How people respond to infertility varies. It’s common to experience a range of emotions, and at times it may feel like you’re on an emotional roller-coaster. Common reactions include shock, grief and loss, anger, anxiety or uncertainty about the future, frustration, isolation and loss of control over life direction.
These feelings may be intensified by the physical and emotional process of infertility treatment and the uncertainty of its success. Cancer survivors who didn’t get a chance to think about their fertility until treatment was over say the emotions can hit hard.
For information about the impact on partner relationships and sexuality, see Relationships and sexuality.
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It’s useful to consider several strategies for coping with infertility.
Take control – For many people, the most upsetting aspect of cancer and infertility is how it changes their plans and dreams. Not knowing what the future holds may make you feel like your life is on hold or out of control. Ways to deal with feelings of uncertainty include:
- knowing the options available to you now and in the future
- writing down what seems most important to you to guide your decision-making
- involving your partner (if you have one) in decision-making
- finding constructive ways to manage your own feelings (e.g. through activities such as art or exercise).
Find support from family and friends – You may feel that family and friends don’t really understand what you are going through. They may not know how to communicate with you in a way that makes you feel supported. They may make unhelpful comments such as, ‘Be positive’ or ‘At least you’re alive’. These comments may make you feel like no-one understands what you’ve been through. You may need to remind people that you aren’t asking for advice or solutions, and that you simply want someone to listen as you express your feelings.
Consider counselling – Some people find it useful to talk to someone who is not their partner, family member or friend. You can see a professional counsellor alone or with a partner.
You may choose to speak to a psychologist, social worker, nurse, fertility counsellor or your doctor. This person can talk to you about issues such as:
- making difficult decisions
- the impact of cancer and infertility on your relationships
- anxiety and stress
- moral or ethical concerns
- coping with successful or unsuccessful fertility treatments
- your emotions about other people’s pregnancies, births and babies
- ways to manage your feelings and share them with others.
To connect with an infertility counsellor near you, visit Access Australia at access.org.au.
Explore peer support – Talking to people who have been in a similar situation to you may make you feel less isolated and provide you with practical strategies to help you cope. You can access peer support by:
- joining a cancer- or fertility-related support group
- calling Cancer Council 13 11 20
- asking your health care team if you can be put in touch with a person who has been in a similar situation.
Try relaxation and meditation exercises – Both of these strategies can help reduce stress and anxiety.
- Relaxation usually includes muscle-loosening and slow breathing exercises to physically and mentally calm the body.
- Meditation involves focusing on a single thing, such as your breathing.
- Mindfulness meditation allows you to focus more easily on the present, rather than worrying about the past or fearing the future.
Contact Cancer Council 13 11 20 to ask for free copies of our meditation and relaxations CDs.
When you don't want to talk about it
There may be times when you do not want to talk about the impact of cancer treatment on your fertility. This may be because you think you don’t have the words to describe how you feel, you are afraid of breaking down, or you find it too overwhelming or confronting.
Some people withdraw from others to give themselves time to make sense of what’s going on. If you are a private person, this might be the best way for you to process your feelings. Exploring your thoughts by writing in a journal or expressing yourself creatively can be particularly helpful if you find it difficult to talk to others.
You may want to avoid being a burden to others or fear appearing as if you are not coping. You may be specifically avoiding friends or family who are pregnant or have children because it brings up painful emotions. Give yourself permission to decline invitations to baby-focused events until you feel able to cope.
Over time and with support, you may come to terms with what you are going through and be able to open up to others. The pain of seeing your friends or family with children will lessen.