It’s no surprise to anyone who has struggled to get pregnant, but research has now confirmed the negative impact of infertility on your self-esteem.
Infertility is a painful and life-changing struggle for most couples. In addition to the physical toll that treatment for infertility takes on a woman’s body, studies show that the emotional and psychological impact of infertility are equally difficult for patients to bear. In fact, a recent survey of infertility patients revealed that 61% of women hide their struggle to get pregnant from friends and family because of the difficulty that sharing it with others represents.
My Body Has Failed Me.
We know that one in 8 women will struggle to conceive. You just never expect that you might be that one. When forced to face that reality, it’s very common to feel as if your body has failed you in a basic way. It’s a hit to your self-esteem. That feeling of failure can often produce anxiety, regret – for not seeking treatment or answers sooner, or a sense of self-blame. It also produces a sense of shame which can lead to isolation and even depression.
Why Hide The Struggle?
In a culture that highly prizes family-building, couples who struggle to conceive or to carry a baby to term often report feeling frustrated with the assumptions and questions friends and family have for them regarding when they plan to start a family. Confiding in those closest to them often yields unsolicited advice, intrusive questions and horror stories of other couples’ struggles. When one is feeling hurt and raw about the inability to conceive, it often feels wiser or safer to protect oneself and not share at all or to let others assume that she doesn’t plan on having children. Keeping a painful secret this big can feel like another blow to your self-esteem.
In fact, that same survey found that one-third of patients reported that their “ability to confide in others” decreased when they started to struggle to get pregnant and more than half of all the couples said it was “easier just to tell people that they were not planning to have children.” Being inauthentic about your hopes and dreams with folks you care about can be yet another hit to your already-teetering sense of self.
I Feel Depressed. Am I Depressed?
That need to guard oneself coupled with the retreating in isolation and shame can seriously impact one’s mental and emotional health. According to Dr. Ali Domar, “40% of women had significant symptoms of anxiety or depression at their very first visit to an infertility specialist, and the percentage increases as the complexity of treatment increases.” Additionally, the symptoms of depression rise for many women after they’ve experienced an unsuccessful IVF cycle as well. Depression is yet another serious blow to your self-esteem. Fragile emotions, layered in with hormones and fertility medications all come together to make you feel awful about yourself and your circumstances.
Now My Marriage is Struggling.
When a couple is struggling to achieve the dream of building a family together and emotions are raw, it can strain the marriage. Sex becomes routine and clinical. Conversations can be tender or downright inflammatory. When you add the layers of fatigue from other folks’ often unwanted input and the inclination toward isolation or depression, it’s a recipe for marital discord. While many patients report that the struggles to create a family have drawn them closer as a couple, many couples also reveal that the tension of infertility has created a lack of spontaneity, feelings of unattractiveness, and difficulty maintaining emotional and sexual intimacy. Those feelings are, again, more hits to your self-esteem. It’s not impossible to overcome this tension but it definitely requires time and attention to each other’s needs through a supportive connection with your spouse.
Minimize the Impact of Infertility on Your Self-Esteem?
One key to helping yourself is to figure out what it is that helps you feel better. Commit to healthy lifestyle habits like sound nutrition, exercise and sleep habits. Stay connected to your friends and family. Give yourself permission to develop healthy boundaries. Research shows that support groups can be very beneficial in combating the isolation that can come from infertility struggles. Research also indicates that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and mind/body programs specifically aimed at patients of infertility are effective tools in managing the stress, anxiety and depression associated with infertility. Many infertility clinics offer these services or can give you a recommendation to a program in your area with whom they have connection. If your specialists cannot offer you a recommendation, search for an on-line or in-person support group and try a few out until you find one that suits you.
Be Honest. Be Strong.
Practice being open and honest with your specialists about the emotions you are experiencing. In addition to gleaning some good resources from them when you do speak up, you can teach yourself to get pretty good at saying what it is you are experiencing. Create some “scripts” for yourself when the hurtful or intrusive questions come along. In advance of social situations that could be tough to navigate, try working out some signals with your spouse for rescuing each other. Give each other permission to be strong advocates for self and for each other. That strength can go a long way toward healing your self-esteem and your relationship. If you can find the right footing together, that can helps you feel strong, healthy, and united on your path to build your family.
What was the impact of infertility on your self-esteem?[sws_green_box box_size=”515″]
Other Creating a Family Resources You Will Find Helpful:
- Coping with Infertility: Letting Go of Your Ideal Life Timeline
- Impact of Fertility Treatment on Sexual Health
- Tips for Staying Happily Married Through Fertility Treatment[/sws_green_box]
Sources cited for this post:
- Sexual function and quality of life in the male partner of infertile couples: prevalence and correlates of dysfunction
- Sexuality, Self-Esteem and Partnership Quality in Infertile Women and Men
- New Survey Finds Infertility Delivers A Serious Blow To Self-Esteem
Image credit: Maddie Photography~(sad woman with birds); DGrieux ; Ed Yourdon; iamalwayshonest