Helen Adrienne L.C.S.W.

On Fertile Ground


Infertility and Anger

You can learn to tame the anger that comes with infertility.

Posted Feb 17, 2011

When dreams are thwarted, it's normal to feel angry. And dreaming about having a family is not just any dream. It is central to what makes us human. 

The time is right for you to start a family now and-bang---nature has another idea. How unjust. With a small window for conception each month, if there is no pregnancy, time can come to feel interminable. So many unanswered questions! Why aren't we conceiving? What has to happen for us to get a diagnosis? Then what? How long will all of this take? Most people in your shoes feel overwhelmed and out of control. In fact, suddenly you understand what Job must have felt. Meanwhile, you're surrounded by people who are popping out babies left and right. Friends and family may or may not know you're in this struggle. Either way, even the most well-meaning people make insensitive comments. Physically, mentally, socially and spiritually, you're in a crisis. Why wouldn't anger be normal when life as you knew it is now unrecognizable? 

On good days, you feel that your determination will get you through this nightmare. You and your partner might even feel closer to each other because of this struggle. On other days, you could care less about staying the course and instead derive a perverse pleasure from marinating in your anger.

Let's deconstruct the concept of anger. First of all it can be a pure response to unwanted or unexpected stressful circumstances. Certainly infertility is in this category. Exploding in anger can be a healthy and effectively discharge of the stress.

But we need to be careful because anger can be sneaky and derive force from other unrecognized emotions or unfinished business from the past. Like a tsunami which was caused by an earthquake out at sea, anger can ride on sadness, disappointment, jealousy or other emotions that may not be conscious convert into anger and add intensity. In this case, discharging anger would not get at what else is going on. Self-awareness is in order, but studying yourself could feel like a job for which you are in no mood. Yet, it can go a long way to spare your body from the costly physiology of anger-tight breathing, tight muscles and internal organs, agitation in every cell of your body.

Some people deal with anger by suppressing or internalizing it. Self-awareness can serve you really well here, too. If this is your style it would be important to recognize that you may be dealing with an emotional heirloom. This simply means that your role models, when you were little, indicated verbally or non-verbally that you weren't allowed to be angry. Suppressed anger takes its toll on the body, too.

Unless anger is attended to in one way or another, it can simmer and interfere with receptivity to pregnancy. Given the mind/body connection, clearing the decks of emotional debris, facilitated with self-awareness, can manifest as an invitation for conception. This doesn't mean that if you are angry, you are preventing pregnancy. It just means that there is something that you can learn how to do that could encourage it.

When struggling with infertility, challenges roll in from all fronts not unlike a tsunami. Given the protracted amount of time that it can take to resolve the quest for a family, learning how to effectively deal with the anger engendered in infertility gives the body a respite from stress, builds your sense of competency and returns the feeling of control back to you. While you may not be able to control that you're on this journey, you can control how you navigate it.

Between the spring of 2002 and the fall of 2005, 39 volunteers from seven of my ten-week mind/body stress reduction groups agreed to fill out a questionnaire comprised of three self-rating scales before the group began and after it ended. The hypothesis that prompted this unpublished study was that by learning and practicing stress reduction techniques, participants could reverse the physiology of stress. The techniques that I taught are designed to intervene in the vicious cycle of stress from both mind and body perspectives. I predicted that self- rating scales would show measurable changes as improved mood and outlook and a lowered subjective experience of bodily stress. To my delight, the data from all three assessment instruments demonstrated a trend toward improvement in mood and outlook and a lessening of physical tension. To my surprise, as a by-product of the mind/body interventions, there was a statistically significant decrease in levels of anger! Rates of conception were higher than average, too. Since 2005 articles have appeared in Fertility and Sterility which acknowledge the correlation between the use of stress-reduction techniques and rates of pregnancy.

Mind/body stress-reduction must be practiced to provide an effective antidote to the relentless challenges of infertility. Creating a respite, often---and as needed, diverts our physiology back in the direction of neutral. What a relief to feel relieved! So even though stress reduction exercises do not cure anger or any other intense reactions to infertility, they go a long way to putting you back in control. With mindful awareness, you get to respond to the stress rather than react to it. If you want to maintain an open space for hope, embrace the unwanted symptom of anger and learn from it.  But for now, take just one generous breath and use the exhale to let go of today's anger.