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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.
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
"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
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
"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