New research suggests embracing emotions during infertility

On September 27, a diverse group—doctors, authors, filmmakers, trauma therapists, and members of the public—will convene in New York City to watch the infertility documentary The Cycle: Living a Taboo. They will also participate in a forum to “challenge conventional wisdom and foster a new, more open dialogue about infertility.” This project is meant to give voice to important but often marginalized perspectives, including patients who are not only unsuccessful but traumatized by the fertility treatment experience.
It’s good to redirect our attention from the depression and anxiety that we often associate with those seeking fertility treatments to a more complicated emotional cocktail that includes desperation, anger, and helplessness. But while we collectively share and show compassion for our diverse reproductive experiences, we must clarify exactly what we mean when we discuss these emotions and how they bear upon patients’ competencies. Before we encourage infertility patients to spring out of the stirrups to avoid an emotionally bumpy ride, it’s good to question why so many stay on the path to fertility treatments nonetheless.

I have spent the past two years researching emotion’s impact on fertility treatment decision-making and informed consent, conducting lengthy interviews and survey research with approximately 400 in-vitro fertilization patients and 90 reproductive medicine professionals. My research has revealed that, by themselves, generalized labels such as “desperate,” “angry,” and “vulnerable” are often misleading; they can actually do a disservice to and disparage the patients.

Some infertile women do experience feelings of desperation, but common-sense understandings of what it means to be desperate range from unsophisticated to flagrantly wrong. Yet these labels not only are present in popular stereotypes of infertile women and couples, but for decades they have often been applied (without empirical evidence) by well-intentioned individuals seeking to draw attention to patients’ vulnerabilities—including experts in medicine, law, and business, religious leaders, and former patients. In reality, the lived experience of these emotions is highly complex and nuanced, and many purportedly “toxic” emotions actually play positive roles and are critical to successful coping processes. My research shows that some “negative” emotions, including desperation and anger, often deepen patients’ involvement in decision-making and cause them to deliberate carefully, rather than consigning them to paralyzed indecision or blind commitment to unrealistic goals.

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Article: 23rd September www.theatlantic.com

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