Becoming a parent is something many people hope for but for some, getting pregnant is harder than imagined and can take an emotional toll, especially when so many people around them seem to get pregnant with no troubles. An expert at Baylor College of Medicine offers advice on how to handle the emotional effects of infertility.

Infertility is defined as being unable to conceive after trying to become pregnant for at least 12 months. “Those who have been trying to conceive for quite some time can begin to experience some very understandable, normal and expected grief,” said Dr. Sohye Kim, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the division of reproductive psychiatry. “They feel that they are excluded from, or are somehow a unique exception to, this natural, exciting stage of life that other people get to experience. This can lead to significant emotional turmoil and, in some cases, clinically significant anxiety or depression.”

In addition to emotional distress, individuals dealing with infertility may feel as though it is running their lives. As months and years goes by, they realize that they have invested so much physical, emotional, and financial resources to their fertility. It is not uncommon to begin to schedule everything, from social engagements to time off from work, around their treatment. A lot of patients report that they feel stuck in this chapter of life, Kim added.

Braving through social media

Seeing other people’s success in starting a family can add to the already difficult emotions, especially when it’s all over social media. When people are grieving infertility, it’s difficult to feel excited about others’ birth announcements, gender reveals and baby showers. Instead, these events may intensify distress for couples who are already in the emotional turmoil of infertility.

“It’s not that they don’t want to be happy for their friends or family, it’s more that it touches their pain too closely. To protect themselves, some people with infertility pull back from social engagements. This can lead them to feel socially isolated, while also struggling with guilt that they are not participating in their friends’ special occasions,” Kim said.

Communicating with your partner

In some cases infertility can place additional stress on the couple relationship. Couples can respond to infertility differently. One person in the couple may have intense emotional reactions, while the other person may primarily view it as a practical issue to tackle. If there is one person who is the primary contributor to infertility, that person may wrestle with guilt while the other partner may experience a very different set of emotions.

“No one understands the experience of infertility more than the couple themselves. If they can be in it together, feel it together, grieve together, openly share emotional reactions, and problem solve together, it can help counteract that sense of isolation and powerfully bring couples closer,” she said. Kim also suggests that this may be a helpful time to seek therapy if couples feels stuck in unhelpful communication patterns or heightened conflicts.

Getting through it

Kim also advises couples to remind themselves of and intentionally schedule in what brought them sense of joy and meaning outside of fertility.

She suggests making time to schedule dates and to rely on social support even when they feel like isolating themselves. “The importance of social support can’t be over-emphasized. It is tremendously helpful to find a small group of people they can trust and allow them to actually be part of their journey,” Kim said.

For individuals who know someone facing infertility, Kim says the best thing to do is to educate themselves on infertility before offering advice. “Friends and family often try to offer quick fixes. For people who have been dealing with infertility for quite some time, these quick fixes are often unhelpful and even hurtful. It’s meant well, but it is important to be aware that sometimes what these people need the most is someone who would walk alongside them without attempting to minimize or fix their pain,” she said.