Navigating infertility is a stressful process. Initially, you may think that only your infertility will be impacted when diagnosed with infertility. However, you may quickly discover that other areas of your life are also affected, such as mental health, self-esteem, finances, relationships with others, and including your relationship with your partner.
Managing the emotional experience related to infertility is a complicated journey, one in which individuals endure profound anxiety, depression, grief, and loss.
Research also shows that emotional stress related to infertility can increase the longer one experiences infertility. Prolonged stress can profoundly impact one’s emotional health to the point where your experience can be characterized as traumatic.
However, while infertility is stressful, not all stress is traumatic. Understanding the difference between the two may be confusing at first. Still, it may help understand how infertility stress and infertility trauma are defined to understand the difference better.
What is Infertility Stress?
Infertility stress can be described as the psychological and stress associated with infertility.
Common signs of infertility stress are:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Overeating/drinking too much
- Feelings of sadness/anger/guilt/shame
- Thinking about fertility-related issues constantly
- Difficulty concentrating/spacing out
- Decreased energy
- Feeling distant from partner
- Financial troubles
Infertility stress usually resolves on its own. However, it is typically helpful to seek support individually or as a couple for stress management techniques.
What is Infertility Trauma
Infertility trauma may be best defined as a type of trauma.
Trauma can be described as a powerful event that you witness, learn of, or discover (Flemons, 2018). Witnessing and experiencing trauma can leave you feeling anxious, fearful, and in states of shock or distress that can affect someone mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Some infertility experiences are complicated and traumatic, exhibiting various emotional and physical responses.
Common emotional stressors are:
Common physical stressors are:
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite
- Startle response
- Changes in breathing when triggered
- gastrointestinal issues
- Avoidance of people and places that remind you of infertility
The experience of stress can shift into a traumatic experience over time. The circumstances surrounding the shift are personal to each individual/couple and therefore need to be considered when diagnosing.
Infertility trauma does not typically resolve on its own. Mental health interventions by a trained clinician are often needed to provide support to support each unique individual.
If You’re Experiencing Infertility Stress or Trauma
Know that self-care is a critical element of addressing infertility stress and trauma. Beyond the basic and ever-important staples of your self-care routine – such as eating properly, getting enough sleep, and exercising – you may find these suggestions helpful.
- Set boundaries for yourself, which may include:
- What information you consume online through Google or social media
- Who you talk about your fertility journey with and when
- How much information you share
- Notice your triggers, and be gentle with yourself as you find ways to address them
- Do meditation/breathwork (helps soothe parasympathetic nervous system), which helps manage anxiety
- Find a support group
- Get professional help.
The emotional and physical symptoms of infertility stress may be similar to that of trauma; however, infertility stress and trauma are not the same. The similarities between the two may make it difficult to know when your experience of “stress” transitions into “trauma.”
Infertility trauma symptoms encompass infertility stress symptoms and may be felt with greater intensity over a longer duration. Still, an accurate diagnosis can only be made after consulting with a trained mental health professional.
What to Look for in a Provider
- Look for a trauma-informed practitioner who specializes in infertility or reproductive health.
- Is the therapist licensed? Each state has licensing requirements that each clinician needs to meet in order to demonstrate clinical competency.
- Does your health insurance cover mental health services? If so, what is the cost for in-network or outwork providers? It may be helpful to verify coverage ahead of time.
- Schedule a consultation and listen to how your practitioner would approach working with your symptoms. Pay attention to how you felt during the consultation. Were your questions answered? Were there any red flags?
It’s easy to be consumed by the fertility journey, but try not to get lost in the struggle. You are more than your fertility journey. Give yourself and your body, more importantly, space and tools it needs to heal.
Flemons, Joanna. Infertility and PTSD: The Unchartered Storm. (Self-published, 2018).