Infertility, a harsh term on its own, has equally cruel synonyms too — “Barren,” “sterile,” “infecund.” These also reflect the attitude of society towards couples who were unable to bear children.
Every couple who enter into matrimony is bound by some social obligation to procreate. Those who don’t are doomed to hear about how they are missing out on the “joys of parenthood” for the rest of their lives.
Such talks can rub the proverbial salt on the wounds of couples who are desperately trying to conceive. They become a reminder of their inability to start a happy home. Not surprisingly, their mental health takes a heavy toll.
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The stigma of infertility bears down on couples who have high levels of psychological distress, depression, anxiety and frustration. Unfortunately, infertility has also reached alarming proportions with 1 out of every 6 couples facing difficulty to conceive, according to Dr Sulbha Arora, Clinical Director, Nova IVF Fertility, Mumbai.
How infertility affects mental health
Infertility can trigger stressful emotions often seen in those who are grieving any significant loss, she says. They go through a gamut of emotions — shock, grief, depression, anger and frustration. “Along with this, there can be a sense of loss of self-esteem, low self-confidence, and loss of control over one’s destiny.”
Strain on marriages
Infertility also puts strain on marital relationships, leading to more stress and mental health issues between the couple. Sometimes, family members and friends can also unintentionally add to the strain by offering misguided opinions or advice, says Dr Arora.
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Couples often feel socially isolated in India where there’s a great emphasis on fertility. “At times, they tend to feel isolated and judged. Couples dealing with problems facing conception might avoid social interaction with friends and family members who are pregnant or with families who have children,” Dr Arora adds.
Feeling ostracised can cause anger, shame and sadness, which can then lead to psychological issues. Couples can feel dehumanised, depressed, unworthy and helpless by this perceived feeling of social boycott.
“While medical interventions offer much-needed help and hope, they may also add to the stress and anxiety that the patients are already experiencing from infertility itself,” the doctor notes.
How to cope with stress and infertility
Couples dealing with infertility may go through ups and downs, especially if they are undergoing treatment for the same. ” Feeling overwhelmed at times is a perfectly normal response,” Dr Arora states.
If you find yourself, anxious, depressed, and stressed then you are not alone. Reaching out to family, friends and fertility support groups can give couples strength during trying times, according to the doctor.
Get help from mental health professionals
“Some may need additional health when they have symptoms like depression, difficulty in concentrating, sleep disturbances for a prolonged time,” says Dr Arora.
Relaxation techniques such as breath focus, guided meditation, yoga, tai chi, mindfulness mediation, music and aromatherapy can give couples an added shield against mental health problems.
“Infertility often creates one of the most distressing life experiences that the couple has undergone together. It can be a most stressful experience. Long-term inability to conceive a child can evoke significant feelings of loss. Coping with the problems of making medical decisions and uncertainties can create emotional upheaval for most couples. Thus, counselling, psychotherapy, relaxation techniques, and medication will be helpful,” says Dr Arora.