Getting Support During Infertility

By seeking help when you need it, you are acknowledging your desire to improve your situation, to explore your feelings, and to feel better about yourself.

Expert advice from RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association

Acknowledging that you need help with your feelings is often as hard as admitting that you are having trouble having a baby. You may have been through months of hope and disappointments. Your life may feel like it is in a holding pattern, and your confidence may be shaken.

The "old" confident, happy you may seem far away, and the future may seem uncertain, at best. You are experiencing something that is considered a crisis in all cultures and religions. Most people experiencing a life crisis seek support and guidance from others. You deserve that too.

Try to think of joining a support group or seeing a therapist as a positive step, rather than a negative one. By seeking counseling when you need it, you are acknowledging your desire to improve your present situation, to explore your feelings, and to feel better about yourself.

There are several ways to get support or counseling that differs from the counseling that is recommended or required as preparation for a particular medical treatment (like in vitro fertilization, for example). Mental health issues may be treated with psychotherapy alone or in combination with psychiatric medications, such as antidepressants.

You may want to see an infertility counselor or psychotherapist if you are experiencing any of the following feelings:

• You have felt sad, depressed, or hopeless for longer than two weeks.
• You have noticed changes in your appetite, either eating more or less than usual.
• You are having trouble sleeping or are sleeping more than usual. You don't feel rested when you awaken.
• You feel anxious, agitated, and worried much of the time.
• You have panic attacks, particularly related to infertility situations or issues.
• You feel lethargic or have lost interest in activities you usually enjoy.
• You have trouble concentrating, are easily distracted, or have difficulty making decisions.
• You have persistent feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
• You feel easily irritated, angry, and frustrated.
• You have thoughts of death or dying.
• You have lost interest in sex or fail to have orgasms.
• You find that relationships with friends and family are no longer enjoyable, and you prefer being alone.
• You have considered or are taking over-the-counter remedies (like St. John's wort) for your nerves or depression.
• You find yourself brooding or repeatedly feeling overwrought after failed treatment cycles.
• You have been using drugs or alcohol to relieve your emotional pain, help you sleep, or help you relax.

If these symptoms have persisted for longer than two weeks, or if they have been interfering with your ability to function, it's time to reach out for professional help.

An infertility counselor can also help if you feel any of the following:

• You feel out of control or "stuck" in one emotion, such as rage, envy, or guilt.
• You want to sort out your medical treatment options.
• You are starting to consider ending treatment.
• You are starting to explore the options of donor egg, donor sperm, donor embryo, surrogacy, or adoption.
• Infertility has become an all-consuming aspect of your life, disrupting your relationships, work, or social activities.
• Old issues that you thought were finished start to bother you again, such as your parents' divorce, the death of a loved one, or previous sexual assault.
• You experience a new mental health problem or the re-emergence of a previous mental health problem, such as an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, or panic attacks.

Look for an infertility counselor who has:

• a graduate degree in a mental health profession.
• a license to practice.
• clinical training in infertility treatment and experience in the medical and emotional aspects of infertility.

Infertility counselors can help you:

• gather information to make informed decisions regarding infertility treatment.
• make a treatment decision.
• prepare for and cope with medical and surgical treatments.
• understand and cope with the emotional reactions to infertility or other mental health problems.
• reduce the strain of infertility on relationships with your partner, family, colleagues, and friends.
• explore alternative ways to create a family.
• learn to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
• communicate more effectively with family, friends, partners, and medical caregivers.
• grieve the myriad losses infertility typically involves.
• treat other mental health problems, such as eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.

Ways to select a therapist or counselor:

• Get a referral from your physician, infertility clinic, or local RESOLVE chapter or affiliate.
• Contact one of the following:

Local hospital
The National Association of Social Workers
The American Society of Reproductive Medicine
The American Psychological Association
The American Psychiatric Association
The American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
Local medical or psychiatric associations, nursing associations, or state licensing associations

Support groups can:

• help reduce feelings of isolation.
• increase coping skills.
• be a valuable tool for getting community support from people who are also experiencing infertility.

Groups may also be offered by:
• infertility clinics.
• hospitals.
• social service agencies.
• churches.
• synagogues.

RESOLVE also offers support groups in your area organized around a specific need.

If you are in Greater New York City, you may be interested in attending the Seleni Institute’s Fertility/ART Group. Learn more about all of our program offerings.

This article is adapted from a Fact Sheet published by RESOLVE with additional information on couples counseling, how to know when counseling isn't working, and other resources. It is reprinted here with permission.