Fertility And Mental Health

Since May is Mental Health Awareness month, IRMS asked me to write a piece for this blog. I am a Reproductive Psychologist and have been working with those struggling to build family for the last 20 + years of my career. I figured I’d focus on some simple thoughts.

Receiving an infertility diagnosis can be devastating and make the journey to parenthood overwhelming with emotions such as shame, guilt, sadness and feeling bad about yourself.  What I’ve learned over the years to help one deal with the challenges of infertility, is simple… “acknowledge it’s hard” and find someone who will be with you and listen. Although, half of the women and 15% of men say that infertility is the most upsetting experience of their lives, they often find it hard to talk about.

So, we look to see why this might be so hard for fertility patients to open up. When you look at all the blogs for this mental health awareness month, what you do see is the numbers of people that are affected are high. The CDC reports 1 in 5 (19%) of women are unable to conceive after one year of trying, and of that group, 1 in 4 (26%) have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying to term. This is a lot of people who are walking around feeling horrible and alone. Please, try not to be alone in this challenge.

What I hear from fertility patients is that unless someone has had trouble conceiving, they just don’t understand. It’s hard to talk to someone who “doesn’t get it”. A lot of times that’s true and sometimes it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, I have heard some of the dumbest and seemingly mean things people have said to patients from “just relax” to, “you got pregnant once, don’t worry” and many other responses that are intended to help someone feel better but fall very short. If someone really cares about you and you about them, they may need to be educated. I am not saying it’s your job to educate them, but you may want to lead them to a good source like RESOLVE.org.

Another thing that may make it hard to talk about fertility issues is that it’s difficult to come to terms with life not being perfect, or not what we see on social media. Life is messy, and if we have not encountered this mess before, it can make it difficult to be yourself as thoughts of “what-if’s” & “why me’s” plague our minds. People also hesitate to talk about this journey for fear it will make them more upset and think they are having an emotional breakdown, which they identify as a weakness. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Opening the gates and talking about this heartache provides the opportunity to feel better. It will make you stronger rather than weaker. I am not saying talking non-stop to everyone is healthy, it’s actually not. But bottling it up, isolating yourself, and not sharing can be unhealthy for you. One of the things to keep in mind is that fertility treatment is stressful, and by avoiding coping with this stress in an effective way, it can lead to increased anxiety or depression. Sometimes, just sitting with someone who gets it, is all you may need.

Some find it easier to talk to a qualified, experienced reproductive mental health therapist about how you feel and your reproductive challenges. It can be easier to open-up to a professional rather than a friend. If this is something for you, remember you want to find someone who has been trained as a reproductive mental health professional. The last thing you need is to have to explain what an IUI, IVF or PCOS is!

So as a final note, I found a picture that sums it all up:
Winnie the Pooh and Piglet sitting side by side on a tree log.

Illustration by Mark Burgess

“Today was a Difficult Day,” said Pooh.

There was a pause.

“Do you want to talk about it?” asked Piglet.

“No,” said Pooh after a bit. “No, I don’t think I do.”

“That’s okay,” said Piglet, and he came and sat beside his friend.

“What are you doing?” asked Pooh.

“Nothing, really,” said Piglet. “Only, I know what Difficult Days are like. I quite often don’t feel like talking about it on my Difficult Days either.

“But goodness,” continued Piglet, “Difficult Days are so much easier when you know you’ve got someone there for you. And I’ll always be here for you, Pooh.”

And as Pooh sat there, working through in his head his Difficult Day, while the solid, reliable Piglet sat next to him quietly, swinging his little legs…he thought that his best friend had never been more right.”
— A.A. Milne

Sending thoughts to those having a Difficult Day today and hope you have your own Piglet to sit beside you.

If you’d like to talk to someone here at IRMS, we are here for you. You can reach out to Dr. Pascale or with one of our other highly experienced counselors to book an appointment. 

Claudia Pascale, PhD, LLC, had been the Director of Psychological and Support Services at IRMS for over 20 years and has recently moved to focusing on her private practice. As a psychologist and specialist in the field of mental health as it relates to reproduction and family building she helps patients and their families’ deal with the struggles of infertility.  She sees individuals and couples for counseling; organizes and offers support groups for multiple themes.
Email: cpascale.phd@gmail.com 
Office Tel: 862.333.6230
Website: zencare.co/provider/therapist/claudia-pascale

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