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How do I manage infertility guilt?

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6 fertility expert(s) answered this question

How to cope with a feeling of being guilty if you suffer from infertility?

Infertility guilt is a common feeling that may touch both women and men. How to get rid of this feeling?

Answer from:
Fertility Coach, Founder of YourFertilityHub.com Your Fertility Hub
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Feeling guilty during infertility can almost feel endless. There are so many areas that you can experience guilt in. For example, having a jealous emotion over a friend who has gotten pregnant, and then feeling instantly guilty for feeling like that because you should be feeling happy for them. But of course, you are feeling the lack, and the loss, and the despair yourself. So how do you cope and manage with these guilty feelings?

I think the most important thing is to realize that almost the purpose of guilt as an emotion, the reason we feel guilt is to almost assess our behavior and our actions to see if we wanted to modify or change them for the future. But when we’re thinking and re-living and thinking guilty thoughts continuously it gets to a point where it’s actually not helping us to think around our behaviors and change those for the future. It’s just becoming a persistent almost worry thought, and it becomes unhealthy for us.

I think it’s key to become aware of some of those emotions and that really is the first step to changing and moving away from those. If you’re thinking guilty, for example, about a past decision maybe, it’s important to go through that decision with your partner or talk to someone around that. But it’s important to know that you made the choices you made with the information available at the time. So it’s also about being a little kinder to yourself, and one little tip I give to my clients is to say “well, how would your best friend tell you to think around that?” So let’s say you told your guilty thought to your best friend what would they say? And actually give that advice back to yourself because we’re often very harsh and very critical to ourselves, but very accepting and open when with others. I want you to be your own best friend when it comes to those guilty thoughts. I can imagine that many of those aren’t true, aren’t rational, and aren’t supporting you to live better through infertility right now. If those thoughts aren’t helping you, know that you have the power to move those and change those to some kinder thoughts to yourself.

 

Answer from:
Fertility Coach, Freedom Fertility Formula Specialist and co-host of The Fertility Podcast Freedom Fertility Formula Specialist and co-host of The Fertility Podcast
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The problem with feeling guilty is that it’s about trying to find the fairness in what’s going on. You might feel guilty about a number of different things and its really important to know what’s going on isn’t your fault. You might feel guilty that a friend has said that they’re pregnant and you’re not happy about it, you might feel guilty that you’ve got your period and you’re letting your partner down. You might feel guilty towards your parents that they’re desperate for you to have a grandchild for them and these are all things that are out of your control, so when you think about it, it’s not your fault what’s happening, so validate that feeling and it’s not fair that this is happening. You can start to try and process the guilt in that you’re not to blame. So all of these people you’re not letting them down because this isn’t your fault and you’re doing all you can so as long as you can keep reminding yourself that you are being proactive, whether it’s life style changes, seeking advice on treatment, or it’s getting tests to find out what you could possibly do next. Hopefully this will start to ease these feelings of guilt.

Answer from:
Fertility Coach, Specialist Fertility and Miscarriage Counsellor Wendy Martin
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When you’re going through trying for a baby unsuccessfully over a long period of time, even a short period of time, some people start to feel very distressed and upset quite quickly, especially if their friends all get pregnant very quickly, they start to become very very worried and upset and anxious. So, in terms of guilt – there’s different different emotions, guilt, anger, depression – a whole range of feelings can come up.

Guilt is one where people can somehow feel responsible for not getting pregnant. They feel it’s something they’ve done or something they’ve not done and this is really sad. Some women will blame themselves terribly, even though it’s probably not absolutely nothing to do with them or their body but they can be very kind of down on themselves: ‘it’s my fault; it’s my body; my body is not responding; my body’s rejecting the embryos” – they’ve got these feelings of guilt and self-blame. It’s very difficult because sometimes those sorts of feelings are kind of quite ingrained in people, they come from way back in their lives, a tendency to blame yourself, a tendency to feel guilty about things and I guess maybe it would be helpful to talk to somebody, a professional about it if you’re feeling a lot of self-recrimination and blame because it can be very painful. It’s painful enough as it is without blaming yourself, it’s like an additional as I call – a secondary pain, it’s bad enough already without having to deal with feeling guilty and people will say to their partners “I’m so sorry” I mean, men will say to women, women will say to men like if they have to have ICSI because it’s a male sperm issue, a man will feel really bad “you’ve got to go through all of this; it’s all my fault you’ve got to go through all this treatment and it’s my sperm and I feel so bad” and equally, if this a woman has got, I don’t know block tubes or polycystic ovaries or endometriosis or something that’s causing them to need IVF, she feels really bad and to blame.

So, there’s an awful lot of that going on and I think, you probably just need to have self-compassion and to just be kind to yourself and really stop being so harsh on yourself and accept that really and truly none of this is any of your doing and it’s a tricky thing because nobody ever did anything to cause their infertility, I mean unless I don’t know a chap took loads of steroids because he was doing bodybuilding and that’s affected his sperm or I don’t know a woman drinks heavily. I don’t know if there was some reason that was causing it then fine, then you might need to feel guilty and do something about it – that’s a different matter but if there’s no reason, like it’s unexplained infertility or it’s just something that you were born with, that you did nothing to deserve it, wasn’t lifestyle issues because you took loads of drugs when you were a teenager or you drank loads of alcohol or anything like that as a in your misspent youth, none of those things are any reason and so, I guess, it’s kind of letting yourself off the hook.

There is another thing that some women feel guilty about which is really tragic if they’ve had a termination in the past and they feel that they’re somehow they’re being punished in some way, they feel guilty that they had terminated that pregnancy and so, they somehow feel that they’re maybe being punished for what they’ve done and those feelings have to be kind of worked through very carefully and sensitively because there can often be lots of deep feelings about something that somebody has done in the past and that that has to be an understanding that why you did it, why you took the decision you made and how it has got no relationship to what’s happening 15 years later or something.

So also anger is another feeling that people feel, a lot angry at the world for mistreating them – “why are you doing this to me the universe; why are you treating me this way”, a sense of injustice and unfairness and that it’s why is it so easy for everybody else and why is it so difficult for me and people can feel very angry if there’s an injustice. They can feel angry if they look at people young, they look at women who are maybe overweight or if they are smoking or they are drinking, if they take drugs and they’re really unhealthy, they never eat a fresh vegetable and yet they have babies regularly, they can have lots of children and that can make people very very angry indeed, really angry. It’s like “we’re so healthy, we’re doing everything right and we can’t get pregnant and look at all of you out there, you’re behaving, you you’re treating your children badly and we would treat our children well” – there’s so much anger that can be caused but the other thing, I would say about anger is, that it’s like the other side like in grief.

There are two sides to the coin, I always say, on one side there’s sorrow and sadness and tears and upset and on the other side there is anger and frustration and touchiness and irritation and they’re both the same sides and sometimes there are women who feel a lot of anger, they feel like road rage and anger with everybody and irritated with their husbands and irritated with everyone and angry all the time but they very rarely cry. It’s like they’re on that one side of the coin and I often encourage them maybe to try to release the tears because if they’re not getting let, they’re not catharting, they’re not releasing that that deep emotion and it just if it’s for some reason trapped because of their upbringing, because of the family culture ,because of what they were taught about – “you must be brave and you’ve got to put us, have a stiff up upper lip” and all these kinds of things that we can be conditioned into. They have to learn that it’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to cry and that maybe will help them with their anger – it’s worth a try.

In terms of depression, it’s an interesting thing about depression, I sometimes think that people can look at depression and look at grief and think it’s kind of like the same thing because to the untutored eye they can look really similar. If someone’s very depressed, they are low in mood, they cry a lot, they find themselves crying spontaneously all the time, they feel like “oh my god no point in living; what’s the point of it all” they feel lethargic and there’s certain symptoms that are associated with depression which we all know but equally there are symptoms associated with grief and they can involve some lots of tears crying, all the time feeling completely deflated and just and with some women if they worry that they’re never going to have a baby, they can feel like well, this is another thing, it’s like if they begin to really fear they are not going to have a baby, they will then start to have all sorts of what I call an existential crisis – “well, what’s the point of me then; why am I here if I can’t have a baby; I’ve always wanted to be a mother; I’ve always wanted to have a family; I can’t imagine my life without a family” and they start to feel like “well, what’s the purpose of my life; what is the point of me if I can’t, if I can’t have this child that I’ve always wanted and if I can’t be a mother” and that can sometimes be somehow like mixed up with suicidal thoughts and feelings where somebody feels like they don’t want to live anymore because life is so awful and they’re very different things.

Now, having said that, if somebody has a tendency to depression, clinical depression, medical depression, that they’ve had in the past and they maybe have had medication for it at the time in the past or they’re on some sort of medication for depression at them, at this time then, those people might need to speak to their GP and think about their medication and what they’re going through and some people come off medication in order to try for a baby and that may exacerbate their anxiety or their depression. So, yes, one has to be careful but if there is no clinical history of depression in the past but the person, the woman, usually women are feeling these awful, these awful emotions then, I would say that’s grief rather than depression but they can look very similar to, I guess, to the untutored eye.

Answer from:
Psychologist, Head of Psychology and Emotional Support Unit Clinica Tambre
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One of the first feelings that arise after diagnosis is guilt. It comes in the form of reproaches: if I had had a child earlier, if I had not smoked, if I had not drunk that beer on Saturdays,… On many occasions this guilt has nothing to do with the real reason why we are not able to get pregnant at home, but as in any grief, and this is one of one’s own health, guilt appears. It is important to deal with it in time so that it doesn’t create an excessive burden. Human reproductive psychologists will help us with this.

As a tip it is important to differentiate between guilt and responsibility, the first is more emotional and the second much more objective.

Answer from:
Fertility Coach Monica Bivas Mindset & Holistic Fertility Coach
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I felt guilt when I found out that I had to go through invitro 15 years ago. I felt that something was wrong with my body. I felt that I was not perfect. I was upset towards God because he sent me imperfectly to this world. Nobody was there to tell me nothing is wrong with you.

How do you manage infertility guilt? By accepting right now that there is nothing wrong with you. Nothing wrong with your body. Nothing wrong with your mind. Nothing. It is the opposite; when our bodies manifest or express something that is physically wrong, it’s because they tell us we need to pay attention to ourselves. Something is not fitting. Maybe you are doing too much exercise; that’s just an example. Perhaps you are overeating in protein or carbohydrates. Perhaps you need to check if you have celiac disease or your body is allergic to gluten.

In my case, I had endometriosis, and I never knew because nobody told me that I need to pay attention to my periods. I didn’t know that my periods were supposed to be regular and that it’s not okay to have terrible pains and faint from period cramps. This can be a sign of endometriosis or PCOS. If you listen to your body, there is no guilt because when something comes up, you’re going to be able to take care of it straight away. So if you don’t get pregnant, test your hormones to see if something is wrong. Anything that our body manifests to us can be fixed, even if it is through invitro. My only choice was IVF, but there was a solution. Yes, it was more stressful, and I was more anxious, with more being added to my normal life, but there was a solution. So don’t take your infertility as something missing in your body or that you are defective, or that you did something wrong that caused it. No, it is your body talking to you. So check what you can do to improve this and make it better. It’s logical; if you’re eating 10 000 calories a day and you see that you’re gaining weight, you cannot expect to lose all the weight magically, so listen to your body. I didn’t know that, so I felt that guilt, but today after 15 years, there is nothing wrong. Some women can get pregnant naturally, but then they have other issues. So always listen to your body and see what you can do to improve your health physically and emotionally. When we start to work on your emotional health, we automatically create balance.

Believe it or not, men sometimes feel much guiltier than us because male infertility and the malefactor is still taboo. Why? Men have been educated in all countries to be the provider, tough and strong. So they grew up with the idea that vulnerability and guilty feelings that can put a person in a depressive place is not allowed. They have the right to do that because it sounds contradictory, but vulnerability can be a powerful tool to overcome guilt and anxiety. Men should be able to sit and say I also feel sad, and I also feel frustrated. But that cultural thing has been put on our man that they need to be strong for their partners. No, if you want to cry with your partner, that will help them too; that is strong if you feel frustrated or sad. I will say it is more men because they are rational and feel scared for their masculinity.

So if you have a partner, you need to communicate and tell them it’s okay to feel vulnerable and it’s okay to feel that guilt too. Also, look at yourself and within your body, think about what you can do to improve your health and help your partner’s health during this journey.

 

Answer from:
Fertility Coach
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I think it’s always important that you remember, even if at the end of the month, at the end of your cycle, at the end of treatment, if you have worst-case a negative test, that it’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong; you are not guilty. Maybe you think, “Oh, I have too much stress,” or “I work too hard,” “I don’t eat healthy enough,” “I don’t exercise enough,” “I don’t take enough supplements,” or “I didn’t try acupuncture,” or “I didn’t sleep enough,” or whatever. You have to realize that you’re trying to create a false sense of control for yourself.

I think the most difficult part of the fertility process is that you don’t—you cannot control the process completely; you cannot determine or control the outcome. That is very difficult to accept because it would be much more comfortable if you could do this. What you do for yourself is you say, “Oh, but I can control this if I just try a little bit harder, then I can determine the outcome. If I just have less stress, if I just have more exercise, if I just work less hard,” etc., “then I have better chances and I have control.”

It’s a survival mechanism, it’s completely okay that you try to live healthy in your fertility process; it’s even very valuable. Do it from like common sense and not from a false sense of control because then you’re blaming yourself. It’s never your fault; you have to remember that you’re not guilty.

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