"The English language lacks the words to mourn an absence. For the loss of a parent, grandparent, spouse, child or friend, we have all manner of words and phrases, some helpful some not. Still we are conditioned to say something, even if it is only "I’m sorry for your loss."" But for an absence, for someone who was never there at all, we are wordless to capture that particular emptiness. For those who deeply want children and are denied them, those missing babies hover like silent ephemeral shadows over their lives. Who can describe the feel of a tiny hand that is never held?"
Laura Bush - Spoken from the heart
Couples who face infertility often experience the normal but nevertheless distressing emotions common to those grieving any significant loss - in this case the ability to procreate. Infertility hurts. The pain goes deep and the grief can feel overwhelming at times. Infertility involves a multitude of losses – loss of hopes and dreams, loss of control, loss of self-image, loss of privacy, loss of a pregnancy and a baby. Although these losses are real, they are invisible to others and so infertile couples often grieve alone, becoming increasingly isolated from family, friends and sometimes each other.
Couples also face other complex issues which span biological, social, financial and ethical domains. Discussion of these issues in a counselling context is often beneficial for patients.
What can couples expect to gain from talking with a counsellor?
- Time to focus on your selves, to be solely concerned with your own needs.
- Permission to grieve, to vent anger, to express worries and to air differing opinions, in a confidential and non-judgmental environment.
- Reassurance that the turbulent and unexpected emotions you are experiencing are normal, and that other people have felt and expressed similar things.
- Help in exploring the different options available and considering how well they fit with your own needs.
- Contact with someone who is not personally involved, but who understands both the treatment technology and the range of emotions you may be experiencing.
- Practical strategies for coping with the stress of infertility and treatment, based on what other people have found helpful.
- An advocate when feeling vulnerable or dissatisfied in a medical treatment environment.
- Support in taking a break from treatment to recover emotionally and to review the decision to carry on with further treatment.
- Better understanding of your own responses to stress – individually and as a couple. Each partner is likely to deal with the feelings of loss and grief in differing ways, making it difficult to support each other. Counselling can help you to recognize and understand these differences, and enhance communication within your relationship.
- Recognition that knowledge is an important part of feeling more in control. Help in gathering information and understanding it.
'Group counselling' can offer couples a forum for sharing experiences with others on a similar journey to themselves. This helps to reduce the sense of being abnormal and the feelings of isolation, while providing an opportunity to share strategies for coping, support each other in grieving, hear other points of view, and laugh together.
The role of the counsellor is not solely in helping people at times of crisis. People will often seek counselling when they are not having problems, but are being proactive in wanting to develop their personal resources, enhance their relationship, and increase their ability to cope with future difficulties. In coping with infertility, seeking knowledge and understanding is a way of gaining control.