Infertility can be painful. The diagnosis itself may prompt a cocktail of painful emotions, but the treatment process too is an ordeal into depression and anxiety — and many times, that anxiety can aggravate a pre-existing mental health ailment. With or without a strong support network already in place, the patients of infertility may have to sift through beyond their known sources of knowledge and advice for the emotional help they seek.
It is here that a therapist with expertise in these issues comes in. Of course a general therapist for anxiety or depression can be helpful also, an infertility expert will deliver a personalized guidance to help women and their partners through these sensitive events — and to help negotiate the excruciatingly difficult conversations with family and friends. "Fertility Yoga and Wellness" can include practical solutions on many different issues relating to treating infertility, including difficulty getting pregnant, miscarriages, and late-term losses. The regimen also involves counselling in matters of crucial importance.
"All of those things bring up a lot of emotions and stressors that are unfamiliar or aren’t talked about openly among women and couples," says Julie Larson, LCSW, a therapist in New York who specializes in infertility and grief counseling. "[Going to] infertility counseling is the moment when people stand back and realize they need some support."
"I wish more people knew about infertility in general so that women going through this would not feel so traumatized," adds Marni Rosner, Doctor of Social Work, LCSW. Being a specialist in counseling women and couples going through infertility, she knows the gravity of the situation: "Women that are diagnosed with infertility often experience it as a real assault to their identity," she says. "Their whole lives, they've been told that, if they work hard enough, they can do whatever they want, and all of a sudden that doesn't happen — sometimes, you just can't control your body."
Dr. Rosner and Larson reveal what infertility therapy is like, when to start considering it, and how those not dealing with infertility can support those who are struggling.
What are some signs that infertility therapy could be helpful for you?
Dr. Rosner says that if the process of getting pregnant is interfering with your relationships, that's usually the first sign that you would benefit from reaching out to a pro. She explains that family and friends alike may be at a loss for what to say or how to say it. That disconnect may result in a lot of tension in those relationships, whether or not you realize that's the root cause. "The technical term is 'disenfranchised grief,'" Dr. Rosner explains. "[It means] no one understands."
"INFERTILITY COUNSELING IS THE MOMENT WHEN PEOPLE STAND BACK AND REALIZE THEY NEED SOME SUPPORT."
In some instances, someone who has had a miscarriage or an infertility diagnosis may realize she's struggling to find a way to communicate about what's going on. Larson says people often ask questions like, "How do you tell people? How much? What do you tell? And how do you cope with the ongoing persistence of that?"
There may be major emotional implications that may come with fertility issues, Larson adds. There may be a cycle of hope every month, followed by grief when that hope is dashed with a period. "It’s frustrating when you watch other people’s lives moving forward," she says. "It’s something you want that you can’t get; there’s anger in that, too." Women may also feel like their bodies are failing them, and experience a sense of guilt in thinking they're somehow responsible. On top of all that, the experience can also be incredibly isolating — even within a relationship. "No one's feeling understood," Larson says.
These emotions can be really hard, so you shouldn't feel shy about reaching out for professional help.
What is counseling usually like?
For Larson, it starts with helping her clients figure out what's going right. "People walk in with all of these big emotions, and that has clouded the clarity of how they're making it through the day," she says.
From thereon, she affirms says her approach facilitates the better understanding of what the patients need when those big feelings come up, and how they can get those needs met. "That's helping people to embrace coping and communication skills they already have, or to learn new ones," Larson explains. Additionally, her professional space acts as a conducive environment to have tough conversations that might not be happening anywhere else in her clients' lives.
"WHEN YOU DON’T TALK ABOUT SHAME, IT EATS AWAY AT YOU.
DR. MARNI ROSNER"
"Infertility brings up a lot of shame for people," Dr. Rosner adds. "Shame can be very toxic... When you don’t talk about it, it eats away at you." So providing a safe, empathetic space to talk through that shame, rather than letting it fester, is a major role for therapy. Then there's figuring out your support system. "Who are you going to reach out to? Who is going to be helpful, who isn’t, and who is worth taking a risk with?" asks Dr. Rosner. "A lot of people are trying to get something from someone they never get."
Counseling can also help you process the grief. "When women are going through this, they’re often in crisis," explains Dr. Rosner. "But when you develop a narrative [around your grief], including saying, 'This is what’s happening, this is why this is happening,' then, you can start to make a plan going forward."
How can you help a loved one who is dealing with fertility issues?
Dr. Rosner says the best thing is to check in, ask if there's anything you can do to help, and get curious. "A lot of people are afraid to ask the question or say the wrong thing," she says. Although it's great to be sensitive, being willing to start the conversation can make a huge difference in keeping up your relationship with that person. She suggests simply asking, "Hey, how's it going?" or "What do I need to know to help you?"