How to deal with the stress of infertility?
In couples trying to conceive, infertility is always stressful. It makes it difficult or impossible to fulfill the important role of a parent, often disturbs relationships with friends and family, causes embarrassment, emotional disorders, and sometimes depression. Stress can be dealt with in various ways, and the strategy adopted influences the level of stress by reducing or increasing it.
Folkman and Lazarus distinguish 8 strategies of coping with stress.
1. Confrontative coping
People who use this coping strategy do not hesitate to express their negative emotions and often direct them to the person who they believe caused the problem. Sometimes they take risky actions or actions that they know won’t solve the problem, but they want to act and do whatever.
It is about trying to take your thoughts away from the problem. People with distance do not overly consider infertility and try not to treat it as a very serious problem.
People who deal with stress this way try to control their emotions. Often they do not tell others about their infertility problems, preferring to keep their feelings to themselves. They also try to prevent their emotions related to infertility from influencing other aspects of their lives, such as their work.
4. Seeking social support
This way of coping with stress involves contacting people who can help in some way. On the one hand, it is looking for substantive support through consultations with infertility specialists or talking to other people who have encountered this problem, but also for emotional support – talking to friends or family about your feelings.
5. Accepting responsibility
Such people try to deal with stress through self-blame. They may argue that fertility problems are their fault, even if research fails to show where the problem lies.
Escaping the stress associated with infertility can manifest itself in dreaming that a miracle will happen, avoiding human contact, taking substances that make you feel better (e.g. eating, drinking alcohol, smoking, medications), sleeping more than usual.
7. Planful problem-solving
It is about planning and taking active steps to solve the problem. People who deal with the stress of infertility in this way actively look for ways to treat it and focus on the next steps they must take to lead to the dreamed parenthood.
8. Positive reappraisal
It means trying to find the positive sides of a stressful situation. Such people often admit that infertility led to some beneficial changes in their lives, e.g. it influenced their personal development, strengthened marital relationships, allowed them to see what is most important in life.
Of course, it’s not that each person only uses one coping strategy. We often use some of the different ways, but usually one is dominant.
Research by Peterson and colleagues has shown that men who struggle with infertility more often use the strategy of distancing, self-controlling and planful problem-solving, while for women more characteristic is a confrontational way, seeking social support, escape / avoidance and accepting responsibility. Both men and women most often cope with stress seeking social support, and taking responsibility is the least frequent.
Seeking social support, planful problem-solving, and distancing correlate with less stress. Those who try to avoid the problem or blame themselves for infertility feel the most negative emotional impact.
So it’s worth talking about infertility. People who talk to loved ones about their emotions find it easier to deal with them. They feel that they are not alone with their problem, and knowing that there are people who want to support us is always encouraging. It is also worth to be active – learning about infertility treatment methods, consulting with specialists, planning your treatment and following all doctor’s recommendations. Thanks to this, people trying to have a baby have a sense of some control over the situation, and focusing on the tasks to be performed allows them to control stress. At the same time, it is good to have some distance to the whole situation. Occasionally tackle something other than infertility, be aware that if treatment fails, it won’t be the end of the world.
Peterson B.D., Newton C.R., Rosen K.H., Skaggs G.E. (2006). Gender differences in how men and women who are referred for IVF cope with infertility stress. Human Reproduction 21(9), 2443–2449. (text at oxfordjournals.org)
Author: Maja Kochanowska