Emotional impact of infertility
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 at the diagnosis and impact on fertility, grief and loss of future plans, anger or depression from disruption of life plans, uncertainty about the future, loss of control over life direction, and worry about the potential effects of early menopause (such as reduced bone density).
These feelings may be intensified by the physical and emotional process of infertility treatment, and by not knowing if it will work. People who didn’t get a chance to think about their fertility until treatment was over say the emotions can be especially strong.
I am glad my doctor helped me work through the emotions of what was my top priority. I finally felt that overcoming cancer and getting on with my life were most important and everything else came after that.
While these feelings are a natural reaction to loss of fertility, see the next two pages for ways to manage these feelings before they overwhelm you. It may also help to consider other ways of becoming a parent, or you may decide to be child-free.
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Learning that cancer treatment has affected your ability to have children can be challenging. There is no right or wrong way of coping, but it’s useful to consider different strategies to help you feel a greater sense of control and confidence. The strategies described here may help you cope.
- Find support from family and friends — Family and friends 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.
- Gather information — The impact of cancer on your fertility may change your future plans or make them unpredictable. Knowing your options for building a family may help you deal with feelings of uncertainty. Reading this booklet and talking to health professionals will help you learn more about your options.
- 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, or asking your health care team if you can be put in touch with a person who has been in a similar situation.
- 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. Together you can discuss the impact of cancer and infertility on your relationships, moral or ethical concerns, coping with successful or unsuccessful fertility treatments, and your emotions about other people’s pregnancies, births and babies. To find an infertility counsellor near you, visit Access Australia.
- Try relaxation and meditation exercises — Both of these strategies can help reduce stress and anxiety. You can listen to our meditation and relaxation audio tracks now.
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 family members and friends 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 members 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 members with children will lessen.
I used to cry my eyes out every time I saw a friend with a new baby or I heard someone in my family was pregnant. Now I genuinely feel joy and happiness for them as I celebrate their news.
We thank the reviewers of this booklet: Dr Yasmin Jayasinghe, Paediatric Gynaecologist, Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Co-chair Fertility Preservation Taskforce, Melbourne, and Senior Lecturer, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Melbourne, VIC; Dr Peter Downie, Head, Paediatric Haematology-Oncology and Director, Children’s Cancer Centre, Monash Children’s Hospital, and Director, Victorian Paediatric Integrated Cancer Service, VIC; Carmen Heathcote, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Aaron Lewis, Consumer; Pampa Ray, Consumer; Dr Sally Reid, Gynaecologist, Fertility SA and Advanced Gynaecological Surgery Centre, Visiting Consultant, Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and Clinical Senior Lecturer, School of Paediatrics and Reproductive Health, The University of Adelaide, SA; A/Prof Kate Stern, Head, Fertility Preservation Service, The Royal Women’s Hospital and Melbourne IVF and Head, Endocrine/Metabolic Clinic, Royal Women’s Hospital, and Co-chair, AYA cancer fertility preservation guidance working group, VIC.
Fertility and Cancer was developed as part of a research study into the experience of fertility after cancer led by Prof Jane Ussher at the Centre for Health Research, Western Sydney University. For a list of the other chief and partner investigators, see cancercouncil.com.au. We acknowledge the input of Dr Amanda Hordern and Prof Jane Ussher, who collaborated on the original draft. We thank CanTeen Australia and the American Cancer Society for permission to draw on their resources. We also thank the cancer survivors who took part in the Western Sydney University research project on fertility and cancer, and whose accounts have been quoted in this booklet.
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