Infertility Counseling Series Part 3 of 4: What Is It and Do I Need It?
Inside Look From a Therapist into What to Expect from a Counseling Session Focusing on Infertility
This is hard. I mean, hard doesn’t even begin to describe wanting a child and being unable to have one. This is shocking. This is devastating. This is lonely. Infertility triggers a lot of heavy emotions, so it is “normal” to be struggling. There may be times when you are doing okay despite the sadness and anger and fear, and other times when you could really use some additional support. Here is some info on what infertility counseling is and how to know if it might benefit you.
What is Infertility Counseling?
This is counseling with a focus on your experience with infertility! It’s not the whole focus, you are a complex person with layers and being reproductively challenged is not the only thing about you worth talking about! It is the primary focus though. Could you see a therapist who doesn’t specialize in infertility? Of course. However not getting pregnant is a complicated loss and it is helpful to have a counselor who has either been through it and/or has additional training regarding infertility.
What Will We Talk About?:
This is all the things we have ever told ourselves about what it will be like to have a child. For example: I have a distinct memory of my kindergarten “boyfriend” and I discussing that we were going to have 100 babies. I also recently found a list I wrote in junior high of baby names that I liked. In adulthood my sister and I had planned on getting pregnant at the same time so that we had an excuse to re-binge-watch episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer together. When I first got married I longed to hold a baby in my arms and see that he had my husband’s eyes… And there are many more where those came from.
You have unconsciously been talking to yourself and others for decades about your reproductive story. Think back- what are some of your earliest/strongest memories of what you thought your reproductive story would look like? By honoring and grieving the entrenched stories that make up a part of our identity and history we can begin to participate on what our true reproductive story is.
For further exploration into Reproductive Stories as well as a wealth of information around infertility check out the book Unsung Lullabies by Janet Jaffe Ph.D., Martha Ourieff Diamond Ph.D. and David J. Diamond Ph.D.
Are your emotions all over the place? Feeling out of control? Not recognizing yourself? Develop strategies in counseling to feel more stable.
This is a big buzz word right now, and for good reason. Self care can (and in my opinion should!) include pedicures, massages and brunch with friends. It should however also be more holistic and include things like nutrition, sleep, exercise, spiritual connection etc.
Coping with Anxiety-
Feel like you are going to have a panic attack every time you drive to the clinic? Dread going to social events because people constantly ask you when are you going to have a baby? Work on building skills to manage this anxiety.
Develop boundaries that feel good for you to help protect you and keep you emotionally safe during this incredibly vulnerable time.
Build resilience, foster hope-
You are stronger than you know, and your ability to keep hope alive is so powerful. When you waver, (and it’s okay to waver) find support to help you keep going (or to suggest to you to take a break.) We all need an Emotional Sherpa from time to time!
Provide education on options-
Assisted reproduction techniques? Adoption? Remaining childless? Each of these options is built upon many smaller options. Discuss them with someone impartial who understands the potential risks and rewards.
Increase effective communication skills-
Strange how this intimate topic can feel so volatile when discussing it with people we love. Practice interpersonal effectiveness strategies to help you communicate and listen.
Not only are you grieving not having a child, but you are reliving the grief every month as well as grieving your reproductive story. This pain can grow exponentially if you have also experienced a miscarriage, stillborn or infant loss. These emotions will come out at some point, so allow yourself the opportunity to grieve in an environment where you feel safe and in control.
There is so much that you don’t have control over. What can you control? What do you want to do?
How Do I Know I Need Counseling?
It is common to feel depressed, anxious and irritable when struggling to conceive and you are probably experiencing many of the symptoms listed below. The real question is how impacted is your life becoming because of them? If the answer is more than you are okay with or feel equipped to handle then consider speaking with a mental health professional.
Lack of focus at work
Feeling isolated from friends and family
Avoiding certain social situations
Unable to let go of people’s well-meaning though insensitive comments
Increased conflict or disconnection with partner
Self-medicating with alcohol or other substances
Not enjoying the things that used to bring you joy
Feeling emotionally unstable
And the biggie- someone close to you suggested you might need a professional to talk to
If you feel like counseling is in your best interest I suggest filtering your search for a therapist by looking for those who specialize in infertility. You can ask for a referral from your doctor’s office, google “infertility therapists near me” or look on therapist search engines such as www.psychologytoday.com where you can sort your search by specialties. You can also reach out to me through the contact section on my website. Check out the upcoming Blog #4 in the Infertility Counseling series regarding “Questions to Ask a Therapist During a Consultation”.
Wishing you peace, joy and good mental health!