. The information should be worthwhile. Although Peggy references patients she sees in my practice, the content should be applicable to all those dealing with infertility-related stress and seek the help of a therapist.

What is the most common reason why someone comes to see you at PFC?
At Pacific Fertility Center everyone who uses a known or unknown egg or sperm donor or a gestational carrier is required to meet with me. This is mainly an educational session designed to help people think through and discuss the issues involved with using a third party to assist them in building a family. Each meeting is custom tailored to meet the patient’(s) particular needs.

What are some of the other reasons people seek your help?
Some patients have had a failed cycle and are having trouble coping with the losses. Other patients have experienced a miscarriage. Both of these scenarios can leave patients feeling bereft and not sure how to move forward. During a session, I can help them understand the grieving process and we can discuss ways that they might ritualize their loss in order to move forward.

The stress of infertility diagnosis and treatment often brings them to me either at the center or in my private practice. It is important to understand that no two people will have exactly the same experience and that infertility can strongly impact those within a committed relationship. A recent diagnosis of infertility, as well as the stress and/or disappointments of treatment, can lead to feelings of isolation and depression. Additionally, people may experience grief over the loss of fertility choices. It is not uncommon that I am the first person, other than their partner, with whom they discuss their feelings about their infertility challenges.
There are those who are at a critical decision point and are seeking help thinking through their reproductive alternatives. This may include deciding whether or not to do one last IVF, move on to egg donation, select an egg donor or complete their family through adoption or childfree living. In the therapy sessions, we discuss and explore the pros and cons of a decision from the unique perspective of their life beliefs and situation.

Others may need help with developing positive coping mechanisms and stress reduction techniques such as setting aside time each day to discuss infertility with their partner, rather than allowing it to be a constant topic of conversation. We may also discuss how they can reduce their isolation possibly by talking with others who are having similar experiences. We may even explore how to include moderate exercise in their schedule to reduce symptoms of depression.

Depression frequently accompanies infertility. When should someone seek a therapist?
The experience of symptoms of depression which last more than a couple of weeks is an important reason to set up an appointment with me or a therapist of your choosing. Remember, everyone will feel some of these symptoms, some of the time. They become a problem when the number and intensity of symptoms increase and/or don’t abate.

Symptoms of depression:
Feelings of emptiness or extreme sadness
Loss of interest and motivation to do regular activities
Increased level of anxiety
Decreased level of energy
Difficulty sleeping or sleeping more than usual
Difficulty concentrating
Abnormal weight loss or gain
Obsessive thinking about your infertility
Feelings of isolation from friends and family
Extreme and persistent feelings of anger
Persistent thoughts of death or suicidal thoughts or attempts
Persistent feelings of inadequacy, or worthlessness
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About the Author

Dr. Herbert is a fertility expert and an innovator in the field.