Blog > News > Fertility Counselling - Psychological Impact of Infertility
October 10, 2022
Fertility Counselling - Psychological Impact of Infertility
Today we are starting a series of blogs written by our fertility counsellor, Mollie Graneek, who is using her vast counselling experience to advise people during their fertility journey.
The first blog in the series reflects on the psychological impact of infertility.
Psychological Impact of Infertility
Becoming a parent is considered to be one of the most gratifying and fundamental human experiences and, something which most of us ‘expect’ to happen at the right stage of our life. For some, that expectation of becoming parents does not come easily and the diagnosis of infertility has a devastating effect on our lives.
What is Infertility?
Infertility occurs when a couple (or single woman) cannot get pregnant (conceive) despite have regular unprotected sex or, in the case of a single woman, artificial insemination. Around one in seven couples may have difficulty conceiving. This is approximately 3.5 million people in the UK. The majority of couples will conceive naturally within one year if they have regular unprotected sex. Should pregnancy not occur naturally, one may resort to their general practitioner or a fertility clinic for assistance in conception.
For thousands of years infertility has been clearly documented. The Old Testament, the Greek epics of Homer and hieroglyphics of Egypt all speak of the loss felt by the infertile. Most religions place a huge emphasis on the family but have fundamentally different views on fertility treatment and gamete donation. Christians however believe that God wants us to have children. The Bible, Genesis Chapter 1, verse 28 suggests that God gave humans the command to ‘Go forth and multiply’. He did not tell us how to multiply and many Christians believe that creating new life in the form of a child, has to be what God wanted. There are of course others who would consider that using fertility treatments in order to conceive is ‘playing God’ and that it is morally wrong.
Infertility is often described as a punishment from God and the age-old question of “what have I done to deserve this”? is lamented by many infertile women. The very description of their monthly period as the ‘curse’ further endorses the understanding that some divine intervention has befallen them.
Fertility treatment in the 20th century has brought us closer than ever to resolving what must be one of the world’s oldest miseries. In 1859 Darwin described in the Origin of the Species his theory of evolution. Like most new concepts, evolution too became the subject of debate - a debate which, centered on philosophical, social, and religious implications of how man evolved. The philosophy behind it is that the living species is not fixed but is the product of change driven by natural selection. In biology, evolution is the change in a population’s inherited traits from generation to generation. Add contemporary science and today’s population inherited traits which, enables us to create children through a process of gradual divergence and, in my opinion, permits “co-evolution”. Believing in the theory of evolution, the contemporary engineering of babies through progressive scientific techniques sits comfortably with me.
Psychological Impact of Infertility
Parenthood is considered to be one of the most transitional periods in adult life and the denial of parenthood through infertility comes with an abundance of psychological sequelae and stress.
The psychological and social stress of infertility and assisted conception is well documented. There is general agreement from clinicians and patients that stress and distress in some form are significant sequelae of infertility. Individuals who learn that they are infertile often experience the normal but, nevertheless distressing emotions which are seen in people who are grieving a significant loss – in this case, loss of the ability to procreate. Typical feelings include anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, anger, relational difficulties and self-worth. Ironically, stress and anxiety increases sexual dysfunction and therefore perpetuates ‘infertility’.
It is often helpful to seek support through counselling in order to help to process feelings, to develop strategies for coping with the feelings which are sometimes overwhelming and, to provide a safe forum to explore the way forward.
People who come for counselling are often concerned that they have little understanding of what is about to happen during fertility treatment and, consider themselves to be in some way different from everyone else. They are fearful that their request for assisted conception is in some way unusual and, seek ‘approval’ or reassurance that what they are doing is acceptable. They are worried about themselves and their perception of having failed in what they consider to be a fundamental right – the right to reproduce.
But is having a child a right?
Most women have an inherent desire to conceive, be pregnant and to give birth. Indeed, some would say that this desire to have a child is innate. That is to say that the feeling exists naturally or, by heredity rather than being learned through experience. But what is the truth behind this ‘innate’ need for children?
Studies have shown there is no real evidence to support the notion that there is a biological process which creates a deep (innate) longing for a child. Rather, the profound feelings of wanting a child have their roots in a learned desire from long standing social and cultural influences. Others of course argue that the desire to have a child is based on the need of genes to survive and reproduce. Whatever theory we believe, does it make our desire to have children any less? Some believe that if we take the biological or ‘innate’ need out of the equation, we are able to consider other influencing factors and perhaps further consider the intractable question – why do we want children?
The answer to this question is without doubt subjective but, it is one of the most difficult to be explored in fertility counselling.
In the next few blogs, Mollie will talk about:
- Implications of Donor (Gamete) Conception;
- How to decide if the donor route is right for you;
- Is counseling ‘mandatory’ before donor conception?
- Diversity of Fertility Treatment;
- Fertility Counselling in Self-Sex Relationships,
Mollie took part in a webinar on Wednesday 2nd of December 2020 at 8pm. To watch the webinar, please click below.