What are the consequences of stress and infertility?
Whether stress and fertility are linked as cause or consequence is unclear, and there is no consensus on the most appropriate methods for measuring stress in fertile women. Controversy aside, well-known academic institutions are offering a spectrum of nontraditional approaches. Facing fertility diagnosis can be an isolating experience, and taking part in support groups can help couples feel like they are alone in their attempts to conceive a child. “For most couples, it’s a very heartfelt journey. It is the number one priority in their life.”
The truth is that this relationship is very hard to study. Thinking about all the factors that go into our concept of stress makes it all the more difficult. Take an individual who is a Type A personality? Do you like stress and perform better under stress? Is infertility only a small part of the stress such as illness or family problems? These are the issues. Personality styles, ways of coping with stress, the amount of stress in the environment, and support systems are only some of the factors that need to be considered when we look at the relationship of stress and fertility.
When working with individuals going through infertility treatment. I often hear them wish they had more control over the events in their lives, particularly their fertility. The desire to be able to directly affect ability to become pregnant is powerful. On the other hand, acting on this desire may make the person feel responsible if he or she is unable to get pregnant because you are “too upright”. “working too many hours” or “not relaxed enough”. It is still unknown whether stress causes infertility. More in search is needy in this area to prove this relationship.
Infertility places a heavy burden upon people’s esteem, and stress arise from the negative self-image. Many men and women report feeling less masculine or feminine after diagnosis of infertility. I often hear infertile women tell me that they feel their bodies do not work right or are defective.Phrases such as “everyone else can get pregnant” or “I must have something wrong to deserve this”: reflects how badly individuals view themselves.
Unknowingly, family or friends can reinforce this image. Hearing statement like “I just had to look at my husband to get pregnant” can be very hurtful. Some mothers have told their daughters “I don’t understand- I never had a problem getting pregnant”. This statement, which may have meant to reassure daughter that there cannot be a major problem because it would have been known previously in the family, only serves to make the infertile daughter feel defective or estranged from her mother.
We grow up assuming we are fertile; most couple with whom I work have been actively using contraception to prevent pregnancy. It feels like we should be able to control our infertility-after all we have always assumed we could control to have a bay. Infertility robs us of our control and choices, leaving us vulnerable to depression and felling of hopelessness. For the infertile couple, feelings of guilt and responsibility can arise. It is not uncommon to hear an infertile partner offer (only half-jokingly) to divorce their partner so that they can have a child with someone else.
Stress may also arise from uncertainty in the future. Many patients often say to me that they could do this for years if they would just tell me that in the end I will get pregnant. Someone ones describe infertility as “being limbo.” Couples postpone vacations “in case” they are pregnant. Women will put off buying clothes with the hope that they will be pregnant and not need them.
Other women will stop all caffeine, alcohol and heavy exercise. Infertile couples are living in limbo not knowing what the future holds. They also live in limbo because they do not always know when they need to be available to run into the doctor’s offices. Men may find their work schedule impacted because they need to be available for timed intercourse or to provide a specimen.
EFFECT OF INFERTILITY ON SEXUALITY: Many couples experience a change in their sex lives while trying to battle infertility. Sexual intimacy may be replaced by scheduled sex. I frequently hear men joke that they feel like a “sperm donor” during sex. Couples may also feel that sex and pregnancy are no longer related. This may be the case if the couple is going through inseminations or through assisted reproductive technologies. To this couple, sex may represent something that has failed them.
To some, sex seems pointless and indulgent to some couples who feels that their sex lives were changed. Women may also feel that their bodies are changed for the worse medications. Certainly, if you are having an ultrasound every morning and your ovaries are enlarged, you may feel less sexy or sexual than usual.
The treatment of infertility takes time. The medications most women take during infertility treatment can have side effects. These side effects include headaches, fatigue, and premenstrual symptoms such as feeling irritable, sad or moody. For those women who need to take injections, the need mix medications and injections can cause a great fell of stress.
Some couples find that sharing responsibility for mixing medication and injection can prevent all the stress from falling on the woman and can help reduce her feelings that she is going through the treatment on her own.
Above all, it is God who works in us to do and to will for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). With God there is nothing impossible, and to him who has put his faith in God, nothing shall be impossible. Put your confidence in God always, and He will bring it to pass. Don’t fret, this too shall come to pass. You are winning. Yes, we are winning!
Doctor Ajayi (Nordica Fertility Centre, Lagos), 2006