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Infertility and treatment

The 5 stages of grief when dealing with 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.

The process of grief has five stages, and it is the same whether you are dealing with infertility or not. Not everyone goes through all the five stages of grief or experience them in a linear order:

  • Shock, denial, and isolation
  • Anger or rage
  • Bargaining
  • Sadness and depression
  • Acceptance

Stage 1: Shock, denial, and isolation

People suffering from infertility often think, “this isn’t happening” or “…this can’t be happening”. You may feel shocked or numb. This is a normal and temporary reaction to rationalize some of the overwhelming emotions, associated with infertility.

The ability to grieve the losses of infertility is challenged due to the potential chronic nature of the experience. This is even more difficult because it is a loss that is invisible to others and therefore difficult to comprehend. Therefore, couples often end up experiencing isolation.

Stage 2: Anger or rage

As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear off, reality re-emerges, and you are faced with the pain, of dealing with your loss. Often the pain will be expressed through anger or rage. This anger is irrational and often directed towards friends, family, your partner or even on your community. In addition, you might also feel guilty which will make you feel even angrier but can also make you feel helpless and vulnerable.

Stage 3: Bargaining

When you feel helpless you will often try to regain control through a series of hypothetical statements, such as, “if only” or “what if”. Guilt often accompanies bargaining, and you start to believe that there was something you could have done differently. You may try to make a secret deal with God or a higher power.

Couple in counselling comforting each other

Stage 4: Sadness and depression

At this stage, your guilt may begin to turn into sadness and depression. However, you will also begin to understand the loss and its effect on your life. This is the hardest stage of the grieving process but also very important. The key to coping with it is to acknowledge that you are going through a tough time.

Others around you may try to help you get “out” of this “depression”. However, it is important to know that this is not clinical depression, but rather a natural response to a loss that needs be experienced to heal. At this stage, you should not try to ignore your emotions. If you allow yourself to experience these powerful feelings, you might be able to move beyond them.

Stage 5: Acceptance of infertility

The experience of “depression” is what leads to the stage of acceptance. You accept the reality of the losses of infertility, and you can move on. You might consider treatments that were unaccepted to you previously and you begin to explore alternative ways of creating a family. Although you still feel sad, you can start moving forward with your life.

Understanding these five stages of grief can help you realize that you and your partner's grief is “normal”, and help you navigate the varying symptoms of the grieving process.

Finally, when you become familiar with the stages of grief, you recognize when you are emotionally ready to undergo fertility treatment. It is important to let go of the past and to peacefully accept your new reality, before embarking on the new parenthood journey. Treatments like IVF and ICSI may be an option for couples suffering from infertility, because the sperm cells are either placed close to the egg in a petri dish (IVF treatment) or injected directly into the egg (ICSI treatment) to optimise the possibility of fertilization. If no success is achieved through fertility treatment, donor sperm or adoption is another option. If you are interested in learning more about using a sperm donor to become pregnant, then follow the link. You can also see the available donors in our Sperm Donor Search here.

How to cope with infertility

One thing is to learn about the 5 stages of grief, but another thing is to learn how to cope with the feelings of grief you have when you experience infertility. There are many ways to move on and try to cope, and if you want tips on how to cope with infertility, then follow the link to our blog post.