Suffering in Silence: The Emotional Toll of Infertility & IVF

photo credit: Louis Galvez

I will forever have the imprint in my memory of waking up unnaturally early (anxiety-filled) to dark, cold mornings in route to the clinic before work. New York City, supposedly “the city that never sleeps,” was quiet and deserted. My secret mornings, heading uptown on an empty subway car while the rest of the concrete jungle was fast asleep felt surreal, depressing and shameful for me.

Upon arrival at the clinic, I’d sit in a packed waiting room — walls covered with pictures of flowers blooming, upbeat music and tons of other people like me, waiting for their turn to be called and hoping that this was the cycle that would work. We never spoke to one another, but I felt much less alone in those waiting rooms (albeit still anxious) during that time in my life than most other places in the world.

Following the appointments, including often unexpected bad news about my prognosis, I headed to work and slapped a fake smile on my face. As lonely as it was to keep my fertility journey and shameful secret mornings to myself, the alternative of sharing into a void where most people didn’t understand, didn’t care or had unsolicited advice and judgment felt much worse. 

The Hidden Struggles: Navigating Infertility in Silence 

Infertility is not merely a physical challenge; it’s a deeply emotional journey that so many endure in silence. The pressure to conceive, the disappointment of failed attempts, and the heartache of the losses along the way are painful and often traumatic.

Feeling trapped by socializing with others who don’t understand or don’t care to understand what you’re facing is a major struggle. Discussing anything other than fertility feels futile, yet sharing about your fertility experience feels exhausting and overwhelming. Thus, you are left with yourself – your burdened psyche and your overwhelmed body – feeling alone.

Sneaking Through Shadows: Coping Strategies for the IVF Journey

As you tiptoe through the shadows of uncertainty, it’s vital to arm yourself with two things: coping strategies and a support system. Mind-body tools like these and these to calm your body, decrease your anxiety, and comfort yourself are some strategies that help. Your support system might include a fertility-competent therapist and/or fertility group, acupuncturist, or masseuse as well as a friend or family member who respects your boundaries about how and when you do or don’t want to talk about your struggles. Think about what you need in terms of tools and support, so that you can buffer yourself throughout the challenging process of fertility treatment (IVF).

Your Unique Journey

As you undergo the labyrinth of infertility and IVF, remember that your journey is uniquely yours. Do your best to be gentle with yourself. It’s a grueling period of your life – and every time you honor your needs, consider it an act of self-care and a big mental health win.

Rachel Shanken, Somatic Fertility Therapist in New York City