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Struggling With Infertility? It’s OK to Feel Anxious

Infertility can be highly stressful, made worse with pressure to "just relax."

Key points

  • People often have well-intentioned advice for those struggling with infertility, but it can often be more harmful than helpful.
  • Self-blame is commonplace when someone is struggling with infertility.
  • Dealing with infertility is inherently a stressful process.
  • By validating stress and anxiety associated with infertility, it can help reduce secondary anxiety, or anxiety about anxiety.
Source: Chanintorn.v/Shutterstock

“Women in war zones have gotten pregnant.”

People had all sorts of advice and comments for me when I was dealing with infertility, and this was one of the most helpful statements anyone had said to me. A therapist was responding to my fear that my anxiety was somehow the cause of my inability to get pregnant, and she was giving me a reality check.

When someone is trying to get pregnant, well-meaning people seem to come out of the woodwork to give advice. Phrases like, “just relax and it will happen” or “you are worrying about this too much” tend to be very commonplace. People will cite stories of someone they know who tried multiple rounds of IVF, and it was only when they “gave up” (and were seemingly less anxious) that they were able to get pregnant on their own.

Self-Blame Is Commonplace

“It is my fault that I cannot get pregnant.”

I frequently hear this sentiment from my clients who struggle with infertility. For some, there might be an obvious reason why pregnancy is elusive, for others, it might be a mystery. Same-sex couples and those trying to conceive on their own may face a whole host of other stressful circumstances.

When someone is struggling with infertility, it can feel completely out of their control. It is common for someone to search within themselves for answers as to why it is happening. Women, in particular, are very vulnerable to self-blame during this time. They blame themselves for being too old, for using too many substances when they were younger, for being too overweight, for a past abortion, for being on birth control for too long, for eating too many carbs…basically, nothing is off-limits.

The Experience of Infertility Is Stressful

And then there is stress. I now realize that I was not alone in blaming my fertility problems on being too anxious. It comes up over and over again with my clients, and to them, I say, “It would be virtually impossible not to be stressed out during this time!”

When someone is having a difficult time conceiving, it can be extremely stressful. If they have moved on to fertility treatments, it often involves includes frequent monitoring of ultrasounds and lab results, and possibly the involvement of other medical tests. Most people’s reproductive systems have never endured such scrutiny.

Fertility treatments often involve daily injections of expensive drugs and visits to costly doctor’s appointments. To make matters worse, much of this might not be covered by insurance. Statistics are often discussed: “If we retrieve ___ number of eggs and at least ___eggs fertilize and develop into embryos, chances are that of those embryos, ___ will be genetically normal and you will have a ___ percent chance of getting pregnant after this round.”

Again, how could anyone not be anxious and stressed with these factors at play?

So, when a well-meaning person tells someone engaging in infertility treatments to relax, it can lead to feelings of extreme invalidation and blame. What’s worse is that when someone feels like she is damaging her chances of getting pregnant because of her stress, she develops anxiety about her anxiety, or secondary anxiety.

While of course, it is a good idea for those who are experiencing infertility to try to engage in stress-reducing activities, they should be cautious about their intention. Being less anxious will make the whole process more tolerable, but it is important not to tie the need to get rid of stress with the chances of having a successful outcome.

Self-Validation of Anxiety Can Help

Self-validation of one’s anxiety is actually one way to help keep this anxiety in check. So, if you are dealing with infertility, rather than saying to yourself, “My anxiety is hurting my chances of getting pregnant,” practice saying, “Of course I’m feeling anxious, this is an extremely stressful process.”

If you have the urge to torture yourself by searching stress and anxiety and infertility on the internet, maybe you should instead do a different type of search. You can try a different strategy and look into stories of people who got pregnant under highly stressful circumstances.

Of course, if your mental health is causing you high levels of distress, consider seeking the services of a professional with expertise in the area of infertility.

While infertility is inevitably stressful, by accepting and not judging your stress and anxiety, you will make the process at least a little easier.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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