How to cope with the emotional toll of infertility

The stress of infertility can test even the strongest people. Here's how to cope with your emotions and navigate your journey.

Emotional couple
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What is infertility?

Infertility is the inability to become pregnant after at least a year of trying to conceive – and it's not uncommon. In fact, 10% to 15% of couples are struggling with infertility in the U.S.

A third of these couples' infertility issues are related to both partners or unknown causes, while the other two thirds are equally due to male and female infertility problems. Fortunately, 65% of couples who receive medical treatment go on to have successful pregnancies. Treatments  may include various drugs, fertility shots, in vitro fertilization (IVF)intrauterine insemination, the use of donor eggs, and other procedures.

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The emotional ups and downs of infertility

The emotional pain of infertility, which affects both women and men, can be complicated, and has many parts to it.

Stress can arise because of the expectations and pressures you may feel from society, your family, and even yourself. Plus, fertility treatments are costly, and can be physically taxing. Infertility treatments often involve taking a variety of pills and having blood tests, daily hormone injections, ultrasounds, egg retrievals, and other procedures.

But it's the emotional rollercoaster that truly takes a toll, with studies suggesting that women with fertility problems are as anxious and depressed as women who are undergoing treatment for cancer, heart disease, and HIV.

This emotional rollercoaster involves repeated cycles of hope and disappointment. Waiting each month to see whether you've conceived or your period is late (again) can send you spiraling through a sea of emotions.

Add to this upended work and social schedules, which can include putting a job search on hold or canceling a vacation to accommodate doctor appointments and various tests. It can seem as if the things that used to make you happy have gone out the window entirely.

Other reasons you might feel upset when experiencing infertility

Coping with infertility is hard. And in addition to the up-and-down emotions, there are other factors that can add to your stress. Here are some other reasons you might be more than a little emotional while dealing with infertility.

The sex isn't sexy. It's very common for couples who are going through infertility to report that their sex lives have become a chore, rather than a pleasure. And since most fertility treatments require you to have sex at very specific times, it can be hard to enjoy intimate time like you once did.

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If you're having a hard time connecting during sex, you may consider taking a break from treatment so you can reconnect with your partner without the stress of injections and blood tests on your mind. Couples therapy is another avenue to pursue to help increase communication and connection during this vulnerable time. A counselor who has experience with fertility issues can be particularly  helpful. 

People keep asking questions. Friends and family may mean well, but having to explain your baby-making problems over and over can be draining, and may add to your stress levels.

Of course, if you want to talk about your health issues and it's making you feel better, definitely go for it. The support you get from friends and family, including those who have faced the same struggles, can be invaluable. But certain situations may be too painful, such as baby showers and kids' birthday parties. If this is the case, give yourself permission to skip some family events for now and take care of yourself instead.

Treatments are expensive. Some fertility treatments aren't covered by insurance, which means many couples have to pay for them out of pocket. When couples fight over the cost of treatment cycles, the pressure on the relationship can feel overwhelming. For example, IVF costs can run more than $20,000 a cycle, and many couples need a few cycles to get pregnant. 

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If you're worried that dealing with infertility is putting strain on your finances, make sure you and your partner develop a financial plan. Decide how much you're willing and able to spend on treatments and come up with a game plan for dealing with finances. It can help to proactively have these conversations so you and your partner are on the same page during a very uncertain time.

It's all you can focus on. The mental space that infertility takes up is another piece of the puzzle. Trying to have a baby may be all you can think about – and it may be the topic of nearly every conversation you have with your partner and other family members.

When every sip or bite you take is weighed against how it could affect your fertility, your calendar is loaded with doctor appointments, and every link you click on is about conception, it makes sense that you'd feel overwhelmed. It's normal to become fixated on wanting to start a family. But creating space away from TTC world (mentally and physically) can help reset your mood.

Symptoms of emotional stress due to infertility

The signs and symptoms of stress due to infertility vary from person to person. Here are the more common ones that women and some men experience.

  • Sadness or depression that doesn't improve
  • Little interest in your usual activities
  • Trouble getting along with your partner, friends, or family
  • Anxiety that doesn't ease
  • Difficulty completing tasks or concentrating at home or work
  • Sleeping less or much more than usual
  • Eating less or more than normal
  • Greater use of alcohol or drugs
  • Constant feelings of guilt, anger, worthlessness, or pessimism
  • Thoughts of suicide

How to prep for infertility treatment and the emotions that come with it

Before you begin fertility treatments, it's a good idea to learn all you can about the process and what it entails. Speak with your doctor and the other specialists you'll be working with so you understand each of the steps and can prepare for them ahead of time. This will allow you to feel more confident going into it, because you'll know what to expect before you start.

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It's also helpful to plan ahead both financially and emotionally. You might check out support groups before you start on this journey. Having peers and counselors on hand can help you move through the process and cope with uncertainty.

What to do if you feel depressed or anxious about infertility

If you find that depression or anxiety are affecting your day-to-day activities or your quality of life, don't hesitate to reach out for professional help. A mental health counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist with experience in the field of infertility can make a world of difference. Your therapy can be tailored to suit your own needs.

For example, your provider might work with you to address the strain on your relationship, or help you navigate your medical options. You can learn skills to build resilience, cope with infertility in healthy ways, communicate with your partner more effectively, and even grow personally from the experience.

Ask your providers if they have recommendations for therapists, or try a virtual therapy program.

If you're ever thinking about harming yourself, call the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 immediately for free, confidential support.

When dealing with the day-to-day stress of appointments, emotional ups and downs, and the dreaded waiting game, here are some other things that might help:

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  • Learn about your condition, treatment plan, and the options available to you. Knowing all you can about your specific situation and the plan ahead can put your mind at ease.
  • Communicate with your partner. Regular check-ins about how you're feeling can ensure you're on the same page, and also signal to one another when it might be time to change directions.
  • Try relaxation techniques. There are many practices that can help you in times of stress. Try meditation, deep breathing, or muscle relaxation exercises to calm your mind and move from a fight-or-flight state to a more relaxed state.
  • Keep up with your daily health practices. Exercising (as long as you're cleared by your doctor to do so), eating well, and getting enough sleep are all important for your overall health, especially when trying to conceive.
  • Ease any sexual stress. Although it's easier said than done, it's important to work through sexual stress with your partner. It may not be realistic to take a month or two off from trying to get pregnant (but if it is, it may help), but you can also try to connect with your partner in other physical ways like kissing or giving each other a massage. Another idea? Have "fun" sex during non-fertile times too, so it's not always about getting pregnant.

How do you know when it's time to take a break or stop fertility treatments?

Every person is different, which means each individual will have to decide when it's time to stop fertility treatments. Maybe it's just a break for a few months, or maybe you and your partner are ready to stop completely.

It's a very hard call to make. Your best bet is to talk with your doctor about your personal situation so you can weigh whether to continue with treatment or not. Being aware of how your emotions (and potential depression or anxiety) might be affecting your decision is helpful, too. 

The infertility journey can leave you feeling anxious, depressed, vulnerable, and uncertain. During this difficult process, focusing on your physical and mental health and getting support can be incredibly helpful. There are many paths to parenthood – all are unique, and often incredibly joyful in the end.

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BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

Mayo Clinic. 2023. Infertility. a new window [Accessed November 2023]

May Clinic. 2022 Infertility and Stress. a new window [Accessed November 2023]

Mental Health Professional Group – American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Undated. The Psychological Impact of Infertility a new window [Accessed November 2023]

Cedars Sinai. 2020. Infertility and Mental Health. a new window [Accessed November 2023]

Jennifer Kelly Geddes

Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a New York City-based writer, editor, and fact-checker, and the mom of two teen girls. In her free time, Geddes can be found on her yoga mat, cross-country skiing, walking her rescue pup (a shepherd mix named Django), and spending time with her husband and daughters.