A-Z

Infertility

Counselling for fertility issues

People described different experiences of counselling. Some spoke very highly of their counselling and recommended it for others going through infertility. Others described negative or unsatisfactory experiences or a mixture of good and bad experiences. Clinics do not all offer the same approach to counselling – it is sometimes standard, or as Sally described hers, “pretty much mandatory”, while elsewhere it is offered as an extra which needs to be paid for.
 

Lulu's private fertility clinic offered counselling as standard, which she viewed as a good thing.

Lulu's private fertility clinic offered counselling as standard, which she viewed as a good thing.

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 31
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

No that was offered as part of the… you didn’t have to pay for it additionally, with the clinic, the private clinic they offered it as part of, you could go as many times as you want you know during that period or even afterwards if you hadn’t. So that was just part of what they offered. And I think that was a really good thing to do. Because sometimes I got to the point where you just think I can’t talk to people about this anymore. And you know and you can’t of think, oh I don’t want to bother with people any more. So it was quite good to have somewhere to go to kind of offload all of that. So yes.

Some wanted counselling but had difficulty finding anyone suitable in their area or on a day or time that suited them, or coincided with their greatest need (for example just after a cycle had failed). Sandra was not sure whether they were offered counselling and said that it might be better to make couples more aware of what is available. She felt that she needed counselling straight after a treatment cycle had failed but that often it was not available until weeks later. Martha, an American living in the UK, struggled to find anyone to talk to about her infertility and she felt her clinic should have helped her find someone.
 

Every time Karen asked for a counselor she found they weren’t working unless she made a special...

Every time Karen asked for a counselor she found they weren’t working unless she made a special...

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And did they offer you any counselling?
 
They said it was available, but every time you asked to see a counsellor they weren’t there, they only worked certain days of the week, and unless you were going to make a special journey to see them, which was going to be a two hour drive, and then it was if they could fit you in, and they only see you at the beginning really, and if you wanted extra, you might have to pay extra, or you know, but then that’s not what they advertise. Oh it was, there was full time counselling, there’s this, there’s the other. And it wasn’t very nice. No. 
 
Finding a counsellor that felt right was not always easy. Steve and his wife were not offered counselling by their clinic and although they joined a support group it did not provide the kind of support that they were looking for. In the end they went to a marriage guidance counsellor as a last resort.
 

Steve said it was important to keep trying and find the right counselor, who can provide the kind...

Steve said it was important to keep trying and find the right counselor, who can provide the kind...

Age at interview: 48
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 37
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And was there not any counselling offered through the conception unit?
 
I think there probably, yes there was somewhere in the literature, oh you can see a counsellor, but based on our experience of the counselling, we had a kind of session we went through before embarking on the process we felt it was very unlikely that was going to be of any use to us whatsoever. So we didn’t make any use of that.
 
It’s almost as if you have to sort of shop around to find the right support?
 
Yes, yes, I think that’s a good point. I think it is probably another thing to consider as well, is the fact that you might see somebody for counselling and emotional support and that doesn’t work out for you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t somebody else. So you may need to try somebody else, and oh you’re meant to survive that, you’re managing kind of help, but not to be put off by one bad experience of a counsellor who doesn’t do it for you for whatever reason.
 
And was the miscarriage counselling helpful?
 
Yes. Yes. We only went together once for that that was helpful. Just being able to talk to somebody else about what actually happened and how awful it was. In a way we probably wouldn’t talk to the family or colleagues about that, because it was such an emotionally distressing experience.
 
Some were not so lucky in finding someone who suited them. Joanna saw a general counsellor and wondered whether seeing someone with a specialist interest in fertility would have been better. Clare said it was hard to find the right counsellor but very valuable if you do find the right one.
 

Catherine felt that she could really have benefited from fertility counselling but was not happy with the general counselor she saw.

Catherine felt that she could really have benefited from fertility counselling but was not happy with the general counselor she saw.

Age at interview: 45
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

At the very beginning before we started IVF I got into a complete state at one point, where I just couldn’t stop crying. I mean I would cry all the time when I wasn’t at work. I would go to work and be together all day, and then come home and just cry. I, it seemed like I just cried all the time. And I went to the doctor and said, “I really don’t think I’m coping.” And she said, “Well, maybe you could see a counsellor, who would help you with some coping strategies.” Which I thought sounded fantastic. And I was really looking forward to seeing this counsellor, and I was really sure it was going to really help. And it was just awful. I mean I think it was partly that I didn’t go and see a specialist fertility counsellor. And I would really advise anyone to make sure that they do, rather than just see a general counsellor. Because the woman I saw didn’t really have, she didn’t seem to have any understanding at all of fertility problems. And she just kept saying, “Oh, that must be awful” and sort of looking out the window in a rather vague kind of way. And then she wanted, and I, I suppose it’s a kind of counselling, a kind of therapy, where they want to go back into your childhood and discuss your, she wanted to discuss my relationship with my mother. And I’m sure this was probably terribly relevant, but at the time to me I just thought, you know, “I’m not here about that. I really don’t want to talk about that. I want you to do something to help me, I, to help me get through this now, not to talk about my past.” And I remember her saying, “Would you like to come and see me again?” And I thought it would be really rude not to say, “Yes.” So I made an appointment, and as soon as I got home I rang up and cancelled it. And it, it was sad actually, because it put me off going for counselling again. And I think it could have probably been really really helpful if I’d been to see someone who actually was experienced at dealing with people with fertility problems. And I know a lot of people find it an absolute godsend, but it did completely put me off the whole counselling thing actually.

Several participants spoke very positively about their counselling. Naomi said that it offered her a “license to air my feelings” and Fiona that it allowed her to “let off steam”. In addition to helping offload anxieties and worries, counselling could help people deal with their sense of isolation from friends and family. It could also help with the grieving that some felt they needed to go through.
 

Fiona's counselling helped her come to terms with the loss she felt at not being able to have her own children.

Fiona's counselling helped her come to terms with the loss she felt at not being able to have her own children.

Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 33
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I did in some ways. I mean the counselling was really good, because it just it gave me a chance to let off steam, and, but again I think I only learnt a lot through my counselling once I’d come through those IVF attempts I think. I did have counselling as we were going through it, but again I just think I was just too wrapped up in making it work. So regardless of what might have been said in there, I think I was still, well this is going to be it for me. This is, I’m going to make it work. 
 
So I don’t know. I think the counselling at that time was just a place to go, and say I feel this, I feel shitty. I feel whatever. Have a cry. And then come out and, you know, and carry on [laughs]. It only really became useful after, when I was dealing with the major kind of prospect of never having my own children. The real loss. While you’re having IVF you are still dealing with the prospect of having children. So you’ve still got that hope there. 
 
Couples do not always respond to infertility in similar ways and counselling sometimes helped people avoid consequent difficulties in their relationship. Michelle and her husband were encouraged by their counsellor to write their feelings down which they found very helpful, although she did rather dread the appointment. Clare and her husband responded to their infertility very differently; she felt lucky to have found a counsellor who helped them understand each other and deal with issues as a couple.
 

Clare and her husband had counselling together which helped them come to terms with infertility and their different reactions to treatment failure and miscarriage.

Clare and her husband had counselling together which helped them come to terms with infertility and their different reactions to treatment failure and miscarriage.

Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 31
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

I think it has strengthened us, definitely. That’s not to say that it’s always been plain sailing. Because it hasn’t. And I think there have been times when it’s been incredibly difficult. I think particularly because for me I feel an element of guilt about the fact that the fertility problems all lie with me. You know, [husband]’s perfectly healthy and given he was with a partner who didn’t have blocked tubes or any fertility problems at all he’d be a father by now. And I think that’s very very difficult to come to terms with. And I know from talking to other people again, to the, the Infertility Network that where you have an element of, you know, there’s a definite problem on one side or the other, whether it be male factor infertility or something wrong with the woman, that there is always that feeling or often that feeling of guilt that they’re the one, that partner is the one that’s stopping the other one from having children. I think also the other time that we really hit problems was after the first miscarriage, because we treat, we responded to it very very differently. And I think that was why it was so important for us to go to counselling. Because I fell apart, and [husband] didn’t. And that was quite difficult because I felt that he wasn’t as upset about it as I was. Whereas in actual fact he was just dealing with it in a completely different way. And also he felt that he needed to be strong for me, and that there wasn’t space in our relationship for both of us to fall apart and that he needed to be the strong one. And I found that very hard because I felt that he was just kind of putting it, you know, “That’s in a box and I’m going to pack that up and, you know, it’s all over now. There’s nothing we can do about it, so what’s the point getting upset about it?” And that’s not how he felt at all, but that’s how I felt he was behaving. And so I think the counselling was absolutely vital at that stage, for both of us to understand. And it was very hard. You know, he, we both said a lot of things during the counselling session that were very hurtful to the other one. But because we were able to deal with that in the safe environment of a counselling room, rather than a sort of slanging match in the middle of your lounge, I think that was very positive. And I think now we are in a very positive place in terms of our relationship, and we are incredibly strong. But I’m sure there’ll be times when we’ll be tested again, when we’ll, particularly, you know, during the middle of an IVF cycle when I’m taking drugs and, you know, very hormonal and very irrational and just picking fights about the most stupid little things, just because I, I’m not coping or I’m not coping with the stress. And it is very difficult. But I think, you know, in terms of testing your relationship, if you can get through this, you can get through anything.

Christine found the counselling she embarked on after a series of miscarriages and the death of her father very helpful. Sarah was helped by her cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) after stopping treatment and before starting adoption proceedings.
The timing of counselling was important. There were times when it felt appropriate or helpful and others when it was not. Clare talked about planning to see a counsellor before and during her upcoming cycle of IVF. Fiona (above) reflected back on how counselling was valuable at a later stage when her treatment was over and she was having to come to terms with not being able to have children of her own.
 
Not everyone was positive about the counselling they had received. Some did not get on with their counsellor and felt they asked inappropriate or insensitive questions, others were frustrated that their non-specialist counsellors seemed unaware of issues raised by infertility. Some just felt that they had nothing to say and it was therefore not terribly useful. A lesbian couple thought that seeing a counsellor was a required part of the process; they were worried about whether they were going to give the ‘right’ answers and did not feel that they gained anything from the meeting. Carol had a session with a particularly insensitive counsellor. 
 

Carol felt that the counselor she saw at her local fertility unit asked inconsiderate questions...

Carol felt that the counselor she saw at her local fertility unit asked inconsiderate questions...

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 27
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

I saw one counsellor who was at the unit and she asked me, her first question was, “How would you feel if you and your husband could never have children?” And as I was right in the middle of treatment I felt that question would be totally inappropriate, so I responded very angrily and asked her what her, what she would do if her husband or her was diagnosed with cancer. And she said, “What an awful question.” And I said, “Well it is no different from what you have just asked me. You have more or less taken away all my hope.” So I didn’t find it very rewarding at all. There was the strategically placed box of tissues and flowers, and usually in NHS hospitals, you don’t even get a carpet. And all of that was there. I mean the tiniest room I have ever seen in my life and I asked her whether she had had children and had any problems conceiving, and she said no thankfully I have been very fortunate and had three lovely children. And I wanted to scream at her and say, “How the hell do you know what I am going through then?” I asked her about her training and it was just a basic counselling course. She hadn’t had any specific fertility counselling. And I didn’t appreciate it at all.

Not everyone wants counselling. As Belinda pointed out, the sessions can be time consuming along with all the other treatment appointments at the clinic. Some were resistant to the idea of counselling, preferring to manage without. Others felt that they did not need it.
 

Maggie and her partner are comfortable talking to each other about their feelings and so did not feel the need for counselling. But perhaps it could have helped.

Maggie and her partner are comfortable talking to each other about their feelings and so did not feel the need for counselling. But perhaps it could have helped.

Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 30
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

We didn’t go down the counselling route throughout our fertility journey. It was something that wasn’t particularly offered to us either. I guess we did a lot of soul-searching ourselves. I’m fairly lucky in that my husband and myself have a really open relationship and we do feel fairly comfortable about talking about really really deep and quite dark sometimes feelings. We did, so in a way I think we would have benefited from some kind of therapy just to deal with some of the issues that it raised about us. I remember having a huge kind of existential moment about the whole thing, thinking, “What is the point of me? If I can’t have children, why am I even on this planet? You know, I would love my...” You, people’s cats would be pregnant, you’d see dogs having puppies, people seemed to be having babies left, right and centre. And I just wondered, “Why am I even here? If the whole point of the species is to kind of recreate itself, then I should have been, you know, kind of faded out.” And that was very very difficult to deal with that, you know, “What is the point of me? If I can’t have children, why am I here?” That was very tough to deal with, very very tough. And I’m not even sure I know the answer to that yet.



​Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated July 2017.
donate
Previous Page
Next Page