Hope and fear

Two years ago, *Gabrielle and her partner, who have been together for a decade, finally decided the time was right to try for a baby. Gabrielle was approaching her mid-30s, with her PhD almost finished. Her partner was almost 40, with a solid career as a teacher, and had done much travelling and lived abroad. They finally had their dream home.

just-for-parents-april-may-2014They were ready – and anxious – to get pregnant, but after several months, it wasn’t happening. The couple felt powerless and frustrated.

After two years of trying to conceive without success, the couple underwent various tests at the Ottawa Fertility Centre. They soon received disappointing news: Gabrielle was infertile.

Although saddened, the couple was determined to explore all of the options available to help them conceive a child. And they came to understand that their situation is not uncommon.

Infertility is defined by the World Health Organization as a disease of the reproductive system and the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse, according to Jennifer Juneau, an Ottawa life coach who specializes in fertility coaching and was a registered nurse for more than 18 years.

One in six couples in Canada experience infertility in their lives and that statistic could rise, according to the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society.

And more couples are trying to conceive through in vitro fertilization, the process by which eggs are removed from the ovaries and mixed with sperm in a laboratory culture dish, which can bring relief and stress for couples struggling with infertility.

Juneau helps couples deal with the emotional rollercoaster associated with IVF and provides information to navigate the process. The diagnosis and treatment is a major challenge for most infertile couples, she says.

“This can be a scary time for people, and some have voiced their concerns of feeling alone and confused, while at the same time have conflicting feelings of hope and fear.”

Many women are postponing childbearing for social, professional, financial, or psychological reasons, and Juneau says family physicians have an important role in evaluating a couple for infertility, particularly in counselling patients before they become pregnant about ways to optimize pregnancy outcome and the relationship between age and infertility.

A referral to a specialist is recommended when a woman is under 35 and has been trying to conceive consecutively for over a year without any results and when a woman is over 35 and has been trying to conceive for six months without any results.

There are several environmental, social and biological reasons as to why this is happening for men and women; however, the biggest factor that interferes with fertility is age, says Juneau.

When they meet with their physician and nurses, couples are surprised to hear a woman’s fertility starts to decline at age 27 and for men, age 40.

Many women are falsely reassured by the growing availability of assisted reproductive technologies, believing these treatments will overcome the effects of age, says Juneau, but the success of these treatments declines dramatically with increasing maternal age.

Infertility can bring severe emotional stress as couples often hope each month that they will finally conceive, then feel despair when it does not happen. Men and women often experience the stress and grief of infertility differently; this can create substantial personal and marital stress, Juneau says.

And fertility treatments are physically, emotionally, and financially draining. Emotions may fluctuate between anger, sadness, guilt, shame, anxiety, jealousy, and fear.

“Some days there is good news and other days, not so much,” she says. “This news can flip flop throughout the IVF treatment, which can be extremely taxing on the patient.”

This can be a scary time for couples, and some have voiced their concerns of feeling alone and confused.  Stress can affect the body physically and side effects include sleeplessness, erratic eating patterns, headaches and increased blood pressure.

The mind and body are connected, and Juneau says hormones that aid in pregnancy are affected when a person is under a significant amount of stress. Seeking help from a variety of sources during such a fragile time is crucial for mental, emotional and spiritual support, she says.

Fertility specialists manage the physical side and there are many options couples can seek out to help cope emotionally, including a fertility coach, a psychologist, support groups, read reputable websites on infertility, acupuncture, and practising self-compassion techniques, meditation or even fertility yoga.

The goal is to decrease the couple’s mental and emotional stress to a manageable level, so the physical self can relax and let nature take its course, and hopefully, result in a positive outcome – and pregnancy test.

Meanwhile, after a year of ovulation induction treatment, Gabrielle was still not pregnant. Again disappointed and frustrated, the couple feels their dream is slowly drifting away, and eventually they might have to move on.

But instead of pulling them apart, they say the experience has only reinforced their trust, and taught them to lean on one another in tough times.

For now, they are continuing fertility treatments, although they have changed methods and have started IVF. “We both hope that we will soon be the happy parents of a healthy baby.”

Contact Jennifer Juneau at Jennifer.juneau1@gmail.com or www.couragecoach.wordpress.com.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

Photo: depositphotos.com © AndreyPopov