Handling emotional stress from infertility
Women who experience infertility go through a rollercoaster of emotional stress. While their male partners may also experience some emotional stress, it is different from and not as strong as the stress women feel. Infertility can cause a woman to feel she lacks femininity or is not living up to society's expectations of her to have children. It's not difficult to understand why women take infertility so hard. They are inundated with messages regarding their future role as mothers from the time they are small children. These messages come from family, friends, schools, and the media. There is a lot of unspoken pressure put on women to become mothers that leads many of them to think there is something wrong with them if they can't achieve this easily.
By the time they reach adulthood, many women have placed a large part of their self-image into one day being mothers. Some genuinely want it more than anything while others feel like they must reproduce because it is expected of them. Either way, infertility is a stumbling block women are not trained to see coming and the feelings of loss or failure that come with it can be difficult to cope with at the best of times. The anger and frustration stemming from these feelings of inadequacy as a woman can affect all of the relationships in their lives in a negative way. They can also start to believe something must be wrong with them for not being able to conceive easily like everyone else they know.
Men are simply not pressured to become fathers in this way. The emotional stress infertility brings to them comes either from their own real desire to have children or from the stress of dealing with their wife or girlfriend's feelings of despair over not being able to easily conceive.
What to say to someone battling infertility
To make matters worse, most people don't recognize or understand the trauma infertility brings to the women who experience it. If it's not something a woman's friends, family, and co-workers can relate to, they can often say some insensitive things without realizing it. Common responses to a woman's fertility struggles are:
- "Just keep trying. You'll probably get pregnant when you least expect it."
- "Why don't you just adopt?"
- "Maybe God just doesn't want you to have kids."
- "Think of it as a blessing. You have no idea how much trouble kids can be."
These are all well-meaning but terrible things to say to a woman who is having trouble conceiving. These words just compound her grief and will probably cause her to direct some of her anger toward the person who said it for their lack of understanding. Sadly, the only people who really understand and can offer appropriate sympathy are other women who have or are going through the same thing. If a woman has no such people in her life, she has no support group and is all alone in a world that seems to her to be uncaring and cruel. If she's lucky, there will be an infertility support group in her town. However, many women do not have this luxury or are too embarrassed to attend. Attending means admitting there is a problem and that problem affects her very perception of herself as a woman.
Studies have shown that women who have issues with infertility suffer as much stress and depression as women who have devastating illnesses like HIV and cancer. Some of this can be caused by the hormones a woman must take if she is undergoing infertility treatments. However, much of it comes from the simple inability to bear a child without assistance and the lack of understanding she experiences from those close to her.