Taking care of your mental health during fertility treatment is one of the most important things you can do on your journey to parenthood.
Let’s take a closer look at what you might feel while going through fertility treatments and how to maintain your mental health during this time.
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That’s not surprising: You’re handling the psychological stress and anxiety related to an unknown future; the stress inherent in relationships with partners, family, and colleagues; and the financial costs.
Stress can lead to a mixture of emotions. It’s natural to have feelings of depression, anxiety, and to feel highly irritable. Emotions you may experience during fertility treatment include:
Depression is about more than just feeling down or sad.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, depression is a mental health condition in which you experience a persistent and severe low mood. When you’re caught in the ups and downs of fertility treatment, you may have a higher chance of developing depression.
Anxiety is a feeling of overwhelming dread. Anxiety may make it difficult for you to control your worry. You may worry more than seems warranted, or you may expect the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern.
Although less than half of the procedures in the IVF process are invasive, you may still be anxious and fearful of undergoing the process.
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During fertility treatment, you may find yourself becoming irritable and angry. Medical procedures may leave you feeling vulnerable, exposed, and helpless. These feelings may fuel your irritability and anger.
You may feel that life isn’t fair. When you see others reaching milestones that seem so distant to you, you may be overwhelmed by intense feelings.
Although jealousy is a painful emotion, it is a signal that points out what you value most. Acknowledging the feelings and understanding the underlying issues is an important part of managing these difficult feelings.
Sometimes, fertility treatments may entail loss and mourning. You may experience miscarriage or failed IVF cycles. You may mourn the loss of your imagined family, or the loss of being related if donor egg, sperm, or embryos are used. These losses aren’t always visible to others, and this may add to your grief.
During fertility treatments, the feelings of depression, anxiety, irritability, jealousy, and grief can all come together to make you feel isolated and alone.
While you’re receiving fertility treatment, you may feel that the intense feelings you have are here to stay.
Medications used to treat infertility such as clomiphene, leuprolide, and gonadotropins may lead to symptoms like anxiety, depression, and irritability.
The study found that 62 percent of men reported that their desire to have children was equal to that of their partner, and 8 percent felt they had a stronger desire than their partner.
It’s therefore not surprising that women and men undergoing fertility treatment are affected in similar ways:
- Depression. In a 2016 California study with 352 participants identified as women and 274 participants identified as men all undergoing fertility treatment, 56.5 percent of the women and 32.1 percent of the men reported symptoms of depression.
- Anxiety. That same study diagnosed 75.9 percent of women and 60.6 percent of men in the study with symptoms of anxiety.
Feelings of irritability, jealousy, grief, and isolation can also be experienced equally by both partners.
So, what can you do to maintain your mental health when facing fertility concerns and treatment?
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes the important role of thinking. CBT teaches you that thoughts can affect how you feel and what you do.
A CBT therapist teaches you to challenge automatic thought patterns, such as “I will never have a baby” or “the infertility is all my fault.”
By learning how to challenge these thoughts, you learn how to examine them and how to replace them with thoughts that can nurture you.
Mindfulness is described as the process of paying attention to the present moment in a nonjudgmental way.
Mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular as a therapeutic tool. It teaches you to first become aware of the sensations in your body, and then expand on this awareness to regulate your emotions and thoughts.
Mindfulness can help you cope with the stress of fertility treatments.
Yoga has been used for healing purposes for thousands of years. It combines physical postures and breathing exercises to create a meditative and relaxing experience.
Think of this as a type of daydreaming. A therapist or a recording can guide you through a relaxation exercise that is full of imagery. The imagery may be about breathing in a specific color or about being in a calm, relaxing place.
Unlike mindfulness, there is little research to back the success rates of yoga and guided imagery.
The expressive writing included journaling exercises and a daily gratitude diary. Researchers found that while anxiety and infertility-related distress did not significantly decrease, people who participated in the expressive writing group had reduced symptoms of depression.
When it comes to maintaining your mental health during fertility treatments, a
Organizations that can help you find a mental health resource
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: The SAMHSA National Helpline (800-662-4357) provides 24/7 information about mental heal professionals and support groups in your area.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine: The NAMI HelpLine (800-950-6264) provides 24/7 information and referrals for mental health professionals, treatment facilities, and support groups in your area.
- The Mental Health Professional Group: The Mental Health Professional Group provides lists of resources you can search by your city, state, or the name of a therapist.
- RESOLVE – The National Infertility Awareness Association: RESOLVE (866-668-2566) offers support groups, professionals, a help line, and an online support community to help you maintain mental health on your journey to build a family.
- Black Mental Health Alliance The Black Mental Health Alliance provides referrals to people looking for licensed, culturally competent clinicians for behavioral and mental health treatment.
- Asian Counseling and Referral Service: The Asian Counseling and Referral Service is based in Washington state and provides Asian American and Pacific Islander communities with mental health services and support.
- The Línea Nacional de Ayuda de SAMHSA: Línea Nacional de Ayuda de SAMHSA is a national, free, confidential, and 24/7 treatment referral and information service in Spanish that provides resources for individuals and families facing mental health issues and substance use disorders.
- The LGBT National Hotline: The LGBT National Hotline (888-843-4564) provides one-to-one peer support and a confidential, safe space for anyone to discuss issues with coming out, gender or sexual identity, relationship concerns, bullying, and self-harm.
When reaching out for help with infertility, Black women may face an uphill battle in the United States. Here are some reasons for this:
- Infertility is something of a taboo topic in the Black community.
- Infertility services have long focused overwhelmingly on white women.
- Black women may not have insurance that covers the cost of fertility services.
- There is a lack of Black sperm and egg donors.
- Black women may face prejudice from physicians.
For these reasons, Black women are
If you are a Black woman with fertility concerns, you have resources. Consider reaching out to these organizations to help you on your journey to parenthood:
You may feel a variety of emotions while going through fertility treatments. Whatever you are feeling is OK. There are things you can do to help relieve some of the stress you may have – meditation, journaling, and participating in activities that bring you joy are just a few ideas for things to help.
If you are facing depression, anxiety, and other difficult emotions, help is available. Sharing your feelings with your partner, doctor, other healthcare professionals, or a mental health professional can help.
You don’t have to go through this alone.