We are having difficulty conceiving. Could this be stress-related?
Having problems conceiving can does not always mean that you or your partner are infertile. However, it can put a lot of stress on your relationship.
Everything revolves around identifying the right time of the month to try for a baby and doing pregnancy tests as early as possible to see if you have been successful this time around. The disappointment of a seeing a negative result every time can affect each partner’s self-esteem and place an enormous stress burden on you as a couple.
There may be a number of reasons why you are having difficulty in conceiving but what is certain is that stress adds to the problem. The more stressed you are, the less likely you are to conceive.
This is because stress triggers a hormone disturbance, making conception more difficult. When you are stressed the body responds by focussing on the “fight or flight” response and suppressing the reproductive and other body systems.
The good news is that many couples who start off with problems conceiving are not infertile and eventually conceive successfully. Learning to think positively and cope with stress can increase your chances. We have all heard anecdotal tales of couples who, after trying to conceive for a long time, decide to treat themselves to a weekend away to relax and forget about trying to get pregnant only to find they get a positive pregnancy result the following month.
We are considering infertility treatment. How will it affect us emotionally?
Some couples, after trying unsuccessfully to become pregnant will go down the route of fertility investigations and treatment. Infertility is the inability to conceive after one year of regular, unprotected sexual activity or the inability to carry a pregnancy to term. It may be due to problems in the female, the male or a combination of both. In some cases, the cause is not known.
Having children is seen as a basic and natural progression of life and the inability to fulfil this hope can feel like a denial of basic human rights. The physical and psychological ordeal that accompanies a diagnosis of infertility can be akin to a form of grieving for some people and will be a very stressful time for you as an individual and as a couple.
The added stress of fertility investigations and infertility treatment may be too much to cope with. The treatments are lengthy, invasive and often costly and some procedures raise ethical issues and require detailed self questioning. In most cases, the couple’s relationship, sex life, self esteem, and finances will all suffer under the strain.
Our relationship is under a lot of stress. What should we do?
Any couple experiencing problems conceiving or infertility should speak to their doctor and seek psychological support in the form of professional counselling and stress management.
Before you go to your first counselling session you should talk about the treatments and possible outcomes together and try to develop a good awareness of how you feel about certain issues. This way you should have a similar level of understanding of what lies ahead and an appreciation for the desired outcome. Common issues to consider include:
- Would you tell friends and family or would you keep it a secret?
- Is it realistic to try to keep it a secret?
- Could you cope with a multiple birth?
- Could you cope if one or all babies died?
- How many treatments can you financially afford?
- How long would you persist with infertility treatment?
- Would you consider donor eggs or sperm?
- Would you consider adoption?
- Could you accept that all treatment may be unsuccessful?
Almost every minute of conscious life you are engaging in self-talk (conversations in your head); if the self talk is accurate and realistic then you are able to function well, if it is irrational and untrue then you may experience stress and emotional upset.
Consider your feelings and self talk regarding your partner if you both discover that the infertility problem lies with them and not you. Do you blame them? do you let it ruin your relationship? Do you feel victimised? Do you have a lot of self talk beginning with “If only…” or “What If…”. Consider your feelings and thoughts if you are told that you can never have a natural child of your own? The chances of your own thoughts becoming negative, irrational and destructive are very high.
How do you control these thoughts and your own negative self talk?
A practical and effective stress management exercise is controlling self talk. Research shows that a large part of our daily thoughts are negative thoughts whether the situation is a real one or an imagined one. Albert Ellis developed a system to attack irrational ideas and replace them with realistic statements.
Ellis’s “Rational Emotive Therapy” is based on the idea that emotions have nothing to do with actual events. In between the event and the emotion is realistic or unrealistic self talk. It is the self talk that produces the emotions. Your own thoughts, directed and controlled by you are what create anxiety, anger, frustration, depression.
Stress management exercise- refuting irrational thoughts
Five Step Exercise:
- Select Your Irrational Thought (that you wish to dispute)
- Ask yourself: “Is there any rational support for this idea?”
- Ask yourself: “What evidence exists for the falseness of this idea”?
- Ask yourself: “Does any evidence exist for the truth of this idea”?
- Ask yourself: “What is the worst thing that could happen to me”?
- Ask yourself: “What good things might occur..?”
No matter what the situation, whether it is the long road of fertility treatment, accepting alternatives, or coping with relationship stress, you always have a choice. You can choose to view any challenge as a potential opportunity or as a potential defeat.