How to deal with stress, jealousy and anxiety during infertility

Many are surprised by how mentally taxing it can be to undergo fertility treatment like IVF or IUI. The good news? It's normal to feel stressed or sad. Here's advice from an experienced counsellor on how to cope emotionally with infertility.

January 13, 2023
4 min. read
Helle Tyllesen

Psychotherapist and fertility counsellor Mille Duzenius.

There is a lot at stake when you are trying to conceive. Are you familiar with feelings like pregnancy envy, loneliness, anger or sadness? Then there are two things you need to know. You’re not alone. And it is totally normal to feel that way. Fertility counsellor Mille Duzenius has specialised in helping people who are struggling with infertility.

Step 1. Acknowledge that infertility is a stressful time

There are plenty of experts in the medical field, but the psychosocial aspects of infertility have been neglected. Because how do you deal with this difficult and challenging time in your life where it can often feel like you are losing control? And what is the best way to take care of yourself?

“It's important to help people help themselves. It's very different from person to person how challenging it is for them. Some get pregnant on the first try – others go 12-13 years. Some have to give up on the dream entirely, and that can cause a tremendous and complex sense of grief,” says Mille Duzenius. She continues:

Being infertile can be just as stressful as being diagnosed with cancer. It can result in a stress reaction, and it can feel like a concrete loss. People grieve and feel helpless.”

Step 2. Allow yourself to be sad or angry - it's all normal

But how can waiting for a child who has not yet existed feel like grief?

A number of psychological processes are triggered in women and men who realise that NOW is the time to embark on a life with children: Inner images and visualisations. Dreams. Feelings and thoughts. All of the accumulated love for the child they so desperately dream of. In other words, they are more than ready to enter into parenthood. But when it doesn’t happen naturally – what then? Even though the child only exists in dreams and thoughts as of yet, the wait alone can feel like a loss – and invisible sorrow.

We must allow ourselves to feel grief. We evolve and learn from life crises.

“In my counselling, I talk about all the different emotions that women and men in fertility treatment go through. E.g., the loss of the romantic notion of how the child would be conceived. The loss of time if the dream of having a child isn’t fulfilled before reaching a certain age. The loss of the notion that your body is healthy. Our “reproductive story” didn’t turn out as we expected. We grieve when we lose something that meant something to us – both in concrete and in abstract terms”, says Mille Duzenius and emphasises that these feelings apply to both women and men who are still in fertility treatment and those who, sadly, must give up on their dream.

Step 3. Focus on what you can control

But all of the difficult emotions and grief that come with infertility are not just sad, static emotions. Grief can also heal, change and take us to new places.

“We must allow ourselves to feel grief. We evolve and can get something out of life crises. How will I live my life in the future? We must dare to talk about what it is like to be struggling with infertility and that way, emerge on the other side as stronger and more resilient people.”

So yes, it is part of the terms that a great deal is out of your control during the months and possibly years you are in fertility treatment. But Mille Duzenius says that there are actually some things you can control and take charge of when trying to conceive.

I recommend that you make a plan for how you want to spend your time during this waiting period. What is meaningful to you? Remember to look after yourself.

For instance, you can control having information about what is set to happen during the fertility treatment process. Bring specific questions to the appointments at your clinic. Accept that this is how your life is right now. Make use of your family and network. Be patient and realistic. And actually – contrary to what most people think – it is possible to learn how to deal with heavy thoughts.

Step 4. Make a plan for self-care during fertility treatment

A key message from Mille Duzenius is to live a meaningful life – both during fertility treatment and when you reach the other side. Whether it be a life with or without children.

“I recommend that you make a plan for how you want to spend your time during this waiting period. What is meaningful to you? Remember to look after yourself,” says Mille Duzenius.

And should you be one of those for whom the dream of having children never comes true, there will probably always be a void inside of you. The point is not that we should get over the grief. Because we can never get rid of it. But we can come to terms with it and in time find the acceptance to move on in life – without children – but with love as well as purpose. 

The most important thing is to come to terms with your grief. And not carry the burden alone.