“I can’t have children”: The psychological impact of infertility

People who have fertility problems can be overwhelmed by a host of negative emotions that need to be understood

The statistics are clear: Approximately one in ten couples has fertility problems. And because having a child is considered extremely important for most people, when the efforts to achieve a pregnancy remain fruitless, the experience may be traumatic.

Medically assisted reproduction and In Vitro Fertilization are undeniably two of the most important gifts of modern medicine that have become part of our lives. The problem is that these techniques are so focused on the “technical” part that sometimes the feelings experienced by the people who deal with such problems can be overlooked. Couples often rush to seek solutions without even fully understanding what the problem is. Nowadays, when people talk about infertility, they mainly focus on possible solutions, overlooking the impact this problem has on the psyche of those involved.

The truth is that people who have fertility problems can be overwhelmed by a host of negative emotions that need to be understood:

• Shame and intense feelings of inadequacy, as fertility is directly related in our subconscious with women’s femininity and men’s sexual ability.

• Anger and jealousy. The emotions of anger can be generalized or targeted against couples that have children. Those feelings of jealousy can drive the couple away from friends or relatives who have children and lead to their psychological and actual isolation.

• Guilt. People tend to blame themselves, trying to figure out what they did wrong in order to deserve this problem. Some people blame themselves for putting off the decision to have a child for too long, while others regret not asking for medical help sooner. Several women also regret decisions in their past, for example the decision to have an abortion at some point in their life.

• Fear and insecurity. There are many fears experienced by couples with infertility problems. The fear of social isolation, the fear of going through old age without a child to take care of you, the fear of abandonment by your partner.

• Intense grief that can even lead to depression. The occurrence of depressive episodes arising from fertility problems is well-documented by researchers.

• Infertility can also awaken existential concerns, as many individuals fear that they will forever remain “incomplete” or that their life is meaningless.

It is important to know that these feelings are normal and that they should not be suppressed. Instead, the people experiencing them must find a way to express them and manage them with the smallest possible cost. The process of consultation in such cases it is very helpful and it is recommended by most experts, particularly abroad.

The problems arising in infertility cases are not only experienced on a personal level but often have an interpersonal dimension. The problems between the two partners start early, even before the problem is diagnosed. Spontaneity and eroticism give their place to anxiety and sex on a schedule, to the point that some women become obsessed with monitoring their temperature to find their exact time of ovulation, expecting constant readiness for sexual activity from their partners. These situations are bound to cause tensions in the relationship of the couple.

Another common mistake for people dealing with infertility is making assumptions about their partner’s feelings or even thinking that they must feel the same way as they do.

In such cases it is extremely important for a couple to be able to discuss the problem openly and acknowledge their fears and their opinion regarding the various solutions available (eg In Vitro Ferilization, fertilization with donor sperm or ovum, surrogate motherhood, adoption, etc.).

Finally, it is worth noting that patience, strength, and high levels of commitment are the most important tools to deal with the painful psychological effects of this common problem!

Do you have a problem that concerns you? Our resident psychotherapist Zeta Stravopodi is willing to address any personal matters. E-mail her on z.stravopodi@gmail.com

Zoe Stravopodi-Gianno works as a psychotherapist and offers advice to individuals, couples and families. She also coordinates groups interested in achieving self-awareness and personal growth. In 2012, she established “Parents School” to give parents advice as to how to navigate the choppy waters of parenthood regarding the healthy emotional growth of their children.