Clients seeking therapy around infertility often come in exhausted and bewildered, flooded by grief and loss. I have worked with many women and couples for whom parenthood is the only thing in their lives they have not been able to achieve by setting their minds to it. Many women have delayed trying to conceive because we have been delivered messages that we can have it all and that fertility treatments can reliably help us to conceive well into our 40's, only to find out that this is simply not true. It is common to feel betrayed by one's culture, one's doctors and the media. Some clients experience a great reckoning and second guessing of the choices they have made and their life's priorities. My clients who have a faith tradition have sometimes felt failed by their god or as if infertility is divine punishment for some unnamed, undiscoverable failure of their own. I have had many clients tell me in their own way that they will never feel lucky again.
Families who have successfully conceived a first child only to experience secondary infertility can grieve just as keenly and have just as much difficulty navigating the reality that their bodies cannot produce their vision of a complete family. My LGBTQ clients have sometimes had commensurate experiences of grief and anxiety. Lesbian women are often invisible when experiencing infertility with donors. Same sex male couples can have difficulty conceiving via surrogacy or despair of having a family, worrying the services required are out of reach financially. LGBTQ clients often carry additional worries about navigating the world as a queer family, knowing this will mean being vulnerably"out" in a categorically different way than ever before.
A particular and common difficulty among couples experiencing infertility is that the partners each have a different process of grieving, anticipation and readiness for the next step. This is utterly human, yet it can feel intolerable. Infertility is so isolating that each partner can feel a shock and yet more grief to find they are not sharing a reality and a common meaning around what they are experiencing. Couples therapy can play a critical role in helping each partner rediscover their solidarity with one another and co-create a relationship sturdy enough to contain both of their experiences until they find common ground again, whether that common ground is childlessness by choice or family building by other means.
The good news is that tenderness and mutuality and joint readiness for the next step can absolutely be achieved. The shared experience of difficulty can ultimately become bonding and in the fullness of time a couple can come to feel a bittersweet pride at what they have weathered together. However, professional counseling can be critical.
Most of the people I have worked with around infertility and adoption are very high-achieving and were initially disinclined to seek help. Many experienced profound shame (even though infertility is not their fault) and a sense that this subject is just too private to share with a witness. My experience tells me that of course someone would need professional help with this. Infertility can be physically and emotionally punishing and --- like all traumas --- can rupture our relationship to life itself and rob life of its meaning. If you are experiencing infertility or are already on a different family-building stage and finding it overwhelming, now is the time to be kind to yourself and allow yourself extra support. If you landed on this page and found resonance here, I would welcome your call. If my practice is not a right fit I have a rich network of referrals to recommend.