Infertility is a disease of the reproductive system, recognised by the World Health Organisation, that is characterised by a failure to get pregnant despite having unprotected sex for 12 months or more.
Affecting approximately 3.5 million across the UK, it can impact women, men, mixed and same sex couples. 1 in 6 couples experience difficulty conceiving. Infertility is difficult to diagnose as there can be multiple causes. The condition remains unexplained for around a third of sufferers. Identified cause are male infertility, ovulatory disorder, tubal disease and endometriosis.
People with infertility may find themselves feeling increasingly anxious as they face a lack of control over repeated cycles of hope and disappointment. IVF treatments can be mentally exhausting as there are no guarantees. There are many different stages that patients have to successfully undergo, that are subject to unanticipated delays and breaks with no assurance that a successful pregnancy will result, even if the final hurdle is reached. For some who achieve positive pregnancies, miscarriage may follow which is a cruel disappointment after undergoing treatment. Treatment schedules are gruelling and include multiple scans, injections and appointments which can create a sense of purpose. However, once a cycle has finished patients lose this focus and can experience a sense of abandonment by medical professionals, especially if unsuccessful.
For many, infertility is a very personal subject that is not easily talked about. The urge to have a child can be overwhelming and takes many years to recede. The negative impact of living with infertility is not appreciated by those living in the ‘fertile world’. Fertility creates isolation and a sense of no longer feeling at ease or wanted in peer groups. You are confronted with others seeming to conceive easily, whenever you go, which invariably leads to depression. Many feel worthless and experience self-blame as they lose control of their plans to experience parenthood. Denial, fear, a sense of inadequacy and shame are common emotions.
The impact of living with infertility can diminish shared hopes and plans in many areas of your life. The extreme stress puts strain on and creates worry about personal relationships and ironically affects sex drive. Work responsibilities can become difficult to balance when sufferers are preoccupied and tired, so career prospects can be affected. Many take annual leave to undergo treatment which means they miss out on relaxation time that other workers enjoy. Funded treatments are not always available which adds unfair financial strain to the emotional pain being experienced.
You might also be interested in this graphic novel (book-length story using words and images) about one woman’s experience of infertility and ME: