Stacey Espaillat, MD
Private, Convenient Psychiatry
The Impact of Infertility on Body, Mind, and Relationships
Even though infertility is incredibly common—it affects 1 in 8 couples—it is known to be among the most stressful and isolating health conditions one can face. In fact, studies show women facing infertility experience levels of stress similar to patients with cancer.
Stress during fertility challenges comes from many angles. In psychiatry, we recognize that all medical conditions are affected by biological factors, psychological factors, and social factors (the “biopsychosocial model”). Because each area impacts the others, optimal treatment for any condition will address each area, and infertility is a prime example of the benefits of this approach.
First, let’s talk about the biological factors, which many people find easiest to recognize. Underlying physical conditions, such as prior cancer treatment, endometriosis, PCOS, structural problems of the reproductive organs, and many others can cause infertility. The biological impact of infertility doesn’t stop with the underlying cause. It also includes the biological stress of the extensive testing and physical interventions that treatment often entails.
Psychological stress comes from coping with the biological diagnosis and treatment itself, such as invasive medical procedures, hormone injections, and juggling numerous medical appointments with other responsibilities, possibly while trying to hide the treatment out of a legitimate desire for privacy, or out of shame and lack of support. It also includes the pain of uncertainty about the future, shame and guilt, and the fear of lost dreams. And in the midst of all this stress, couples face numerous weighty decisions about which treatment options to pursue.
Common social stresses include a lack of support from family and friends who struggle to understand, worsening of underlying problems in the couple’s relationship, and new disagreements which may arise. Everyday social situations may trigger the underlying psychological distress—a friend’s pregnancy announcement, a pregnant woman on the elevator, yet another family member asking “why don’t you have any kids yet?” It’s easy to see how these social factors can worsen the psychological factors of guilt, shame, and isolation. And lets not forget the spiritual stress that can come with infertility as well.
The GOOD NEWS is that despite all of this stress, there remains an incredible amount of HOPE. Not only are biological treatments continually improving and becoming more accessible, but also people are standing up and fighting to reduce stigma and increase support. While infertility may stress a relationship, it can also be a battle fought together that deepens the bond of the couple. Friendships can be formed or strengthened by taking the risk and opening up. And therapy to work through an individual’s unique response to infertility can be a springboard to move forward in other areas of one’s life.
Individuals facing infertility need access to biological treatments to address their infertility (a huge struggle in and of itself for many), but they also need help to process the psychological stress of their condition, the treatments, and their hopes and dreams for the future. Finally, they need help to build social relationships that are validating, supportive, and understanding.
If you are struggling with infertility, it’s time to get the help you deserve from a clinician knowledgeable about the unique stresses of infertility.
Call Dr. Espaillat today at 561-409-5499, or use the helpful resources from RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association at www.resolve.org to learn more and to find help in your area.
Support from Dr. Espaillat meets you where you are in your unique journey and guides you to a place of hope—supporting you as you resolve your family building challenges. Most visits are available online (from anywhere in Florida) and with flexibility in scheduling—allowing them to fit in amongst your other medical appointments, work, and/or family responsibilities.