It is often not talked about. Or recognized. Thus (and most concerning) it is not being treated. There are reasons for the silence or lack of recognition. Shame is the primary motive for silence around this issue. Men and women alike are ashamed of their infertility—profoundly embarrassed that they are unable to conceive a child. Both sexes often experience this as a fundamental inadequacy in themselves (or their partner) and are therefore reticent to share this plight with others due to this deep sense of humiliation and disgrace.
Other causes for neglecting the psychological impact of this struggle are related to the all-consuming nature of the medical process associated with addressing infertility. Those pursuing a successful pregnancy tend to have a razor like focus on the biological issues surrounding infertility. As a result, the psychological impact is ignored as the desperation to conceive compels couples to solely concern themselves with the medical process, thus denying or ignoring the oft-emotional consequences.
Thus they suffer with debilitating symptoms of depression and/or anxiety alone—with no help from a mental health professional. Without intervention the depression may become more incapacitating and treatment resistant. More troubling, a compromised psychological state can negatively impact the probability of conception. It seems clear that the truth about the devastating psychological impact of infertility must be brought into the light so those suffering silently can come out of the shadows and seek the help that is needed.
Jonathan and Emma are in the midst of this chaotic and painful process. Emma appears to be suffering from depression. Jonathan is attempting to remain a sturdy support system but is beginning to feel powerless in his ability to support his wife. Worse, he feels unable to reach with her, connect with her. Their very foundation of intimacy and solidarity has been cracked.
To better understand the psychological impact of infertility, here are a few common patterns of response that individuals dealing with infertility seem to exhibit: blaming/shaming, shutting down/withdrawing, denial/resistance.
Blaming and shaming occurs when one or both members of the couple indict the other. This can take a number of forms. The member of the couple who is not the source of the infertility trouble can take to blaming or shaming the other for the couples’ inability to conceive. This acting out behavior can almost always be attributed to a sense of frustration and helplessness, rather than to insensitivity or mean-spiritedness. Still, this dynamic can, of course, be very hurtful and divisive for the couple. Jonathan has exhibited this behavior in a subtle fashion. By suggesting that Emma’s stress and upset is further impacting their ability to conceive is to imply that Emma is to blame not only for the original infertility issue but also for the continued struggle.