Explanation Fatigue during Fertility Treatment

Photo by Joel Muniz on            Unsplash

Fertility treatments can be an emotionally and physically demanding journey, requiring significant resilience and patience. Among the many challenges faced, one often overlooked is explanation fatigue—the exhaustion that comes from repeatedly explaining your situation, progress, and emotions to those around you. As a therapist and a former IVF patient, I’ve seen firsthand how this can strain interpersonal relationships, adding another layer of difficulty to an already complex process.

Understanding Explanation Fatigue

Explanation fatigue occurs when you feel physically and emotionally drained by the need to continuously share and justify your experiences, decisions, and feelings with others. In the context of fertility treatments, this can involve:

  • Describing medical procedures and their emotional impact.
  • Explaining the reasons behind certain decisions, such as pursuing IVF or choosing not to share certain details.
  • Repeating updates on progress or setbacks to concerned family and friends.
  • Managing well-intentioned, but often intrusive, questions or advice.

This repetitive explanation can become burdensome, leading to frustration, resentment, and emotional exhaustion.

The Impact on Relationships

1. Emotional Drain and Disconnect

Constantly having to explain oneself can be depleting, leaving little energy for other aspects of life and relationships. You may feel isolated, as the science of ART/IVF and the emotional burden is hard for others to fully comprehend. This can create a sense of disconnect between you and your loved ones.

2. Increased Stress and Tension

The need to continually provide updates and explanations can increase stress and tension within your relationships. Well-meaning questions can feel like pressure, and you may start to avoid conversations or interactions to escape the exhausting cycle of explanation.

3. Misunderstandings and Frustration

Misunderstandings can arise when others don’t fully grasp the complexities and emotional toll of fertility treatments. This can lead to frustration on both sides—you may feel unsupported or misunderstood, while loved ones may feel helpless or inadvertently say something hurtful.

4. Strained Communication

As explanation fatigue sets in, communication can become strained. You may choose to withhold information to avoid the repetitive cycle, leading to a breakdown in open and honest communication. This can create a barrier in relationships, making it harder for loved ones to offer you the kind of support you need.

Coping Strategies for Explanation Fatigue

1. Setting Boundaries

Clearly defining what you are comfortable sharing and what you prefer to keep private can help manage explanation fatigue. Communicate these boundaries gently but firmly to your support network, helping them understand your need for space and reducing the frequency of repetitive questions.

2. Utilizing Support Groups

Joining a support group, whether in person or online, can provide a safe space to share experiences with those who truly understand. These groups can offer emotional support and practical advice without the need for extensive explanations.

3. Designating a Point Person

Consider designating a trusted friend or family member as a point person for updates. They can relay information to others, reducing the number of times you need to explain your situation. Choose them wisely, as you don’t want to encounter further explanation fatigue with them or misinformation being dispersed.

4. Creating Informative Resources

You may find it helpful to create a blog, email updates, or a social media group where you can share information about your journey. This can keep loved ones informed and reduce the need for repeated explanations.

5. Seeking Professional Support

A fertility-competent therapist can provide a confidential and safe space to process your emotions, without putting the burden on you to explain each nitty-gritty detail of the process. They can also help you develop coping strategies for dealing with explanation fatigue and its impact on your relationships.

Supporting Loved Ones

For friends and family, it’s important to:

  • Listen More, Question Less: Offer a listening ear without pressing for details. Let the individual share as much or as little as they are comfortable with.
  • Show Empathy: Acknowledge the emotional and physical toll of fertility treatments. Express support and understanding without attempting to offer solutions or advice unless asked.
  • Respect Boundaries: Understand and respect the boundaries set by your loved one. Recognize that their need for privacy is a form of self-care.

Explanation fatigue is a real and challenging aspect of the fertility journey, impacting emotional well-being and interpersonal relationships. By recognizing this fatigue and implementing strategies to manage it, you can protect your emotional health and maintain stronger, more supportive relationships during a time when you need it most.

Remember, this is your process so you get to decide what you share, when and with whom.

Rachel Shanken, Somatic Fertility Therapist in New York City