OVERCOMING THE JITTERS: A VITAL STEP IN CONQUERING INFERTILITY by Joseph Olayinka

Trying for a child should be a wonderful and exciting journey. But for persons struggling with infertility, the journey is usually a roller coaster of emotions where even the simplest daily tasks are difficult to deal with without it reminding them of wanting a baby. It can be an exhausting, heartbreaking and stressful time, full of ups and downs and feelings of hopelessness, failure and grief which in no way helps the situation. On the contrary, these emotions often drive some couples to the development of one form of mental health issue or the other.

  • Racheal Abiriba

When you’re anxious or depressed, it is common to have a lower sex drive.

Infertility on its own would be easier to manage without the additional emotional baggage which persons struggling with it have to manage. Most of these emotions stem from expectations of others and personal feelings of failure but this should not be so. Several studies have indicated that infertile couples experience high levels of Stress, Depression, and Anxiety. This has led to questions such as: does infertility cause stress or does stress cause infertility? While Scientists try to answer that question, one thing is for sure, the existence of one of those two issues affects/leads to the existence of the other when trying for a child.

Patients who are struggling to conceive report feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation, and loss of control. It is estimated that 1 in 8 couples (or 12% of married women) have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. Despite the prevalence of infertility, majority of infertile women do not share their story with family or friends, thus increasing their psychological vulnerability. The inability to reproduce naturally can cause feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-esteem. These negative feelings may lead to varying degrees of depression, anxiety, distress, and a poor quality of life.

Multiple risk factors for anxiety and depression during infertility treatment have been identified; these include being female, age over 30, lower level of education, lack of occupational activity, a male cause for infertility, and infertility for 3-6 years. In addition, studies have indicated that higher levels of depression and anxiety are associated with lower pregnancy rates among patients undergoing IVF.

Why Does Anxiety Affect Fertility?

Currently, it is unclear why anxiety seems to have an effect on fertility. It is possible that anxiety and stress alters hormones and makes it harder for the body to effectively function. We know that stress can cause women to stop having periods, and stress can lower sperm count in men. Perhaps, hormones and the way they are altered by anxiety play a significant role. No matter the cause, it is clear that anxiety is problematic especially for females who constantly undergo stress and pressure.

Reducing Anxiety and Improving the Chances of Conception

There is no magic formula for improving anxiety and fertility. Unfortunately, if you continue to put pressure on yourself, or you still deal with profound anxiety in different areas of your life, you may find that it affects your overall fertility levels.

But there are some strategies that can be helpful. These include:

  1. Seeing a Doctor: Make sure that you are at least seeing a doctor. The truth is that as much as people want to avoid finding out that they’re infertile, the anxiety of thinking that you are can be just as problematic, if not more so. It is best to see a doctor, find out if everything is okay, and then do what the doctor recommends.
  2. Relaxation Months: While you can always plan to continue to try to conceive, try taking a one month on, one month off approach to conception. Consider the month off a chance to relax, where you’re not watching a calendar and you go in with no expectations. Obviously, this can be easier said than done, so consider other relaxation strategies like massage, yoga, etc. so that your “months off” are as relaxing as possible. Consider adding exercise as well, which is known to reduce anxiety – but moderately since it may have an effect on fertility in extreme cases
  3. Making Sex Fun: It is also important that conception never feels like a chore. That means that you should have fun with it. Your partner and you should find trying to conceive something you look forward to even if conception does not occur. That will reduce some of the stress of the entire situation. Anxiety can cause a range of side effects that can make it more difficult to conceive. When you are anxious or depressed, it is common to have a lower sex drive, and to feel more tired, for example. This can lead to less frequent sex, making it harder to fall pregnant. 

In summary, rates of anxiety and depression are high among couples undergoing infertility treatment.  Several studies have demonstrated that these symptoms may diminish the chances of conception.  Both medication and cognitive behavioural therapy can be helpful in alleviating these symptoms. Fertility Clinics in Nigeria, like The Bridge Clinic, avail Clients the opportunity to get proper counselling from the care and support team and to seek a referral if they are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety during the course of treatment. Seek expert help while trying for a child. Counselling can go a long way in helping you overcome the jitters which contribute to infertility.

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