Infertility can be a roller coaster of emotions. Difficulty with conceiving your biological children can at times lead to reproductive trauma. According to the Center of Reproductive Psychology, reproductive trauma is defined as, “When you want to have a baby, and it is not going as you had hoped and dreamed, you are in the midst of a trauma, a reproductive trauma. When one experiences infertility and reproductive trauma, there can be an immense amount of sadness, depression and anxiety felt throughout the process, perpetuated by grief and loss. The following are 9 common losses experienced with infertility and reproductive trauma.
The loss of the experiences of pregnancy and childbirth
Those who experience infertility have experienced the loss of part of their story, which likely included being the biological parent and giving birth to their biological child. Women and men may need to grieve the loss of their desire to have their own personal experience with pregnancy and childbirth.
The loss of feeling healthy and normal
During infertility, there is a shift from feeling like a “normal/healthy” individual to the “sick/unhealthy” patient. The inability to conceive a child promotes loss of how one perceives themselves in terms of their health. Individuals’ and couples’ healthy identities often become lost in the frequent and invasive medical testing and surgical procedures.
Loss of control
When experiencing infertility, individuals and couples have to “give up” their reproductive health to a medical team. They are no longer able to be “the experts” in their own reproductive story and succumb to the inability to control conceiving. The loss of control in this area can lead to feelings of powerlessness in other areas of life as well. It is not uncommon for individuals to begin to assert control in areas where they may not usually assert such control. For example, those who are experiencing secondary infertility, infertility after the birth of a biological child, may begin to assert more control in their relationships with their children. Or perhaps the sense of loss of control increases obsessive thinking patterns, in an attempt to control feelings of helplessness at work or in relationship.
Loss of one's sense of self
Individuals can become so intensely focused on their desire to have children, that they may lose sight of their own sense of self. Individuals or couples begin to view themselves as “infertile” rather than “there is a part of my body that is not working properly.” When taking on this perception, individuals and couples identify with being “broken” or “less than” due to their inability to conceive naturally which can negatively impact self-esteem and self-image.
Loss of a sense of belonging
As we age, we often identify with our peer group. With those who struggle with infertility, it is difficult to identify with their peer group and feelings of isolation often occur. Individuals and couples don’t necessarily identify with those peers who are having children and are on their way to building their family, nor do they identify with their single friends, who may not currently be interested in having children. Often emotions of “being lost” occur leaving those who struggle with infertility feeling alienated. As a result, people will notice an increase in symptoms of withdrawal as a means to protect themselves from further despair regarding their current reproductive crisis.
Loss of closeness with partner/spouse
Difficulties in building your forever family can create an increase in conflict within your intimate relationship. Anger is a common emotion throughout infertility. Men and women can become angry at themselves, or anger could be felt towards doctors, nurses, family members, and maybe even their higher power. As most of us know, when we are angered it often presents itself the most towards the person we feel the safest with, our significant other. Unfortunately, this could lead to increased conflict and distress within the marriage.
Loss of sexual intimacy and privacy
Couples and individuals frequently report sexual intimacy losing its luster when having difficulty in conceiving children. Often on timed schedules and without much romance, intimacy may become monotonous. Using artificial reproductive therapy strategies can lead to loss of privacy and intimacy, because while most couples only discuss sexual information with each other, couples experiencing infertility are forced to discuss these matters with their doctors and medical personnel. The frequent invasive surgical procedures can also hinder sexual intimacy.
Loss of trust in the world
Changes in one’s reproductive story and being unable to build one’s family as they have believed can shake the core of an individual's foundation. It is common to question and lose faith in their beliefs regarding many systems including their religious beliefs, healthcare, and one's own ability to make decisions.
Loss of financial freedom
With average costs for Artificial Reproductive Therapy reaching around $12,000 and private adoption around $25,000-$30,000, couples often lose the ability to live financially footloose and fancy free. Couples find themselves feeling “stuck” due to needing to pay for these expenses. Examples might include not being able to accept new employment due to salary changes, not moving into a new home, or going on a needed vacation because of the vast costs related to infertility treatments and adoption expenses.
Jaffe, Janet, and Martha O. Diamond. Reproductive trauma: psychotherapy with infertility and pregnancy loss clients. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2011. Print.