The Negative Effects of Infertility and How to Fight Back
Updated: Mar 26
Infertility is extremely complex. So, let's start with something easy, like the definition of infertility.
Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after having repeat and unprotected sexual intercourse for over a year.
How can you fight the adverse effects of infertility? Sometimes, they seem endless. After sixteen months of trying to conceive, my friend once told me she had no idea how to fight the adverse effects. Even worse, she doubted if it was even possible. I'm here to say you can fight back. You must fight back.
According to the definition of infertility, 10 -15% of couples in the United States alone are affected by infertility. And for many, myself included, even if you can conceive, you may not bring the fetus full term. Due to my chromosome abnormality (balanced Robertsonian translocation), I experienced two miscarriages and tried for over two years before finally having a child. Anyone who goes through fertility issues, whether it be bareness or loss, will experience an onslaught of uniquely negative effects.
Where to Start
To answer this question, I set out to find the harmful effects of infertility identified by the medical research community. I spent a week reading through a dozen infertility research articles and studies. I set out to summarize their conclusions on a range of topics, such as the impact infertility has on psychological well-being, quality of life, and psychopathology. Of the twelve studies I read, I decided to focus on the six that I felt best to summarize infertility's adverse effects in the research.
The six research studies are all cited in the Negative Effects of Infertility infographic I created below and at the bottom of this post. A couple of major takeaways from the research is that anxiety was the most cited negative effect of infertility (four of the six studies identified various increases in anxiety levels). The second most noted effects included issues related to sex, self-esteem, relationships, and depression. These four categories appeared in at least three of the six studies.
The findings from these six studies showed increased anger, anxiety, depression, frustration, guilt, impatience, isolation, obsessiveness, phobias, powerlessness, and stress. The studies also showed a decline in confidence, happiness, contentment, relationships, self-esteem, sex, satisfaction, and success.
As you can see, the negative effects of infertility can seem endless and impossible to manage. I identify 18 different adverse reactions in the infographic above. Of course, these categories are broad and can be broken down more with further study.
If you would like me to dive deeper into one of these topics on a future blog post, let me know by sending me an e-mail!
How Does Infertility Make You Feel?
If you have been searching the internet trying to figure out what is happening to you, I bet you have run across a survey that found 60% of couples hide their fertility struggles. Are you one of those women that hide? Are you picking out potatoes in the grocery store's produce section, going out to dinner with friends, or going to church with a smile on your face pretending everything is Ok?
How do you feel? Are you angry, anxious, or depressed? Is your sex life in disarray, or do you feel like a broken woman physically, mentally, or emotionally? Are you losing self-esteem or isolating yourself from friends? Does it seem impossible to open up to anyone?
How Pregnancy Loss Made Me Feel
Pregnancy loss and my chromosome abnormally made me feel powerless and anxious. A year passed before I accepted the truth; my mind had no control over my bodies' ability to create a baby. My work ethic and determination were useless. I carried increasing want for a baby, yet my desires did not affect my pregnancy test outcome each month. The negative sign, month after month, led to more anxiety. The most painful thought I ever had was the possibility of never being a mother. My fear of missing out on motherhood was more significant than my fear of dying after being diagnosed with bladder cancer.
Don't let negative effects turn into negative thoughts...
One of the ways I coped with my powerlessness and anxiety was to write stuff down. I devoted time each day to write what happened and the effects that went along with this new storm flooding my life. Writing helped me get the negative thoughts on paper, out in the open. Seeing the negative thoughts in writing inspired me to write an article on the Temptations of Infertility. More recently, it inspired me to finish my book.
Have you ever struggled with thoughts like the ones I had?
ANGER God doesn’t really care about my desire to be a mother...
ISOLATION God doesn't care about my infertility...
SELF-ESTEEM I am a worthless wife if I can’t give my husband children...
GUILT Infertility [my miscarriages] are punishment for my past sins...
ANXIETY I am afraid if people knew… I would be judged and gossiped about...
Lie. Verses. Truth
The first step to fight the adverse effects of infertility is to capture your untamed thoughts. I started a personal challenge this year to begin taking control of my thoughts called Lie Verses Truth. When it seems like I can’t control anything else, I do have the ability to control what I think. Do you have similar negative thoughts to the ones above? Have you attempted to trade in these negative thoughts, these lies, for truth?
When I confront the Lie out loud, it loses its power. Maybe you're just starting to identify negative thoughts that have been floating around too long in your subconscious. Perhaps you have realized they have been floating around, but you haven't put a plan in place to get rid of them. Take the first step and try to identify which thoughts have taken you captive.
The second step is to search the scripture for answers. Find Verses that combat the lie. It may feel like God doesn’t care about my desire to be a mother, but what does scripture say? Or, I may feel like a worthless wife, but how does scripture define a good wife? Is God punishing me for my sins, or does the bible say something different? I may be afraid of other people’s judgment of me, but what does the bible say about the ultimate judge?
The third step is replacing the negative thought with a Truth. When I started praying scripture to replace my negative thoughts, I realized how completely defenseless I was against Satan’s attempt to instill fear, doubt, sadness, and bitterness inside of me without God's word. All my negative thoughts were lies to keep me isolated in my suffering.
How to Fight Back
Let's use my second negative thought listed above as our example.
Lie: God doesn’t care about my infertility
Verse: Matthew 9:36 "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a Shepard."
Truth: Jesus showed compassion to the ones who suffered
The four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) have great examples of God's compassion and love for his people. Jesus heals a Roman official's son in John 4:46-54; Peter's mother-in-law in Luke 4:38-40; a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years in Matthew 9:22.
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. - Matthew 14:14
God does care about you, and he does care about your pain as you navigate infertility. The Bible is an excellent reminder of God's compassion for his people. While Jesus and his miracles are a great example of mercy, it means nothing without the cross. Through His ultimate sacrifice on the cross, you can have comfort. Comfort knowing God knew about your suffering long before you were born. Also, he loves you so much that he took your place by dying on the cross. God has given you a choice to choose Him despite your suffering. He knows what suffering is because he endured the most significant suffering of all.
Here is a great prayer to help you navigate the pains of infertility and speak truth into your life:
"O God, who has proven Your love for all humanity by sending us Jesus Christ our Lord, and has illuminated our human life by the radiance of his presence, I give you thanks for this Your greatest gift... Grant that the remembrance of the blessed Life that once was lived out on this common earth under these ordinary skies may remain with me in all the tasks and duties of this day. Let me remember- His sympathy with suffering of every kind: His bravery in the face of His own suffering:..." John Baillie - Excerpt from A Diary of Private Prayer
"Lord, release the part of me that doesn't believe you care about my infertility. Release the anxiety that you don't hear my prayers and earnest request. I am powerless yet you are all powerful. You are a compassionate God and you know the pain I feel because you endured the greatest pain of all. When I fall back into the false belief that you don't care, help me remember the blessed life of Jesus, the sympathy he had for all who suffered, and his bravery in the face of his own suffering. Amen." Traci McCombs - An Infertility Prayer
Keep the Faith
Keep the faith and stay strong! May these verses and prayers be a reminder that God does care about you, and he does care about your infertility.
Do you have a thought you would like me to investigate further? Request in the comments below!
Discover My Miscarriage, a new #1 Amazon Best Seller.
First IVF treatment—short-term impact on psychological well-being and the marital relationship. H. Holter, L. Anderheim, C. Bergh, A. Möller, Human Reproduction, Volume 21, Issue 12, Dec 2006, Pages 3295–3302.
Sexuality, Self-Esteem and Partnership Quality in Infertile Women and Men. Wischmann, T., Schilling, K., Toth, B., Rösner, S., Strowitzki, T., Wohlfarth, K., & Kentenich, H. (2014). Geburtshilfe und Frauenheilkunde, 74(8), 759–763.
General psychopathology, anxiety, depression, and self-esteem in couples undergoing infertility treatment: a comparative study between men and women. Yousri El Kissi, Asma Ben Romdhane, Samir Hidar. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, Volume 167, Issue 2, Pages 185-189.
Prevalence and Predictors of Sexual Problems, Relationship Stress, and Depression in Female Partners of Infertile Couples. Christian J. Nelson, Alan W. Shindel, Cathy K. Naughton, Michael Ohebshalom, John P. Mulhall. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Memorial Sloan‐Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, New York, USA.
A longitudinal, prospective study on emotional adjustment before, during and after consecutive fertility treatment cycles, C.M. Verhaak, J.M.J. Smeenk, A. van Minnen, J.A.M. Kremer, F.W. Kraaimaat, Human Reproduction, Volume 20, Issue 8, August 2005, Pages 2253–2260.
Dunkel-Schetter C and Lobel M (1991) Psychological reactions to infertility. In Stanton AL and Dunkel-Schetter C (eds) Infertility; Perspectives from Stress and Coping Research. Plenum, New York, pp. 29–60