“Fertility is not a male or a female issue; it’s really a couple’s issue.” -Dr. Puneet Masson
Puneet Masson, MD, assistant professor of Urology and director of the Male Fertility Program at Penn Fertility Care, knows the importance of finding social support when you and your partner are struggling with fertility issues.
“Support groups are out there to help with coping. They can meet other people who are struggling with the same issues and don’t know how to begin a conversation about this,” he says.
Sometimes just talking to one other couple going through a similar situation can be an enormous source of comfort and advice. That’s because they know firsthand what you're going through.
Additionally, we know that there is a tremendous amount of stress when patients are struggling with fertility concerns.
At Penn, we have a multidisciplinary Fertility Wellness Program, where patients or couples undergoing fertility evaluations can have access to psychological support and group counseling, acupuncture and yoga.
Led by Suleena Kalra, MD, MSCE, assistant professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology at Penn Medicine, in collaboration with the Healing Arts Center of Philadelphia, this program is a way to help couples “fill their tank” during their fertility journey and also reinforce that they are not alone.
What Not To Say To Those Struggling With Fertility
People who don't understand what you're going through may say some insensitive things, like:
Source: The National Infertility Association
- “If you just stop worrying about it, you’ll get pregnant. It’s all in your head.”
- "Getting pregnant just takes time. Be patient.”
- “You and your partner are probably just doing something wrong.”
- “Maybe this is a sign that you aren’t meant to be parents.”
- “The world is overpopulated anyway, so why stress about getting pregnant?”
You won't hear those kinds of comments from other couples who are going through fertility treatments. To get the peace of mind and support you need, consider speaking with another couple who struggled to get pregnant and asking them some questions.
Questions to Ask
How do you cope with the emotional ups and downs of fertility treatments?
One thing is certain about fertility issues: So much uncertainty surrounds the causes.
“One-fourth of couples have idiopathic infertility, where it’s not a clear-cut male issue or a clear-cut female issue,” Dr. Masson explains.
But even when the underlying cause can be identified, the process of going through fertility treatments can be its own emotional rollercoaster.
“There are a ton of emotions. Sometimes in the course of a clinic visit, we’ll see emotions ranging from anger, to depression, to fear, to guilt, to a sense of failure,” says Dr. Masson.
Talking to other couples about how they deal with these intense feelings can help you and your partner figure out coping strategies of your own.
What did you tell your family and friends about fertility treatments?
“I think the biggest sources of support for a lot of our patients are their spouses or partners,” says Dr. Masson.
However, he adds that, “We need to recognize that infertility is like any other medical condition. It has physical manifestations that affect people and also tremendous emotional manifestations. We need to be more comfortable with this as a society.”
But telling family and friends about fertility struggles can be a challenge. Talking to another couple in a similar situation can help you figure out:
- How much information you want to share
- How to explain what is going on
- How the treatment process is affecting you emotionally
- What kind of support you need from loved ones
These are all important issues to consider before discussing fertility issues with people who may not understand what you’re going through, says the National Infertility Association.
What side effects can I expect from fertility treatments?
The American Pregnancy Association explains that women undergoing follicle stimulating hormone injections in preparation for in vitro fertilization may experience a number of physical side effects, including:
- Breast tenderness
- Mood swings
- Abdominal pain
You should always talk to your doctor about any side effects you may experience from fertility medications or procedures.
It can also help to talk to someone undergoing similar treatments. She may have creative suggestions for coping with these symptoms—such as taking a warm bath or practicing meditation.
When is the right time to consider other options for starting a family?
The answer to this question will vary widely from couple to couple. Age plays a role, as does a couple’s financial situation.
Other options for starting a family may include surrogacy, donor eggs or sperm, or adoption. Which one is right for you as a couple depends a lot on your specific circumstances.
“Everyone has a different timeline with regard to their future family planning,” says Dr. Masson.
But hearing from other people who are going through a similar situation can help you and your partner come up with an “enough is enough” point that is right for you.