It is critical that the couple recognize that infertility is like a death. It is the death of a dream that requires deep mourning. Mourning is a long and difficult process that calls up feelings of denial, anger, helplessness, and a profound sense of sadness and loss. Individuals and the couple must process and explore their feelings associated with the loss in a safe environment in order to healthily grieve. Bottling such feelings inside can lead to destructive patterns and devastating symptoms.
4. Restoration of communication and intimacy
In order to heal, the couple must slowly rebuild their communication and intimacy. It is critical that both members of the couple express their feelings to the other. It is truly the only way to restore intimacy. In turn, each individual must honor and validate the feelings of their partner –even if the feelings are different than their own. It is the way to begin living together amidst this shared grief.
5. Identification of response patterns
It is useful to help the couple identify their mutual response patterns so they
begin to bring a consciousness to their behavior and choices. This can help
couples begin to amend their dysfunctional patterns which creates space for
more adaptive, supportive ways of being.
6. Restoration of individual and couple dreams
Ultimately, the treatment plan should include helping couples that are unable to conceive to develop a new plan and set of dreams for their future. This can include exploration of other options for creating a family (adoption etc.) or other ways in which the couple will seek to enrich their lives. This can be a difficult, grief-ridden process as old dreams are let go of. However, this act of letting go creates room for new dreams that can eventually be a source of great joy and healing.
Jonathan and Emma did seek help. Emma was diagnosed with depression and her symptoms were stabilized via a combination of therapeutic support, familial support, and multiple therapy sessions per week. Additionally, healthy patterns of sleeping and eating were restored as Emma was encouraged by her therapist to tend to herself in this way. The therapy required a significant amount of grief work. Both Jonathan and Emma had a myriad of painful feelings to process around their inability to conceive. This part of the therapy was the longest and hardest as both members tried to reconcile this fate.
Through the course of therapy, the couple was able to identify and appreciate their divergent ways of coping with pain and stress. Emma was able to see her tendency to withdraw and Jonathan was able to see his tendency to deny. This insight did not eliminate their differing coping mechanisms, rather it gave them a language to talk about it so they didn’t feel so far apart when these patterns of behavior emerged. This type of dialogue created a sense of connection even when their feelings differed. The improvement in communication seemed to naturally restore a sense of emotional and physical intimacy over time.
Towards the end of their work in therapy, the couple was able to create a new dream for their marriage and family. The couple decided to explore adoption.
One and a half years later, the couple is joyfully raising their adopted son, Mason.
The psychological impact of infertility is a complex and painful process that requires professional attention and support. It can be a devastating and hopeless time. However, it is possible to heal from the pain of this struggle and to rebuild.
Dr. Hillary Goldsher is a psycholgist with a private practice in Beverly Hills, CA. For more information on this topic or Dr. Hillary Goldsher, please click here.