Most people assume when they are ready to have children, they will be able to conceive and become pregnant. However, one in six couples will not have it so easy. They may experience difficulty in becoming pregnant or may never become pregnant. This difficulty can become much more to manage than one might think unless she/he has experienced it herself. Many experience feelings of shock and loss. Feelings associated with infertility (the inability to become pregnant after a year of trying) have been described as a life crisis and experiencing turmoil similar to a death in the family or divorce. It certainly may be one of the most distressing life crises that a couple experiences. It can evoke feelings of loss, shock, guilt, anger, shame, powerlessness, anxiety, isolation and alienation.

And although all people handles situations in their own unique way, there are some commonalities. Women tend to experience anger at not being able to have children and resent other pregnant women. They sometimes feel guilt at having waited too long to try to get pregnant, having put their careers first or for using birth control methods previous to being ready for a child. Women can begin to feel uncomfortable around children and start to isolate themselves from family and friends who have children. This isolation leaves them without their support networks to help them overcome feelings of depression and frustration, which are commonly associated with infertility. Holidays become painful reminders of the ongoing crisis rather than being a time for celebration. Many things begin to change in their lives.

Women also may focus on their bodies and develop feelings of hatred as their body feels inadequate and dysfunctional. Sexual identity, which is often tied into having children for women, may be questioned. Women tend to feel less sexually attractive.

And attempts to overcome the infertility bring up another set of feelings and loss. Women may put everything on hold, putting all their time and energy into getting pregnant. And the treatment itself can put her on an emotional roller coaster as she goes through cycles of hopefulness and then back to disappointment when she finds herself not pregnant.

Men are often going through another set of feelings that are common. Men can feel helpless and left out of the process as the focus is on the woman and her body. If the infertility is due to a sperm dysfunction, a man may feel he is impotent or lacking in masculinity. Men often keep it a secret, increasing feelings of isolation. And men often do not turn to friends as women do, which further isolates them from social support.

Infertility impacts each person separately and impacts the relationship as a couple specifically if the problem lies with one partner. It may be that one partner may feel guilt because he/she has the problem and the other may feel blame or anger towards the one with the problem. There may be fear that the partner with the problem will be left due to the infertility issue.

Often there is also a difference within the partnership regarding the expectations of having children. Women often express a greater need for children or one partner may already have children, which impacts the decision-making process of how far to take the process (e.g. what fertility tests to perform, what treatment options to pursue, when to stop the treatment).

And the process can impact the couple’s sexual life. The need to time sex around ovulation can change things to be more of a chore versus something pleasurable. The sexual interaction is not spontaneous and more pressure to procreate can lead to sexual dysfunction such as erectile problems in men or vaginal dryness in women. But the process can also develop closeness and make the relationship stronger as the couple shares the physical and emotional stresses of infertility. And the successful coping can result in couples feeling confident that they can tackle any future problems.

Other relationships can also be impacted. Family and friends may not know or understand the impact of the couple’s feelings or may place added pressure by having expectations of grandchildren. Unhelpful suggestions and comments may appear to lack understanding of the emotional turmoil the couple is going through, further isolating them from their social support networks of family and friends.

For some couples and individuals, becoming informed, consulting a counselor or therapist, or joining a support group can help with coming to terms with infertility or coping with the stresses of treatment programs and the emotional highs and lows that come with it. Joining a group that is for people who experienced infertility issues can give support that is understanding and safe. It can be a good forum for information, give contact with others having similar issues, set up a safe space for talking about those very difficult feelings, and can help to reduce the feelings of isolation. Along with this it can give a sense of hope as you watch others and participate in sharing their successes in their infertility process.

If you are experiencing infertility issues and having a difficult time with the emotional process, consider joining the group we will be starting in April. If this feels too open but you feel you could use emotional support to cope, consider starting psychotherapy as a means to help you get through this in a good way. Call our office at 382-5297 Extension 0 for more information.

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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


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