Infertility and Its Impact on Women’s Mental Health
Infertility means something totally different for everyone, so no one definition exists. Your experience will define your infertility journey, and no two stories will be the same.

Written by Elise Kayfetz

Published on April 22, 2022

Infertility is a personal experience. While we all have different stories, we share a very common thread — an assumption that we are navigating infertility and its mental health symptoms alone. The truth is, you or someone you may know is not alone and can join the 16 per cent of Canadian women who may be wrapped in similar shame and blame, with feelings of guilt and low self-esteem. Wondering if it’s your fault that infertility has plagued your life and body. Not being able to conceive after trying for so long can bring up deep sadness, anxiety, and depression. 

We spoke with Heather Deighan, a therapist with Mended Pathways Wellness and a member of the Inkblot Therapy network of practitioners, who can affirm that those experiencing infertility do not have to feel alone. Deighan has connected with many women, empowering them to “re-author [their] infertility story.” 

Remember as you read this: Our stories may be different, but we are in this together. This article will explore the meaning of infertility, its mental health impacts on women, and how to support women during their infertility journey, focusing on what to say and not to say. 

What is infertility? 

Infertility means something totally different for everyone, so no one definition exists. Your experience will define your infertility journey, and no two stories will be the same. In our conversation with Deighan, she says, “you are not considered to have infertility issues until you have issues after a year.” This is especially true for Canadian women under 35 who have been trying to conceive for a year. If you or someone you may know are over 35, however, six months is usually enough time to show signs of infertility (2019). Unfortunately, there are few Canadian articles written on the topic. Luckily, advocacy groups are forming, and women like Emily Getz, founder of Day 1, speak out to make space to have these tough conversations. She and her husband shared a candid conversation, “the more [we] think about it, the more it hurts.” 

Mental health impacts of infertility and triggers

Infertility can send women (and their partners) into a psychological and emotional spiral that feels endless. Deighan says it’s “exhausting and devastating…and when our dream of being a mom is taken away — it makes it even harder.” Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness can take over, and thoughts of being inadequate and defective seep into the mind. This could lead to body shaming, stress, and sadness. Deighan says that “we go through a grieving process during the infertility journey,” as we may have already connected with the baby. These feelings are similar to those of loss and grief and could bring on symptoms of depression. Deighan urges women to notice how they feel when these hard emotions come up to understand what triggers them. 

Below are some common emotions and possible emotional triggers for women who experience infertility. 

Sadness may be prompted when people around you have children. While you want to be happy for them, you are on your own journey, and it’s normal to feel sad.

Anxiety may creep in when speaking with others about fertility and infertility, which Deighan says can put a lot of strain on the body. It doesn’t help when an unaware family member or a friend asks when you plan to have kids. Remember, it’s none of their business, and you do not need to respond, and they do not need an answer. 

Body shaming is also common. Many women in Deighan’s practice have expressed that their bodies are not performing the way they believe they should. This adds more pressure, feeds into anxiety, and can lead to sadness and depression. 

Depression is also a related response. Infertility can be a very lonely experience, leaving some women and their partners feeling numb or empty. These experiences and emotions are hard, and it’s important to make space for them. 

Make space for tough emotions

Infertility is hard and impacts a person’s entire world. Emotions get bigger; sex can be less exciting, and, as Deighan says, “when we are trying really hard — the journey gets very sad and tiring versus exciting…[and] we lose the oomph.” Deighan says it’s “a loss, and people forget that. So, honour the loss and make space for tough emotion.” She recommends embracing all emotions like grief, anger, and sadness, being compassionate and kind to your body, and staying hopeful. 

How to stay hopeful when you feel everything but hopeful

Deighan says that “the hope is that those who want to have babies will be able to have babies.” She shared a few hopeful stories with us. She talked about a friend who waited ten years before having a beautiful baby, and “it was shocking,” and told us about a person who adopted a child and got pregnant in between the next adoption. She said it’s “when we allow our bodies to relax” that we may be able to conceive. These stories are hard to hear, but Deighan reminds us that despite what you or someone you may know has planned, there are ways to stay hopeful. 

Deighan’s tips for staying hopeful: 

  • Remain patient and “remember there’s a 20 per cent chance to conceive during ovulation.”
  • Know that hormonal testing and enhancements are available 
  • Develop fertility awareness and build an understanding of “your body and find out when you ovulate based on your body temperature.”
  • Take time off from birth control. 
  • Seek an infertility specialist (IVF)
  • Connect to a higher power and “build surrendering practices, like yoga, deep breathing, and meditation.” 

How to support women facing infertility 

At the end of the day, you or someone you know just “wants their body to work,” and they don’t want to hear those gentle whispers of pity and, in many cases, might not want to hear your infertility story. Deighan said, “if you’re not sure what to say, just sit with the person” and remember that we all need and can be triggered by different things. Below is a suggested list by Deighan of what to say and not to say when supporting women in their fertility journey. 

What to say/do:

  • Be sensitive and empathetic. 
  • Hear them, see them, be with them.
  • Ask: How are you doing? How are you feeling? What would help you feel better? What would you want to talk about?
  • Allow women to bring it up themselves

What not to say: 

  • Avoid baby shower talk 
  • Avoid talking about that friend who had an unexpected pregnancy 
  • Don’t say: ​​I know this person — they are like “fertile Myrtle” or “I didn’t have any problem getting pregnant” or “It’ll be fine, you’ll get pregnant” or “don’t worry about it.”

How infertility impacts relationships

Deighan says it can be very challenging “if friends and family members are not understanding” and permits us to “create boundaries to help protect yourself.” She also encourages women to notice and ask if “ friends, family, and your partner are supportive?” As we can see, relationships with family members, partners, and employers may change, but Deighan says that our “relationship with self (and how we view ourselves) can change the most.” She says not to get stuck in the lonely spiral and remember that you (or someone you know) are not alone. There are infertility support groups to join and trained therapists who can listen. Chances are they have their own story, too. 

Find the care that’s right for you with support from Room For Her

People might not always know your story, and there’s a possibility that you or someone you know isn’t ready to share it and may ultimately choose not to share their story. However, Deighan urges you and others in your shoes to “lean in” and seek support if you feel ready. Room for Her can help you find the right support by removing the barriers women face in accessing therapy, including not knowing how to find a therapist, long wait times, and the costs, inconvenience, and time spent travelling to and from traditional in-person therapy.

Try one year of free self-guided digital therapy today.

Disclaimer: This article contains guidelines or advice not intended to self-diagnose or treat. No content should be used as a substitute for direct advice from a qualified professional such as your doctor or mental health professional. Please reach out for support with a certified professional related to the symptoms you may be experiencing.

If you are in crisis and require immediate support, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. Alternately, please contact the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1 833 456-4566 (en tout temps). 1-833-456-4566 (24/7). For residents of Québec, call1 866 APPELLE (1 866 277-3553).

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