Researchers are Stunned that Infertility is Stressful
US News and World Report covered a study last week that found that women who don’t have a child after fertility treatments (adoption wasn’t mentioned, and I don’t think it was specifically tracked within the context of this study*) are three times more likely to divorce than women who do. 27% of the women overall were not living with their partner anymore, though a larger chunk of that 27% were women without children than women with children. I didn’t read the whole study to see if the researchers noted that people with children were less likely overall to get divorced in the first place:
For couples without children, the divorce rate in 1948 was 15.3 per 1,000. Where one child was present, the estimate rate was 11.6 per 1,000. The figure thus continues to decrease, and in families with four or more children, it was 4.6. Altogether, the rate for couples with children was 8.8 per 1,000. In other words, the rate for ‘childless’ couples was almost double the rate for families with children.
So the fact that childless couples after infertility divorce at a higher rate than parenting couples after infertility reflects the overall divorce discrepancy between childless and parenting couples without infertility, though I’m not sure if anyone has studied the role children play in the reasoning (or logistics) of couples remaining intact.
Anyway, despite the fact that this is the way statistics go, with or without infertility, the researchers in Denmark were still shocked:
“We already knew that having fertility problems is very stressful for couples but I was surprised that the effect lasted so long.”
Uh… yeah. The rest of us, the ones living with infertility, sort of already knew that.
Infertility is enormously stressful since there is no way to live your life and avoid triggers that remind you of your situation, such as the numerous children you encounter on any given day. It puts a huge emotional strain on a person, a huge financial strain, a physical strain. Infertility is a giant suckhole that takes over every aspect of your life and calendar if you don’t hold it at bay. And really, how many of us are any good at holding that monster at bay? I certainly wasn’t. Take into account, also, that infertility is tied to sex, and sex is tied to relationships, and the whole thing becomes a jumble of conflicted emotions around timed intercourse and having your sex life dictated (or restricted) by a doctor. There is nothing romantic about making a baby with a half dozen other people in the room.
And yes, that stress follows you beyond the immediate period of family building. That is because — as we’ve said all along, children resolve childlessness, but they don’t resolve infertility. Infertility needs to be resolved on its own, and it can be resolved with or without children.
My larger question is what are we going to do with the results of this study?
We now have this information in black and white, but knowing things just for knowing’s sake seems like a waste of funding dollars. Will counseling be offered as part of fertility clinic services; will it be covered by insurance to ensure that people are given coping mechanisms? The religious right is keen on keeping couples together: will they do everything in their power to ensure that couples are given the necessary support so they can come through a crisis like infertility intact? Will people finally understand why asking, “when will you ever be over it?” isn’t helpful? Perhaps, as is clear from this study, some of us will never be “over it.” Life will continue, and it will be lived — and it may even be lived very well. But that doesn’t mean that infertility doesn’t continue to affect a person emotionally (or memories of the time period) long after it is resolved. Resolution — like many things — is a process rather than a single moment in time.
Infertility is stressful. I hope studies like these pave the way for emotional support becoming a given along with treating the physical side of infertility.
* In other words, because they were solely looking at people who were getting services at a fertility clinics, and then who had children years later, there was not (as far as I can tell) a specific breakdown of those who conceived via treatments, those who are parenting after adoption, or what role not utilizing treatments at all and going straight to adoption played in the end results.