Infertility Therapy Nightmares

Dawn Davenport


Infertility Therapy Nightmares

Infertility can cause tremendous grief that few therapist are really equipped to treat.

Research has shown that the stress of infertility ranks as high as the stress of a cancer diagnosis. This comes at no surprise to anyone who has suffered from infertility. When talking with members of our Creating a Family Facebook Support Group, I often encourage people to see a therapist, psychologist, or other mental health professional to help them cope. I always specify that they need to find a counselor that specializes in infertility or at the very least understands the grief associated with the inability to become pregnant, but considering where people live in relation to specialized therapist, I honestly didn’t make a huge deal about it if they couldn’t find one. I mean, any therapy is better than no therapy when you are struggling with grief. Right? Er um, WRONG! Listen in on what some people have heard from their therapist.

The first therapist I went to told me that my REAL problem was that I DIDN’T want children and was afraid I might get pregnant! This was after 6 years of infertility, with a hard-fast diagnosis that was almost 100% certain! A few years later, I went to another one, and told him what the first one said, thinking he would find it comical or at least say it was ridiculous. He said, “You know, I think he may have had something there!”

I went to see a therapist to help me cope with my 4 year battle with infertility, and the failure of fertility treatment to help me get pregnant.  We had just switched infertility clinics and my new infertility doctor was running tests to see if my body was rejecting my husband’s sperm or was somehow allergic to his sperm. I mentioned this to the counselor, and she said that my “resistance” to my husband’s sperm was symbolic of my subconscious resistance to him, and that we needed couples counseling to resolve it. We were so desperate that we actually spent 6 months in counseling, even though our relationship was (and is) strong. And BTW [by the way], the [post-coital] tests came back showing nothing was wrong between my body and my husband’s sperm. I’ve never been back to a shrink since.

The woman I saw was “in bed” with the fertility doctor. As I started to question his treatment protocol (turns out I was right) and the fact he was just after our money at a 50% copay, things went sour with the shrink. She was the second one. The first one I saw once after our first stillbirth. I asked her if she’d heard of the book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility“.  She said, “No, why would I? I’m in my 50s”. I didn’t go back.

You’ve got to be kidding!?!

How to Find an Infertility Therapist

Unfortunately, there is no specific certification or training specific to infertility grief, but there are ways to find a therapist who has a clue in how to help the infertile.

  • Ask your infertility clinic if they have mental health professionals on staff or can recommend one.
  • The American Society of Reproductive Medicine lists members that are mental health professionals.

Good Books and Audio Podcasts on Infertility

Creating a Family has resources that may also help you deal with the overwhelming pain of infertility. Books are one of the first places I go when faced with any problem, and infertility is no exception. We divide our suggested books into several lists, including one we call “Good Reads“. I realize that “good reads” and “infertility” may seem to be an oxymoron, but these books really can help you cope.

We have also done many many shows on coping with the grief of infertility with some of the top experts in this field. You can find them listed on our Coping with Infertility Grief page. A one-hour podcast/radio show is no substitute for good counseling, but at least you can hear what a good therapist sounds like and you’ll feel less alone. One you may find helpful is Coping with the Emotions of Infertility and Miscarriage with Martha Diamond, a psychologist that specializes in infertility and loss, a survivor of infertility herself, and co-author of Unsung Lullabies: Understanding and Coping with Infertility.


I’m almost afraid to ask, but do you have your own infertility therapy nightmare? Or maybe a story of a good therapy experience?

Image credit: Inky

25/06/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 20 Comments

20 Responses to Infertility Therapy Nightmares

  1. Avatar Laura Upton says:

    Oh my goodness. I’m so sorry that anyone had to go through that with a therapist. Just awful. I went to a therapist who specialized in infertility, and she was wonderful in helping me and my husband deal with all the emotions and decisions involved.

  2. Avatar Gemma Strong Randazzo says:

    Holy crap – that’s all I have to say. Seriously.

  3. Avatar MJ says:

    The 1st (and last time) my husband and I went to see a therapist about our IF issues, she gave us the “adopt and you will get pregnant” line, because it happened to a “friend of a friend” of hers. She probably would have gone on with this line of advising if my husband hadn’t spoken up and told her point blank that what she was saying wasn’t helpful. And this was after she advised me to seek out a sperm donor so that my husband and I could have a child that was “half ours” biologically. If I had more courage, I would have suggested she reach across the room and slap my husband across the face-she was doing it verbally, why not do it physically too? To be fair to this counsellor, I think she was trying to help us in the only way she knew how-by giving advice-even if the people who were sitting in front of her weren’t ready for that advice at this point in time. Luckily both my husband and I have sought out therapists who are able to see us separately-these therapists are more familiar with the unique grieving aspect of IF-my counsellor has even gone through it herself. There might be an IF support group starting in our area soon, so there is finally hope that my husband and I might have some place we can go together to deal with this issue. It’s not the same as a really good IF counsellor, but it’s something. Thank you Marci for putting the “entitlement BS” idea into words as it exists for FERTILE people. I have heard so much about IF people having an inflated sense of entitlement just because we want to overcome our disease/disability and become parents in the only way(s) left open to us (ART, adoption, etc.) I find that attitude so hard to take from people who can take their fertility for granted…

  4. Avatar anon says:

    was in therapy for something else when my infertility journey started, and as it became more of an issue, we discussed it – got the “just adopt and you’ll be relaxed, and then you’ll get pregnant right away – it happens all the time”.

    • Ahhh yes, the old “adoption is the cure for infertility” approach to therapy. That’s professional. Guess it’s setting up the next generation of therapist for guaranteed work from all the adopted kids who wanted only in order for their parents to get a “real” kid. {sigh}

  5. Ditto to what Gemma said!

  6. Avatar Marci says:

    I have a wonderful therapist, who instead of saying horrible things like these people, brrrr, would say, “No, you were meant to be a mother. What’s your plan? What are your next steps? How can I help you get ready for the work you need to do?” and we’d work through the insecurities, the feelings that infertility was a punishment, that G-d knew I wouldn’t be a good mother, so He was saving my child from me; all that sort of thing.
    I can’t imagine how soul crushing it must be for a trained professional to tell you that your body is secretly sabotaging you because you don’t really want it. It’s that entitlement bs from fertile people that has no place in a therapy session.

  7. Avatar Ruby says:

    My husband and I found an excellent therapist. We’ve been with her eight years now, and she’s gotten us through infertility, aging-parent problems, basic life and work issues…. She was wonderful with the way she helped us through our infertility. Instead of offering advice, she mirrored back to us the feelings we were expressing, helped us recognize and name the feelings we were having, helped us figure out what to do with those feelings, did grief work with us, helped us with patience when one of us was further ahead with resolution than the other, taught us how to do “cycles” when we felt swamped by negative feelings regarding our infertility, the list goes on. What makes her so good, I think, is that she listens and works with what she hears; she doesn’t allow her personal feelings or own life experiences to come out. I still don’t know if she has children of her own or not–and that’s a good thing for me. She uses what she hears us say to try to help us figure out what it is we want and to find our own peace with ourselves and each other. She was upfront about not being specifically trained in infertility counseling, and she says she’s learned a lot from us about infertility. We’ve gone to a bad counselor as well (in the pre-infertile days), so I know how to tell the difference between good and bad. This one’s stellar. They’re out there. You just have to be prepared to go to a few to find the one that’s going to work best for you.

    • Ruby, I’m glad you pointed out that you don’t have to go to a therapist specifically trained in infertility issues to get help. I’ve had many therapist tell me that it isn’t necessary to know the specifics of the grief–the work at coming to terms with loss is somewhat universal.

  8. Avatar Anon AP says:

    Wow. That is a pretty awesome set of examples. Nothing like being kicked by a professional when you’re down…

    Just goes to show that part of the responsibility one takes on by claiming to be an expert is knowing and recognizing the boundaries of that expertise and being honest with others about those boundaries. Bad things happen when you push those limits too far.

  9. Avatar Greg says:

    Wow, I have been very lucky that my therapist has been fabulous. Even in my first appointment she made me feel like my feelings were normal. Over the last five months as I have gone through the roller coaster that is infertility she has been there to listen and also help me have perspective on my situation. Between therapy and family/friend support I have been able to work through the pain and sadness that comes with infertility. I’ve also learned that no matter what path my wife and I choose to go down that the wounds from infertility will be with me forever. Being aware of that along with learning how to deal with them is what can help me navigate this for the rest of my life.

    • Thank you Greg for sharing a positive therapy story. I really do believe that most people have a good experience with therapy regardless whether their therapists specializes in infertility.

  10. Avatar Greg says:

    I think what has helped is that the Therapy center she works for specializes in Infertility and Adoption. They came as a recommendation from our first RE. I could be wrong but I get the impression that therapists that do not have a background and/or understanding of infertility are not equipped to treat patients going through infertility. I could definitely see that a therapist who doesn’t will not be helpful to their patients who are dealing with infertility.

    • Greg, you’re right and the nightmare therapy mentioned in the blog is with therapist without specialized training. The problem is that not everyone has access to specialized therapists. I had assumed that any therapist is better than no therapist, but now I’m not so sure.

  11. Avatar Melissa Siebenthal says:

    I think that generally there are just bad therapists out there and then there are some great ones. I’m part of a group of parents who have lost children, and it’s surprising what some therapists will say to their clients! And yes, usually the parents don’t return to those bad therapists. I’ve been to a few therapists throughout my life, and I’ve found good ones. I think the key to finding a good therapist is finding someone who can help you work through your feelings surrounding whatever issues you are dealing with. They aren’t there to help you “fix” your infertility or whatever you are dealing with. They don’t need to be experts in what your problems are if they are skilled enough to be able to see through what you are going through with empathy and help you deal with with all the feelings you have. Our therapist wasn’t an expert in grief or child loss, but could still skillfully help us deal with all of our feelings of grief.

    • Melissa, your point is what I’ve always thought–good therapist can help you deal regardless of the issue. However, if you can find a therapist that does “specialize” in the type of grief you’re suffering, it can’t hurt, right? If you can’t find such a therapist, then find a good generalist.

  12. Avatar lisa says:

    I had a therapist who didn’t understand my feelings of betrayal when I found out my aunt had used an egg donor and had twins at age 45, and lied about it. I was younger and didn’t understand why my ivf failed, until my doc explained how my aunt must have used an egg donor. My therapist tried to tell me aunt didn’t use an egg donor, and it was my fault for not just ‘knowing’ that, suggesting that I brought on my infertility myself. How was I supposed to know? I’m not a medical expert and neither was the therapist. My doc, on the other hand, is one of the best fertility docs around, so I chose to believe him. It wasn’t helpful that the therapist was trying to make me feel guilt and regret over something I couldn’t possible have figured out on my own. It just added to my anger, deppression, and grief. I never saw her again.

  13. Avatar Leslie says:

    oooh yes, Lisa – I hate that misrepresentation about age and pregnancy. I have been sharing with all my younger friends and family members the truth about the biological clock!

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