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Should You Seek Counseling for Infertility?

Let me be honest: In my three-plus years of trying to conceive— first naturally, then with IUIs and finally with IVF—I never went to therapy. I didn't even go to group therapy. First, because I kept getting pregnant, I thought it was only a matter of time that I'd be a mom. (It was a matter of time, just a very, very long time.) Second, I was so mired in the world of getting pregnant, I didn't even realize how much of a toll it was taking on me psychologically. And finally, I don't think I even knew it was a thing— seeking support from others who have been in your situation or at least understood your situation, as opposed to friends who really didn't understand why I was in such a tizzy most of the time.

But fertility counseling is a thing and it's not just for the woman, but the couple, if she's part of one. "Regardless of which member of the couple has the medical problem, the issue of infertility is still shared by the couple," according to Psychological Issues Related to Infertility. "As a result, the couple should be encouraged to participate together in all aspects of the process of evaluation and treatment. In this way, each member of the couple will have a better understanding of the demands made on the other and will be more likely to be a support for his or her partner." Instead of only focusing on the medical and mechanical aspects of the process, the doctor should help the couples talk about their feelings and expectations and refer them to counseling—including connecting them to RESOLVE, the national infertility association.

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Barbara Collura, president/CEO of RESOLVE, recommends "therapy with a mental health professional trained in infertility if your infertility diagnosis is interfering with any major life functions, if you are feeling depressed and unable to participate in regular activities, if your relationships are severed or strained. I would also recommend a professional if attending a support group (either through RESOLVE or other groups) has not helped you."

But what can a therapist specializing in infertility do, I wondered, that was different from a regular therapist?

"I think that it's so hard for people to understand how to contain their anxiety around what might or might not happen," says Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherapist specializing in reproductive counseling who helps couples or individuals deal with their emotions through all stages of their fertility journey.

"So how do you talk about it together? How do you make decisions based on that? How do you go through your third IVF and the other person might be relieved it didn't work out and you don't want to give up?"

A couple might have different ideas about what their going through, she says, with one thinking it's so important to have a child and another thinking they'd like to but if doesn't work out that's okay. "So how do you talk about it together? How do you make decisions based on that? How do you go through your third IVF and the other person might be relieved it didn't work out and you don't want to give up?"

She also deals with questions like how important genetics are to the couple. For instance if one person gets to use their biology and the other doesn't—as in the case with donor eggs or donor sperm. Or how not to resent a partner when one person's reproductive system isn't working. Or even something as seemingly simple as how a single person should talk about it with their friends. "It's un-PC to talk about this with your friends," she says.

It's true that people not involved in the fertility journey often say, "Oh, a child is just a child—it doesn't matter how you get it!" But there are real, complicated and mixed emotions with all of it that's not so simple.

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Gottlieb, who has a donor-conceived child and attended medical school, is familiar with all the different fertility processes, so you won't have to explain to her what a failed IUI means, why a low FSH hormone level is depressing, or what the next step to consider is if your eggs don't fertilize—like you might have to with a therapist not specializing in reproductive medicine.

"Therapy helps dealing with grief as you go through it, so you don't get spent and exhausted and give up," she says, noting that most of her clients, in the end, become parents. "If you deal with grief as you go through it, it will help get the end result you want to get to that's not so painful."

Image via Getty Images

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