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The Secret Grief of Infertility
Healing from Loss and Restoring Hope
by Amy Santus

For many, the dream of building a family is one of the greatest joys in life; however, it can also be met with some of the greatest hardships and grief in life. Infertility is impacting 1 in 6 people of reproductive age, and it is taking a toll on our mental health and psychological well-being.

According to the American Center for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), infertility can create one of the most distressing life crises that a couple has ever experienced together. From adjusting to an infertile diagnosis to navigating the multitude of medical and financial decisions, couples are experiencing mental health symptoms. Navigating the waters of infertility can be confusing and healing from pregnancy loss can feel overwhelming and even impossible.

Approximately 10-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. While demand for and access to fertility treatment rises among eastern and western medicine, the mental health infrastructure is not prepared to treat individuals who are experiencing this kind of loss. There is a vast silence around infertility and pregnancy loss in our society and it extends into the mental health conditions that often accompany the disease of infertility.

Infertility is a disease of the male or female reproductive system often defined by the failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse. Contributing factors to infertility can include hormonal imbalances, smoking, excessive alcohol use, substance abuse, medications, excessive exercise, weight and stress. There is also a correlation between infertility and autoimmune disorders. Often specialists’ complete comprehensive evaluations of both partners and are unable to identify a specific cause. They then receive the diagnosis of “unexplained infertility.” This can be even more confusing and frustrating because it can feel like there is not a clear path in treatment.

Healthcare professionals often underestimate the emotional distress of early pregnancy loss. Known as the “Secret Grief” hopeful parents are often left to navigate their emotions alone. Seeking mental health support is not a first line of treatment and not a serious consideration among some medical providers until the client is in crisis. Mental health services such as professional counseling and support groups are vital to improving the psychological well-being of those experiencing infertility. Goals in treatment often include helping the client understand his or her diagnosis, healing from loss, helping navigate difficult decisions and restoring joy and hope. Couples’ work can also be very important to improve communication and learn how to best support each other when the grieving process can look very different for each partner.

Common mental health conditions associated with infertility include depression, anxiety, grief and post-traumatic stress disorder. When assessing whether to seek out professional help, it is best look at how the person is functioning. Common symptoms include crying spells, insomnia, change in appetite, social isolation, excessive worry, irritability, withdrawal from social situations, compromised attention, obsession over finding a cure, becoming pregnant and feeling consumed by thoughts of pregnancy. There can also be nightmares or flashbacks about the loss, chronic pain, hypervigilance and feeling of numbness, shame and guilt.

Specialized mental health treatment looks at the whole person as unique and individualized. Considerations such as cultural, spiritual and financial influences are explored for each person and couple. One decision is not right for every family.

Mental health therapists can also provide referrals and recommendations for other providers and treatments that can help with addressing mental health concerns such as support groups, yoga, meditations, functional medicine specialists, acupuncturists, dietitians and advocacy groups all who specialize in infertility.

Amy Santus is a licensed clinical therapist and founder of TrueBloom Counseling located in Oxford, Michigan. Specializing in infertility and pregnancy loss, TrueBloom offers online therapy for individuals throughout the state of Michigan. For more information, please call 248-690-6679 or visit her website: TrueBloomCounseling.com.

  • Issue: July 2024

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