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What is infertility counselling & support?

12 August 2020

When fertility treatment is spoken about the physical side effects are often widely discussed. Some people experience fatigue, headaches, bloating, and breast tenderness especially if they’ve chosen to have assisted fertility treatment. However, trying fora baby can take a massive toll on your mental health. Studies have linked a rise in depression and anxiety among parents trying to conceive. So, what is infertility counselling and support? When you’re struggling to conceive it can feel incredibly isolating. Thoughts about having a family can become all-consuming and some people report feeling guilty for the struggle they’re going through. However, speaking to someone may alleviate both you and your partner of the mental burden that trying for a baby can be.

It’s estimated that around one in seven couples may have difficulty when trying to get pregnant. About 84% of couples conceive naturally within a year if they’re having unprotected sex every two or three days. Regular sex and timing intercourse for when you know you’re going to be ovulating is something that many doctors highly recommend. However, for couples who have been trying for a baby for more than three years without conceiving, there’s a one in four chance or less of them getting pregnant in the year that follows.

Two of the most common mental health concerns reported by people trying to get pregnant are symptoms of anxiety and depression. The longer people try and if medical intervention is increased, feelings of stress can increase. At the beginning of your journey the start of a new month presents new hope. However, as time wears on it can become a cycle of disappointment, sadness, dread, and guilt. It can also lead you to lose confidence in yourself and your body. Sex can become an obligation rather than a time to be close to your partner and it can leave you feeling more alone than ever. However, there is support out there for couples who are struggling to conceive and it could connect you with people going through a similar thing.

What Is Infertility Counselling & Support?

Many clinics that offer assisted fertility treatments also have a support system in place for individuals and couples who are trying to conceive. This can vary, from one-on-one support counselling from a psychotherapist to peer support from other people on their own fertility journey. There’s no one-size fits all when it comes to getting the support you need when you’re trying for a baby but speaking about your experiences and listening to others may make you feel less alone.

“There is such a need to support people and help them realise that they’re not alone because it can be really lonely when you’re on your fertility journey. Many people don’t tell anyone they’re going through it because of the taboo or stigma attached to infertility,” says Kelly Da Silva, the Support Coordinator at CAREfertility.

Problems with fertility extend far beyond the physical effects. Sitting down with a counsellor may help you to open up and have the honest discussion you feel you can’t have with loved ones. You may be suffering with relationship disconnect or problems as a direct result.

Similarly, you may be grieving miscarriages and feeling an immense amount of pressure. Finding a psychotherapist that you click with can provide a safe space where you can be listened to and given some coping mechanisms.

The British Infertility Counselling Association is a registered charity that has been fundamental in ensuring that all assisted conception clinics in the UK are legally required to offer their patients counselling. “When you’re going through your fertility journey, it’s so important to have someone that understands and has a level of expertise, particularly as what a lot of people are going through is a sense of grief,” says Da Silva, “before people even get to our clinics they have already had quite a big journey. Sometimes this involves miscarriages and others have had cycles of fertility treatment that are unsuccessful. So, symptomatic of that people often suffer with the emotional aspects of that, particularly anxiety and depression.”

Why is infertility counselling and support beneficial?

Your partner can be an amazing support and resource as you go through your fertility journey. You’re walking through it together and it’s more than likely that they’re feeling all of the anxiety and stress that you are. However, they’ll probably be dealing with their own struggles and upset if you’re struggling to conceive. This may mean that you can’t be there for each other in a way that you usually would and finding someone to support both of you is key.

Arguments and issues may arise in your relationships that you never realised were there before. Research has found an increase in sexual dysfunction in both men and women when timed intercourse is used to get pregnant. If you’re trying to conceive naturally, this is highly recommended by doctors. However, it can turn intimate time with your partner into a goal orientated exercise. Similarly, you may not see eye to eye on when to seek medical intervention, you may look inwardly and feel guilt towards your partner, and you may start blaming them for not being there for you enough. Every couples fertility journey is different and situations can be very complicated. Counselling and support services recognise that and can give you a place to go, alone or with your partner, to talk through issues you’re having in a non-judgemental, constructive way.

It can be hard to work out who to speak to if you’re feeling down or anxious. However, for couples who have gone through miscarriages or months and years of not conceiving, you’ll feel grief. When you’ve spent your entire life thinking that a family is something you could have if you wanted it, for it then to be very difficult is like a betrayal. Being able to speak to someone impartial, who doesn’t know you or your partner, can leave you feeling free to speak your mind and explain how you’re really feeling.

What are the different kinds of support?

Infertility counselling can be a great way to speak through your feelings to better understand what you’re going through. However, if sitting down with a therapist feels daunting or like a big step then you’re not alone. It may give you the sense that you’re exposing yourself and most people have a natural fear of the unknown. So, if infertility counselling is your first experience of therapy it’s natural to be a little bit nervous.

However, talking therapy in a formal setting isn’t the only support available to people trying to conceive. “I wanted to develop full support for fertility treatment and recognise a need for different ways of accessing that support. I’ve developed a buddy system where people can email me with preferences and the stage they’re at in their fertility journey and then I match them with someone else. After I pass across contact details they’re free to get in touch,” says Da Silva, “it can be so helpful to have support from someone else who is going through something similar to you.”

When you’re trying for a baby it can feel like all of a sudden everyone you know is getting pregnant. Well-meaning friends and relatives will ask you if you’re thinking of starting a family without knowing that it’s all you’ve thought about for months. This can be draining. So, to have an allyship with other people and couples going through what you are can be invaluable. They can be there to talk about the fertility journey but also provide some distraction from what you’re going through.

“I also organise monthly Skype support sessions. We cover different topics every month and people can either just listen or ask questions,” says Da Silva. If counselling feels like too big of a step at first, seeking out podcasts and online sessions can provide you with a little bit of insight into why you may be feeling the way that you do. It’ll also show you that you’re not alone.

They say that it takes a village to raise a child but having that support network around you before conception can be equally essential. Building a core group of friends who know exactly what you’re going through, the misconceptions attached to infertility, and what’s involved with seeking help can take the weight off your relationship.

“Over the last few years I’ve organised a walk and talk each month.I’ll get a group of anywhere up to 12 people, couples and individuals, and we do a 5 km walk. It’s a type of informal therapy and being outdoors can be an incredibly relaxing way for you to meet other people,” says Da Silva, “so often when you’re in the waiting room of clinics everyone has their head down and their phones out. So, this is a great way to be a bit chattier. Then there’s always the nice treat of coffee at the end of it.”

Support can look totally different depending on what would suit you. From infertility counselling to podcasts and meeting other people on their own fertility journey, there’s so many ways to find a place to talk about how you’re feeling and what you’re going through.

When should people access support?

If you’re feeling the pressure to conceive or that you can think of little else then there’s support in place to help you. Prevention is better than cure and by talking about your fertility journey from the beginning, either with a therapist or other people going through a similar thing, you may feel more empowered and understand feelings of doubt, grief, or anxiety a little bit better.

“If you know that you’re a particularly anxious person then it may be beneficial to access support earlier on. Even if that’s just listening to other people’s experiences,” says Da Silva, “just go with how you feel. Be mindful and reflect on your feelings. In general though, the earlier you access support the better.”

Struggling to conceive can put immense pressure on your mental health and relationship. Feeling empowered to access the support that you need, in whatever form it may take, may help you to feel less alone.

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