If there’s anything this year has taught us, it’s that there are a million and one ways to be depressed– stress, general anxiety, and depression, seasonal depression, quarantine depression… The list goes on and on. It’s easy to laugh this off; it does seem like the deck is ever-stacking against us on our lifetime search for happiness.
One thing to notice before brushing the multiple-diagnosis aside is that each of these types of depression has a direct cause, meaning they have a pretty direct treatment. If your depression comes from stress, you will benefit from meditation and a lighter workload. Seasonal Affective Depression can be eased with time outdoors or SAD lamps, and general depression can be helped with therapy and medication.
Infertility trauma and depression are no different; it is caused directly by the stressors related to attempting to get pregnant, which crisscross over many aspects of life in general (such as finances, marriage counseling, self-esteem, and more.) Unfortunately, the treatment may not be as straight-forward as with other types of depression– its cause is intrinsic to its treatment. Adjusting to infertility is less ideal than becoming and staying pregnant, and isn’t it better to just hope for the best knowing these problems will go away once your baby enters the picture?…Well, no. Of course, the one thing we feel would ease the ache associated with infertility, and one of the biggest and best hopes we can hold onto is the one thing that we can not guarantee. What’s worse is that research shows that the longer you wait to get help, the worse your depression can become (spiking between the second and third year of not becoming pregnant.) Just as with any type of illness, depression should be treated quickly, no matter the cause.
Doctors have supported combining physical fertility being combined with relevant psychological care for decades. In the mid-1980s when Martha Diamond, PhD, and her husband were having trouble having a baby, they started talking to other couples who shared their struggle. One thing became clear: the medical technology available to treat infertility was rapidly advancing, yet the psychological support to help these couples lagged far behind. In response, Diamond and her husband, David Diamond, PhD, along with their colleague Janet Jaffe, PhD, formed a study group at Alliant International University in San Diego to research strategies to help people who were dealing with the trauma and loss associated with reproductive difficulties.
In 1996, the trio launched the Center for Reproductive Psychology in San Diego to help people who have suffered infertility, miscarriage, high-risk or premature birth, and postpartum depression. They offer psychotherapy for individuals and couples, community education presentations, and in-service training to medical providers in the United States and abroad on the psychological needs of their patients.
“Struggling to have a biological child is a complicated grief process because it’s often an invisible loss,” says Diamond. “There are no rituals or public ways to honor these losses, and people often don’t talk about it. They feel like something is wrong with them, and these situations can deliver a painful blow to someone’s self-esteem.”
When To Get Help
If you are feeling depressed, anxious, or so preoccupied with your infertility that you feel it is hard to live your life happily and productively, it’s a big red flag that you should seek a counselor immediately. You also may want to seek the assistance of a counselor if you are feeling stuck in your journey and need to explore your options. Here are some specific examples of symptoms of those who may benefit from an infertility counselor:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, guilt, or worthlessness
- Social isolation from work, friends, and family
- Agitation, anger, and/or anxiety
- Mood swings
- Constant preoccupation with infertility (such as spending most of your time doing independent research)
- Marital or relationship problems
- Difficulty with scheduled intercourse
- Difficulty concentrating and/or remembering things
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Drastic change in appetite, weight, or sleep patterns
- Thoughts or plans about suicide or death
- Loss of interest in usual activities and relationships
- A general and persistent sadness (depression)
Where To Get Support
Support can come from many different sources and many work better when combined with one another. Books can offer information and understanding about the emotional aspects of infertility if you prefer to start with independent research. Virtual (and hopefully IRL soon enough) support groups and informational meetings can reduce the feeling of isolation and provide opportunities to learn and share with others experiencing infertility. Individual and couple counseling offer the chance to talk with an experienced professional to sort out your feelings, identify coping mechanisms, and work to find solutions to your difficulties. Discussions with supportive family members and friends also can be useful, as long as you are supplementing with additional care.
How To Find An Infertility Counselor Or Other Support
Start by asking your physician for referrals to trained mental health professionals in your area, a list of relevant books and articles, and support resources that deal with fertility-related matters. Counselors may be psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, or marriage and family therapists.
Below are listed several additional resources that may be helpful in addressing a variety of concerns and issues.
- Choice Moms: An organization to help single women who proactively decide to become the best mother they can, through adoption or conception, choicemoms.org
- LIVESTRONG Fertility: A national LIVESTRONG initiative dedicated to providing reproductive information, support, and hope to cancer patients and survivors whose medical treatments present the risk of infertility, www.livestrong.org
- Frank Talk: A peer-support Website dedicated to helping men deal with erectile dysfunction, FrankTalk.org
- InterNational Council on Infertility Information Dissemination, Inc. (INCIID), inciid.org
- North American Council on Adoptable Children: An organization committed to meeting the needs of waiting children and the families who adopt them, nacac.org
- Parents Via Egg Donation: An organization created to provide information to parents and parents-to-be and to share information about all facets of the egg donation process, pved.org
- Pop Luck Club: The Pop Luck Club has evolved into a substantial voice, helping to support the growth of our wonderfully diverse LBGT community, popluckclub.org
- RESOLVE: A national infertility support organization, Resolve.org
- Single Mothers by Choice: Offering support and information to single women who are considering motherhood and to single mothers who have chosen this path to parenthood, singlemothersbychoice.org
- Magazines: Fertility Road, Fertility Magazine, Conceive Magazine, Gay Parent Magazine