We cannot describe this better than Greil did in his article of 1997.
Greil (1997) describes the experience of infertility as a “roller coaster of raised hopes followed by tragic disappointment.” Infertile women report feeling:
- Powerless. They feel that they are no longer in control of their bodies, and they feel powerless when it comes to decisions about when they will become parents or when they will be intimate (Dunkel-Schetter & Lobel, 1991).
- Broken or disabled. Some infertile women have reported feeling empty or broken, describing their bodies as “defective machines” (Clarke, Martin-Matthews, & Matthews, 2006). While this perception of the body can be painful enough when first diagnosed, infertility treatments tend to perpetuate and intensify this feeling. Women’s bodies are typically the focus of fertility treatments, and many women come to feel a sense of alienation from their own bodies, as the inner workings of what was once her private body are now described in medical terminology and exposed to unfamiliar, invasive procedures.
- “Hollow” or incomplete. 63% of women interviewed in a study by Clarke, Martin-Matthews, and Matthews (2006) expressed the opinion that the ability to bear children is necessary for someone to be a “full-fledged woman,” and those who are infertile feel that it is not only their bodies that are incomplete but also their sense of self.
- Responsible. Infertile women tend to hold the decision-making authority in regard to treatment, which adds a considerable amount of stress. Women’s bodies are usually given more intensive medical treatments, often even when the man is the sole reason for the couple’s infertility. Therefore, many couples claim that the decision to either continue or end treatment should be up to the woman, as it is her body that needs to be “fixed”. (Clarke, Martin-Matthews, & Matthews, 2006)
Sara Vaugh, M.D., an ob-gyn, reproductive endocrinologist, Spring Fertility, says there’s plenty of research on the ways infertility can cause feelings of brokenness or inadequacy, create insecurities, and negatively impact body image.
“My body has betrayed me”
“Hatred for my body was the predominant feeling throughout my infertility journey – that feeling of being broken”
How do we treat these patients?
- We need to make a diagnosis from the Biopsychosocial Model of Health and Illness. This model combines the psychological (Psycho) and the environmental (Social) into the traditional biomedical (Bio) model of health. (Engel 1977)
- The bio factors refer to the illness itself – the viruses, bacteria, and lesions. The psycho factors refer to the behaviours, beliefs, coping mechanisms, stresses, and pain related to the illness. The social factors refer to class, employment, ethnicity, and people’s expectations of illness.
In the field of Psychology, we use the Systems theory/therapy. Systems theory, also called systems science, is the multidisciplinary study of systems to investigate phenomena from a holistic approach.
The Good Theory Page describes:
The Systems theory finds some of its roots within the biological sciences, as some of the founders of its core concepts, including Ludwig Bertalanffy and Humberto Maturana, were biologists. One of the main perspectives of systems theory is viewing an individual or group as its own ecosystem with many moving parts that affect each other. Principles of systems theory have been applied to the field of psychology to explore and explain behavioural patterns.
People who view psychology through the lens of systems theory see individuals as seeking homeostasis within their systems or groups. Systematic psychotherapy has been found effective in addressing anxiety, body image issues, depression and relationship issues.
How ART Therapy can help with Fertility.
Art therapy can help with the difficulties that arise through infertility issues. With ART they can express their emotions, and….
- Validate emotions
- Explore relationship conflict
- Experience acceptance
- Realise stress
- Express grief and loss
- Develop awareness of emotions and thoughts
- Explore choices and decision-making
- Develop self-worth
- Connect with the body
Feelings and thoughts are often internalised and create a feeling of isolation from loved ones.
Amazing advice for our patients is to read Victor Frankl’s book Man’s search for Meaning – this will change your meaning of life forever:
Victor Frankl: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
With IMSI (Intracytoplasmic Morphologically-selected Sperm Injection) treatment, select sperm is injected into the ova (female egg) directly, and then incubation begins before returning to the uterus.
Written by Lizanne van Waart
Director & Founder of Wijnland Fertility Clinic / ART Counselling
MA. (Psychology) University of Stellenbosch