By Judith Burnett, Ph.D
Problems with fertility can create real stress for couples. Although no definitive studies demonstrating stress itself as a cause of infertility are currently available, many studies do show that that stress reduction may improve pregnancy success rates. At The IVF CenterSM we offer every patient access to emotional support throughout fertility treatment. We are pleased to offer both the services of our own Fertility C.A.R.E. Support Group as well as the consultation skills of Judith Burnett, Ph.D., a clinical reproductive psychologist at our center.
Aspects of Coping
Make the holidays special for you and your partner by starting new traditions just for yourselves.
Coping with Family & Friends
Family and friends may be unaware that holiday events can be upsetting for individuals or couples experiencing problems with fertility. Consider ahead of time what may be expected of you, both socially and emotionally, for specific holiday or family events. Think about your own preferences as well. Strike a balance between attending and avoiding family functions so each partner’s needs are respected.
A good strategy is to plan ahead what topics you want to keep private, which subjects you are willing to discuss, and with whom. Use these questions to guide your thinking:
- If your struggles with fertility were to last for many months or longer, who are the people that you would like to have in your support network?
- Who should be privy to information regarding your diagnosis and treatment?
- Who might best be left out of the information loop?
- Bearing in mind that once information is disclosed, it cannot be restricted, how much and what kind of information is appropriate to share?
- What types of support do you have in place to cope with anticipated and unanticipated reactions to disclosure? **(adapted from Diamond, Kezur, Meyers, Scharf, & Weinshel, 1999).
Individual Coping Strategies
To help reduce stress on a regular basis, try to engage in activities that are relaxing, provide relief and are easy to access. Activities might include meditation, yoga, creative visualization, listening to music, deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation techniques, hitting golf balls, or taking walks. Give yourself the “little pleasures” you would at any other time of year.
Tips for reducing stress and anxiety:
- Avoid exhaustion, loss of sleep and overwork.
- Eat regular, nourishing meals.
- Know your limits and pace yourself accordingly.
- Strive to develop mindfulness: appreciate the moment, maintain a here-and-now focus, increase awareness of sights, smells, sounds, and touch in the moment.
- Become an active participant instead of a passive recipient when managing fertility and holiday stressors.
- Give yourself “permission to be.” Give yourself breathing space and expect fluctuation in your mood and perspective. Allow yourself the privilege of “limping” until wounds have healed and you can learn to run again.
Coping Strategies for Couples
You and your partner will each have your own individual coping strategies. You’ll also want to work together to decrease the stress you experience as a couple.
Stress reduction guidelines for couples:
- Maintain open, honest communication.
- Plan intimate (nonsexual) time.
- Be willing to take a break from the day-to-day shadow of fertility. Limit your conversation about fertility treatment to 30 minutes a day.
- Develop a shared ritual, symbolic ceremony or sign that recognizes your experiences with fertility.
- Set reasonable goals together to make holiday times happier and easier to manage.
- Participate in a support group, either in your community or online.
- Work to arrive at emotional consensus that respects each partner’s needs.
- Respect differences in coping strategies.
Struggles with fertility create difficult and stressful times in individuals and couples’ lives. This “life crisis” combined with the holiday season can cause profound distress.
Keep in mind that you should seek professional help-either individually and/or as a couple- from a psychologist or counselor who specializes in reproductive health concerns if stress-related symptoms increase.