This is the first of a two-part series exploring the issues of infertility and mental health.
For many couples, pregnancy is a positive and exciting time however one in six couples experience infertility.
Infertility is the inability to conceive a child naturally, without medical intervention after a period of at least 12 months or being unable to carry a pregnancy to term.
Infertility can be due to factors including hormone imbalances, polycystic ovaries, endometriosis, low sperm count or related to age. Treatments are varied and can include lifestyle changes, hormone injections, in vitro fertilisation (IVF), and implantation of donor eggs, sperm or embryos.
Infertility is associated with the development of anxiety, depression and other psychological difficulties. Fertility treatments and the process of assisted reproduction itself is associated with heightened distress and psychological difficulties.
The unfulfilled wish for a child can result in distress and grief. Feelings of anger, shame, self-blame and guilt can predominate. Infertility can contribute to low self-esteem and a sense of hopelessness about the situation. Difficulty conceiving can give rise to relationship problems and can change the dynamics between a couple. Couples might begin to feel isolated from each other and communication becomes more difficult.
Issues of identity come to the fore; infertility can undermine a man's masculinity and for the woman, a failure to live up to gender expectations. As a woman ages, she might feel greater pressure to have children - pressure from within herself as well as by others.
Infertility can impact day-to-day interactions with family, friends and colleagues. Seemingly innocuous questions (e.g., "when will you have children?") can compound feelings. They can also be difficult to answer. A private matter becomes a public one.
It can be a time of mixed emotions when loved ones fall pregnant or give birth; joy and excitement, envy, sadness and grief. Being around babies and children in social settings or parties or on special days such as Christmas can also be hard. Even watching television can stir up feelings. Emotional distancing from loved ones can occur.
It is important to keep the lines of communication with your partner open. Confiding in close family or friends, or keeping a journal can help in managing thoughts and feelings.
If you are having difficulty falling pregnant and experiencing any of the problems that have been described, or if you know someone who is, counselling might be helpful to provide support and understanding. Organisations and websites such as 'Health Direct', 'Jean Hailes for Women's Health', 'IVF Australia' and 'Access Australia' can assist in providing useful information, advice and referral.
Telephone Paisley Psychology Services on 9548 1666 to arrange an appointment.