Infertility is essentially the inability to conceive after one year of timely unprotected sexual intercourse and, or the inability to carry a pregnancy to live birth (Glover, 2008, p. 209). Of the many possible causes for infertility, 70% of the cases are attributed to natural causes and the remainder due to idiopathic, or unexplained factors (Kraaij, 2009, p. 19). Infertility is a complex medical issue that not only affects a woman physiologically, but also impinges on many other aspects of her life.
Historically, statistics on the rate of infertility in Canada were published infrequently. However, with recent technological advancements and implementation of assisted reproductive treatments, health specialists are now recognizing the overwhelming number of women affected by this condition. A study conducted by Bushnik et al., (2011), concluded that the current prevalence of infertility in Canadian heterosexual couples, where the woman was aged 18-34, ranged from 11.5% to 15.7%, almost double the rate previously measured in 1992 (Bushnik, 2011, pp. 738-740). The topic of infertility is one of great importance, for although it affects a significant number of Canadians, there is little public awareness of the potentially devastating effects on those involved.
This paper will explore infertility as a life crisis for the North American female in adulthood. This will be examined through various issues regarding the psychological, emotional, and social aspects of infertility. Lastly, it will look at various coping strategies, both positive and negative, that can have a far-reaching effect on the burden of undesired infertility.
For the most part, women approach adulthood with the intent to bear children, and consider it to be a natural progression in their lives. When a woman is suddenly faced with infertility, the inability to meet one of her most important life goals can be devastating and can negatively impact her mental state, resulting in depression, stress, psychological trauma, and dissociation.
Depression is a term that although widely used can be described as a disabling state of low mood and aversion to activity that can prevent a person from functioning normally. It can affect a person’s thoughts, behaviours, feelings, and sense of well-being. It incorporates a range of emotions such as sadness, despair, hopelessness, and guilt (CAMH, 1999, pp. 2-3). Studies have shown that the depression levels in infertile women are similar to those found among individuals with chronic illnesses such as cancer, myocardial infarction, and HIV-positive status (Miles, 2009, p. 238).
Clinical studies and empirical research have consistently shown that the majority of women who experience infertility rate it as the most stressful experience of their lives (Sciarra et al., 2004). A study conducted by Newton, Sherrard, & Glavac (1999) used a written questionnaire titled the Fertility Problem Inventory, as a form of a stress scale, to...