The Emotional Aspects of Infertility (And the Impact on Relationships)

Emotions can run the spectrum when facing infertility. It’s important to know that you are not alone – however you feel – and understand the common feelings with infertility.

When you are looking forward to starting your own family, receiving the news that you or your partner – or both of you – are infertile is soul-crushing. Emotional distress is significant whether it is your first or fifth child striving to conceive.

In most cases, you are given a diagnosis, but sometimes, your doctor may state that it is ‘unexplained infertility,’ leaving you with more questions than answers.

The most common, though treatable, female reproductive condition associated with infertility is polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS; this condition is caused by an imbalance in reproductive hormones that results in problems with ovulation.

couple looking at negative pregnancy test on bed in sweatpants

The common emotions of infertility

This article discusses some aspects of the emotional distress related to infertility.

For readers who have experienced infertility, some of these points may be relatable; for those who have not experienced infertility, there may be some educational gain in this article, which could offer insight into the experiences of those who find themselves on this journey.

1. Isolation

When you struggle with infertility, you are in the minority, as most couples can conceive naturally (without intervention within six months to one year). Those closest to you may not have personal experience or could not begin to understand what you are going through.

Pregnancy announcements, gender reveals, and baby showers may be emotionally painful to attend, despite being happy for your friends or family.

It can sometimes feel like everyone around you is pregnant or delivering healthy babies while you are the only one struggling to conceive. In addition to the inevitable feelings of isolation, other emotions that may arise include jealousy and, subsequently, guilt for experiencing jealousy.

2. Failure

Another aspect is your self-esteem. Some women struggle immensely with the pressure to conceive; they are told – or tell themselves – that it is their purpose or duty to have a baby. When this does not come naturally, you could experience feelings of failure; the one thing you are made to do is not happening.

You may feel as though your body has failed you; unfortunately, this feeling is often amplified after multiple failed attempts to conceive.

3. Financial stress

Fertility treatments can come with a hefty price tag that not everyone can afford, depending on the type of intervention and medical aid plans, for example.

Those who cannot afford the medication or procedures to improve their situation may feel helpless. It’s worth noting that many insurance companies do not over IVF or IUI, but it is worth looking into your specific provider and seeing what they offer (if anything).

4. Mood swings (and beyond)

Medication side effects can also bring you down. Some hormones used to help conceive can have side effects ranging from mood swings, irritability, and insomnia to symptoms of depression and anxiety.

You may feel as though your body has failed you; unfortunately, this feeling is often amplified after multiple failed attempts to conceive.

It can be extremely disheartening and frustrating to go through the emotional turmoil and unpleasant side effects and possibly not even have a positive outcome.

5. Grief

Last, and possibly one of the worse aspects, is grief. When a loved one dies, we honor their memory and grieve for the loss of what was.

With infertility and pregnancy loss, the grief we feel is more of sorrow for a future that is lost, grief for what could have been. Each unsuccessful procedure, round of medication, or negative pregnancy test can leave you with a deep feeling of loss, including a loss of hope and a loss of confidence.

woman in a tan sweatshirt looking sad

Where to find emotional support with infertility

If you are experiencing any of these feelings or situations, it is essential to get help. Some of the support available to couples working through infertility include the following:

1. Support groups

A support group could be a place where you can communicate with other couples experiencing similar challenges. In these settings, there is an offering of sameness, and a support group can help you feel less alone in a journey that often feels isolating. Find an infertility support group near you.

2. Relationship support

Relationship support for both parents is critical regardless of where infertility lies. You are on this emotional rollercoaster ride together, and it can put a strain on the relationship.

One of the grievances that could surface is the decision to end treatment. Those who have not fallen pregnant after treatment may need to decide when to cease treatment altogether. The two parties may have different timelines and could potentially have different expectations.

Each unsuccessful procedure, round of medication, or negative pregnancy test can leave you with a deep feeling of loss, including a loss of hope and a loss of confidence.

While sex is a positive intimate experience in a healthy relationship that both parties should enjoy, sex can become anxiety-provoking and daunting when trying to conceive.

Couples may consciously or subconsciously pressure one another to conceive, creating tension in the relationship.

3. Individual therapy

Individual therapy is similar to relationship support, which grants one the opportunity to feel emotionally supported and hopefully provides a space to work through challenging emotions and access tools to navigate tough times.

4. Supportive books

There are helpful books on infertility that aren’t focused on getting pregnant, rather share supportive and encouraging stories of others who have also experienced infertility.

couple holding hands in a field

Final thoughts on emotions and infertility

Infertility could be the first medical crisis a couple faces together, an obstacle that is not always overcome easily. Most parents eventually reach the point of accepting their situation, whether it is by successfully carrying and delivering a biological child, surrogacy, or adoption. It may even be reconciling with having a life without children.

The psychological impact of infertility is complex and multifaceted, and reaching any level of acceptance is not an easy task, a task that can be incredibly painful.

But with the appropriate support, many couples can come to terms with it and lead happy, fulfilled lives.

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Sharmon Reddington

HPCSA Registered Counselor

Sharmon is a Registered Counsellor and mother of two. She runs a private practice, Mum Well, where she provides therapy to pregnant and postpartum moms. In addition to postpartum needs, she also provides mental health support in attachment, addiction, bereavement, trauma, parenting guidance, and relationship and marital difficulties.

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