From an early age we are taught to fear the possibility of unwanted pregnancy. Our parents, teachers and clergy have educated us about the importance of protected sex and even abstinence.
We are lectured on how easy it is to become pregnant, and are warned how our lives would dramatically change if we or our partners became pregnant. We have all either experienced personally, or know someone who has experienced, the panic-like stress associated with a late or missed period.
Now you are older and ready to have a child. You are excited about the idea of becoming a parent. All of your friends around you are having babies. For the first time in your life, it is finally the right time to become pregnant and you are psychologically ready to take the leap into parenthood.
You read books and do Google searches to learn how to take care of your body to maximize chances of success. You and your partner learn many new things about human physiology and reproduction. You make sure that you are eating healthy and exercising because you know how important these factors are to a healthy pregnancy. You go out to the drug store and buy ovulation predictor kits and over the counter pregnancy tests. Now educated and prepared, each month you carefully monitor your cycles and begin trying to get pregnant.
At first, it is a very exciting process. You look forward to the time of the month when you are ovulating. You are and your spouse feels very close and intimacy feels magical. Weeks pass and you do your first pregnancy test -- you are excited but nervous as you both stare at that stick.
Minutes feels like hours as you anticipate the results. However, the test indicates that you are not pregnant. You are disappointed, but handle your disappointment in stride as you know that is can take several months to become pregnant.
You and your spouse repeat the process. However, as each month goes by you find that the act of intimacy has become more stressful. It has become harder to get excited during the act, and what has once been natural now feels strained, ridden with performance anxiety.
Each month the negative result of the pregnancy test becomes more and more painful. After numerous months of trying without positive results, you and your partner start to become stressed out and worried.
You relationship is beginning to become strained. You each begin to fear that there might be a fertility problem. Sexual intimacy has now begun to be associated with failure and sex has become a chore rather than the pleasurable experience it once was. Your thoughts are racing with negative ideas and you are feeling overwhelmed with different emotions – i.e., anger, depression, guilt, fear and loss.
It is important to know that what you are experiencing is not so unusual. Many couples go through similar experiences when they try to become pregnant.
In fact, according to recent surveys, 12% of the population has difficulty conceiving - over 7.3 million women and their partners in the United States alone. It is important to point out that these numbers increase with age.
By your middle thirties, your chance of having difficulty conceiving is 25%, and by the time you are in your late thirties to early forties it rises to over 40%. While most physicians would not consider a couple to have infertility problems until after they have been trying to conceive for at least one year, most couple becomes significantly concerned after 6 months of trying.
Most likely you and your partner are feeling very alone and don’t know who or where to turn for guidance. You feel like this is a private issue and you do not want to talk with family and friends. You might even have feelings of embarrassment, shame and self-blame.
Contrary to how you might feel, this is not the time to become withdrawn or paralyzed. The psychological literature suggests that communicating one’s thoughts and feelings about the fertility process can result in a stronger and more intimate relationship.
This is a time in your relationship when it is important to face the issues together and not either avoid them or get angry at yourself or each other. It is important to have a proactive plan of action. Medical research has shown that early detection of infertility problems can significantly increase the chances of becoming pregnant.
Meeting with a clinical psychologist who is experienced in working with couples struggling with fertility issues can be very helpful. He or she can help guide you through the different medical treatment options available as well as work through the emotional and psychological issues that are currently putting a strain on your relationship.
Whatever your fertility issues may be, working on your relationship by talking openly about your issues and having knowledge about your different options are the first step in improving your relationship as well as a positive step in the direction of parenthood.
If you would like to talk with an experienced clinical psychologist who is knowledgeable in the psychological and medical aspects of fertility, please feel free to give Dr. Klein a call. He will be glad to set up an appointment.
Dr. Martin Klein is a clinical psychologist who practices in Westport, Stamford and Fairfield CT. He works with children, adults and couples.