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Infertility grief: Exploring 5 stages related to infertility

Couple suffering from infertility comforting each other

Having fertility challenges can stir up powerful emotions and couples are often surprised to learn that this range of emotions is very similar to the process of grief. Therefore, understanding the process of grief is an important factor when talking about how to cope with infertility.

Why does infertility cause grief?

For many people, creating a family is one of the most important goals in their life. They spend a lot of time imagining how their future with a family is going to turn out. As a result, the inability to have children can cause a sense of grief similar to the ones experienced when losing someone you love. Additionally, the process of fertility treatment or adoption can be emotionally draining as you continuously move between hope and despair.

When you experience infertility, you often go through the 5 stages of grief, which are a commonly recognized framework for understanding and navigating the grieving process. These stages are not unique to infertility but apply to anyone experiencing a loss. Here below we have explained each stage and included examples of how they might be expressed. The 5 stages are:

  • Stage 1: Shock, denial, and isolation
  • Stage 2: Anger or rage
  • Stage 3: Bargaining
  • Stage 4: Sadness and depression
  • Stage 5: Acceptance

Stage 1: Shock, denial, and isolation

Couples facing infertility may initially feel shocked or numb, as they try to come to terms with the overwhelming emotions associated with their loss. This is a normal response, and it can lead to feelings of isolation.

Example of a reaction in stage 1 - Denial

An example of a reaction in the denial stage is to think that the test results showing you are infertile are wrong and the doctors mistakenly switched the samples.

Stage 2: Anger or rage

As denial and isolation begin to wear off, the reality of the loss becomes clearer, and the pain is often expressed through anger or rage. Any outburst of anger may be directed towards friends, family, or a potential partner. During the second stage, you may also experience feelings of guilt, vulnerability, and helplessness.

Example of a reaction in stage 2 - Anger

Being infertile can cause a lot of anger, frustration, or disappointment to the surface, and you may be tempted to express your anger towards your doctor, or even a potential partner, for the inability to have a child.

Couple in counselling comforting each other

Stage 3: Bargaining

When faced with feelings of helplessness, individuals may attempt to regain control through bargaining, making hypothetical statements such as "if only". This stage often includes feelings of guilt and the belief that something could have been done differently.

Example of a reaction in stage 3 - Bargaining

When suffering from infertility, you often start to think back and wonder “what if”. What if we had started to conceive earlier, would it have helped? What if I had taken better care of my health?

Stage 4: Sadness and depression

Guilt may turn into sadness and depression as the individual begins to understand the loss and its impact on their life. This stage can be difficult, but it is also crucial for healing. It is important not to ignore these emotions and to allow oneself to experience them. It is not clinical depression, but a natural response to loss that must be processed.

Examples of a reaction in stage 4 - Depression

Infertility can cause strong emotions to surface and if a child is your biggest wish, you may think that your life comes to an end, and you will never be able to be happy without a child.

Stage 5: Acceptance

The final stage of grief is acceptance, where you come to terms with the reality of your loss and start exploring alternative ways to fulfil your dream. Although sadness may persist, individuals can move forward with their lives and consider treatments like IVF or ICSI treatment, sperm donation, or adoption.

Examples of a reaction in stage 5 - Acceptance

As mentioned above, acceptance in terms of grief when dealing with infertility is looking ahead and starting to focus on other options like donor sperm, surrogacy, or adoption you can use to fulfil your dream.

Writing a diary could be an option for coping with infertility

How to cope with grief: 6 tips and strategies

Grief is a complex and challenging process that affects people in different ways. Understanding can provide a sense of normalcy and help navigate the varying symptoms of the grieving process. But simply knowing about the stages is not enough. It is equally important to learn how to cope with grief healthily and effectively. Here are some tips and strategies to help you cope with each stage of the grieving process:

  • 1. Consider writing a diary: One common strategy to utilize is writing a diary. When you write a diary, you create an outlet for your feeling. hopefully, the outlet can help you cope with your feelings and also help you focus on some of the good things you have achieved during the day.
  • 2. Seek professional counselling: Reaching out to professional counsellors can be hard, but they are professional for a reason. Counsellors can help you find strategies to use, to help you in situations where you previously found it hard to cope.
  • 3. It is okay to not be okay: Struggling with infertility is hard and a lot of different emotions are entangled. Therefore, it is okay to say to others and yourself that you are not okay.
  • 4. Seek support: When coping with infertility, the most important advice is to seek support. Talk to your friends and family it does not matter, the most important part of dealing with infertility is to find the support that can help you on your journey towards a child.
  • 5. Self-care: It is important to focus on yourself when dealing with grief. Make sure that you give your body the best chance of healing by getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly. You can also practise mindfulness or meditation to calm your mind and reduce stress.
  • 6. Find strategies to manage emotions: During the five stages of grief, a lot of different emotions come to the surface, and you need to find a way to cope with them. You could also use physical activity to channel your anger and frustrations into something else.

When dealing with infertility, the above-mentioned tips can help you during the process and hopefully guide you towards a new way of fulfilling your dream of parenthood. Before undergoing fertility treatments with donor sperm or donor eggs, it is important to emotionally let go of the past and peacefully accept the new reality. If you are about to embark on a journey towards parenthood and need help from a sperm donor, then follow the button below to see our selections of donors available.

See our Sperm Donor Search


Frequently asked questions about the 5 stages of grief

Does infertility grief ever go away?

Grief caused by infertility may never fully go away, but it can become more manageable over time. It is a form of grief that can be as intense and long-lasting as other forms of loss, such as losing a loved one. However, with support and coping strategies, individuals can learn to navigate and integrate their feelings of grief into their lives.

What is the difference between primary and secondary infertility?

According to WHO, couples are infertile after trying to conceive for more than a year without a pregnancy is achieved. The difference between primary and secondary infertility is whether the couple has children already. If a couple managed to conceive their first child, but find it hard to conceive their second, they struggle with secondary infertility.