A recent report released by the Reproductive Psychology Program at Cedars-Sinai Hospital showed that half of women struggling with infertility reported it as being “the most upsetting experience of their lives,” The mental health impacts associated with infertility can be challenging to navigate, as recent studies show nearly 15-54% of infertile women deal with major depression while 8-28% deal with high levels of anxiety.
In a recent interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report (TMHR), Rose (name changed for anonymity) shared her experience. Rose says that she and her partner kept trying to conceive and it was not working out. After a number of visits with her family doctor, she was told she was infertile. “Knowing that your body cannot reproduce has a huge emotional toll on you. You begin to think that maybe you were never meant to be a mother, that your body has failed you, that you are less than other women.”
While the main focus of many clinical appointments is to help with conception, the effect on mental health is often not discussed.
Registered Social Worker and Psychotherapist, Heather Ratych, is the founder and Clinical Director of Bloom Psychotherapy, a group practice focusing on reproductive and perinatal mental health. When it comes to the psychological consequences attributed to infertility, Ratych states that the outcomes are well-documented, and include depression and anxiety. There is fear and worry about whether a pregnancy will happen, when it will happen, and what it will take to get there. The infertility journey is complex and for some, can be traumatic.
It is common for many to feel as though their bodies have failed or betrayed them. Ratych explains that the infertility journey can bring up feelings of anger, frustration, and resentment while others blame themselves, feeling as though they are ‘broken,’ and some question if they are meant to be a parent.
Working through such heavy feelings while undergoing treatment for infertility, such as IVF (In vitro fertilization) can be taxing, increasing psychological distress. Many of the medications taken during treatment adversely influences mental health well-being, resulting in higher levels of depression. Sari Shaicovitch, Registered Social Worker and founder of her own fertility support practice, shares her experiences working with women undergoing infertility treatment. She explains that anytime you put hormones in your body, they are going to affect you. “I have had women describe to me they don’t recognize themselves.”
One key factor that can make the struggle with infertility easier to deal with are support networks. While fertility clinics do attempt to outsource the range of psychotherapists and support groups they have available, it is crucial that communities continue to make the support more visible and accessible to all.
Ratych explains that those struggling with infertility need to know that they are not alone and are not to blame. They need timely access to specialized mental health services, for their health care team to normalize the mental health aspect of infertility and encouragement to access support. We need to continue to normalize therapy and to advocate for universal access to mental health services without lengthy waitlists.
Similarly, Shaicovitch points to infertility awareness networks. In Canada, these networks help women find different counsellors and support groups to feel heard and supported throughout their journey. Encouraging people to discuss the physical and psychological implications of their situation may help bring them out of isolation and help them connect with others in similar situations. Shaicovitch says: “Continue to talk about it, it’s not going away.”
-Diba Dehghan, Contributing Writer