You and your partner have just been punched — you have been told that you are among the twenty percent of couples who suffer from “unexplained infertility.” That news is devastating. It hits you both in belly and heart. How can there not be a reason? You’re right back where you started, a year or two or three ago. Once again you are in the dark. Infertility without explanation in the twenty-first century feels as if you have been told that you have bubonic plague in the Middle Ages and no one knows why.
Your anxiety increases because no one can identify the cause. Even if the result of those interminable, painful, intrusive tests had been that you or your partner could not have a biological child, at least then you could grieve and move on. You feel powerless to act because you do not know what the problem is or how to correct it. Your sense of hopelessness and immobilization brings with it a greater risk for depression. No surprise—anxiety and depression are the two predominant emotional reactions for the diagnosis of unexplained infertility.
You find it more stressful to talk with the family and friends who might provide much—needed support because you have no answers for them. You are not alone. One study found that the couples with no clear etiology for infertility experienced the most social strain. In another study, even three years after failed IVF attempts, couples with unexplained infertility were found to have unresolved grief and to be haunted by their inability to explain to others and themselves why they could not become pregnant. The researchers concluded that counseling might be needed to help couples deal with the ambiguity of their situation. Counseling also can help those with unexplained infertility focus on other life areas that are controllable and that provide a sense of efficacy and well-being.
In my own baby quest, I developed a bad case of “delusions of eggdeur” when my hormone levels were good and I passed my hysterosalpingogram with flying colors—that pretty-in-pink procedure where the doctor shot pink dye throughout my reproductive system to make sure that the passages were clear. After I had optimistically tried IVF five times with my own eggs and failed, the loss was even more traumatic. I had been positive that I would succeed since the doctors had found no physical roadblocks on my path to pregnancy. After all those doomed attempts, the phrase that I kept repeating was from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Why can’t we get pregnant? That may remain the unsolved mystery that a couple needs to accept. Then you can decide how to proceed while living with the unknown. Some couples with unexplained infertility will become pregnant on their own. Even without knowing what is the matter, modern medicine can offer other baby-making opportunities and the possibility of a successful outcome. I myself journeyed toward acceptance of using a donor egg. Making choices along the baby route leads to a sense of empowerment, and it can help to overcome the anxiety and depression that often accompany the unexplained infertility diagnosis.
For a complete list of research references, please write to Lora@healthyvalleyonline.com.
By Victoria Hopewell
Victoria Hopewell is the pen name of a Ph.D. clinical psychologist. Victoria is the author of Grade A Baby Eggs: An Infertility Memoir that is based on her own personal experience with IVF and egg donation. Victoria has been an instructor in psychology at both Harvard and Cornell Medical Schools. Currently she has a private practice on Long Island and in Westchester, New York. Victoria’s website www.gradeababyeggs.com features her book and blog.
Reprinted with permission from RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. www.resolve.org