Anyone who has struggled to become pregnant knows that infertility is an inherently stressful, demoralizing experience. The longer it goes on, the more intensive the medical interventions, the more physically, psychologically, and financially intrusive the experience becomes for an individual or a couple. Infertility can be a “crazy making” world—but it doesn’t have to be….

A recent internet news article on VICE highlights the toll fertility treatments can take on mental health and the important role of fertility counseling, with specially trained mental health professionals, is in dealing with the emotional challenges. Olivia Campbell interviewed me for this article that discussed how routine aspects of fertility treatment can be anything but routine for patients going through it. Multiple losses and treatment failures take an enormous emotional toll. And if the road leads to the need for third party assistance (the use of donors or surrogates), it is a journey born of grief, sadness, anxiety and uncertainty since it is seldom the first choice treatment.

With so many people involved in helping to create a child (sometimes five or more), all with different needs and agendas, it is what I call a “complex psychosocial minefield” to maneuver during the counseling process. This is one of the reasons why our practice follows the American Society of Reproductive Medicine recommendation that all parties involved in third party reproduction (donors, surrogates and recipients/intended parents) receive counseling before undergoing treatment. And another reason why we are at the forefront of providing skilled psychological support services to patients struggling with reproductive loss, as well as our staff being involved in training other mental health professionals in fertility counseling.

Several patients in the article describe their emotional journey and why counseling was so helpful to them. However, as noted in a study published last year in Fertility and Sterility despite the high rate of clinical depression and anxiety in both women and men undergoing fertility treatment, few patients are informed or offered mental health services by their clinic. This is the reason our practice has lead the way in setting a model with medical practices about the importance of integrating medical and psychological care to treat the whole patient.

Support groups that our practice offers at Shady Grove Fertility [Link to calendar] are a hidden gem to patients and a free service, providing help, encouragement, and connection by and to others who truly understand how hard infertility is. And for those patients who have reached to our Staff for individual or couple counseling, the phrase I hear most often is, “I wish I hadn’t waited so long to get this help.” Or as I say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”, so please let me know how we can help you!

by Sharon N. Covington, LCSW-C