Infertility counseling

Infertility Counseling

Infertility is an inability to get pregnant after a year or more of having unprotected sex. Infertility is not just a physical health issue. It also carries significant emotional and psychological impacts. Understanding these impacts is crucial for providing effective and empathetic infertility counseling, recognizing it as a deeply personal and often challenging journey for those affected. 

Understanding the causes of infertility 

Infertility can be caused by a variety of factors that affect either the male or female reproductive systems. For those assigned female at birth, the main symptom is not getting pregnant. However, some may also experience irregular periods or no periods. For those assigned male at birth, symptoms of infertility could include changes in sexual function and hair growth.  

When providing infertility counseling, it is essential to understand some of the causes. For those assigned female at birth, infertility can be caused by: 

  • Ovulatory disorders: Problems with ovulation account for most cases of infertility in females. Conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and premature ovarian failure fall under this category. 
  • Uterine or cervical abnormalities: These include issues with the cervix, polyps in the uterus, or the shape of the uterus. Structural problems, like blocked fallopian tubes due to pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis, can also be a cause of infertility. 
  • Endometriosis: This occurs when tissue that usually lines the inside of the uterus grows outside the uterus, affecting the function of the ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes
  • Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI): A condition where the ovaries stop functioning before age 40. 
  • Fallopian tube damage or blockage: This is often caused by fallopian tube inflammation (salpingitis). This can result from pelvic inflammatory disease, often caused by sexually transmitted infection, endometriosis, or adhesions. 

Male infertility 

Those assigned male at birth can also be affected by infertility. For males, the problem of infertility is related to the health of the sperm and the functioning of the reproductive system. Some of the causes of male infertility can include: 

  • Abnormal sperm production or function: Due to undescended testicles, genetic defects, health problems such as diabetes, or infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, mumps, or HIV. 
  • Problems with sperm delivery: Stemming from sexual issues, genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, structural problems, such as a blockage in the testicle, or damage or injury to the reproductive organs. 
  • Overexposure to certain environmental factors: Includes exposure to chemicals and toxins, such as pesticides, radiation, tobacco smoke, alcohol, marijuana, and steroids (including testosterone). Overheating the testicles with frequent exposure to heat, like in saunas or hot tubs, can raise body temperature and impair sperm production. 

Additional factors contributing to infertility 

Other factors that are important to be aware of when providing infertility counseling are: 

  • Age: Female fertility gradually decreases with age, especially in the mid-30s, and it drops rapidly after age 37. Infertility in older women is likely due to the lower number and quality of eggs and can also be due to health problems that affect fertility. Males over age 40 may also be less fertile than younger men. 
  • Tobacco and alcohol use: Smoking tobacco or marijuana by either partner may reduce the likelihood of pregnancy. Alcohol can also affect fertility. 
  • Weight: Being overweight or significantly underweight may affect ovulation. 
  • Exercise: Too much intense exercise can lead to ovulation problems. 

Understanding the specific cause of infertility can be complex and often involves a range of tests and assessments by healthcare professionals. 

Assisted reproductive technologies 

Assisted reproductive technology (ART) refers to medical procedures used to address infertility. Often this involves techniques like in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other methods to enhance the chances of conception. These technologies help individuals or couples conceive a child when natural or conventional methods are ineffective or not an option.  

This field has specialized vocabulary. When offering infertility counseling, it is vital to understand and recognize the common vocabulary used to treat infertility.  

Key terms in assisted reproductive technology 

  • In vitro fertilization (IVF): Eggs retrieved from a woman’s ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab. The fertilized egg (embryo) is transferred to the woman’s uterus. 
  • Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI): Single sperm is injected directly into an egg during the IVF process. This is often used when male infertility is a factor. 
  • Embryo transfer: Embryos placed into a woman’s uterus or fallopian tube during IVF treatment. 
  • Ovulation induction: Medications to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs during a single menstrual cycle. 
  • Controlled ovarian hyperstimulation (COH): Higher doses of medications produce several eggs for IVF or other ART procedures. 
  • Egg retrieval (oocyte retrieval): Collecting the eggs from the ovaries, generally done under sedation or anesthesia. 
  • Cryopreservation: Freezing and storage of eggs, sperm, or embryos for use in future ART cycles. 
  • Frozen embryo transfer (FET): Thawing and transferring previously frozen embryos into the uterus. 
  • Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT): Eggs and sperm placed directly into a woman’s fallopian tubes for fertilization to occur naturally. 
  • Zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT): Similar to GIFT, but the sperm and egg are allowed to fertilize in a lab before being placed in the fallopian tubes. 
  • Assisted hatching: A technique used to thin the outer covering of an embryo before transfer to the uterus to enhance implantation. 
  • Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) or Screening (PGS): Testing embryos for genetic diseases or chromosomal abnormalities before they are transferred to the uterus. 
  • Sperm retrieval: Procedures to obtain sperm when ejaculation is a problem or after a vasectomy. This includes techniques like Testicular Sperm Extraction (TESE). 
  • Surrogacy: An arrangement where another woman carries and gives birth to a baby for a couple who want to have a child. 
  • Third-party reproduction: Eggs, sperm, or embryos donated by a third person (donor) enable an infertile individual or couple to become parents. 

What are the effects of infertility? 

Infertility can have profound impacts on various aspects of an individual’s or couple’s life. When counseling for infertility, understanding the various effects can assist individuals and couples experiencing infertility. 

Emotional effects 

The uncertainty and challenges of infertility treatments can lead to significant stress and anxiety. The emotional burden caused by infertility can also lead to depression, feelings of worthlessness, or a sense of loss.  

Individuals may feel guilty or blame themselves for their infertility. This blame or guilt can lead to decreases in self-esteem and self-worth, especially in cultures that place a high value on biological parenthood. Infertility can also bring a sense of grief, like mourning, due to the loss of a potential biological child. 

Physical effects 

Fertility treatments can have physical side effects like weight gain, pain, bloating, and fatigue. The stress and pressure of trying to conceive can also lead to a decrease in sexual desire and satisfaction. Specific fertility treatments may carry health risks, including hormonal imbalances and increased risk of certain diseases. 

Spiritual effects 

Infertility can also lead individuals to question their spiritual beliefs or feel abandoned by their faith. Conversely, some find deeper spiritual meaning or comfort in their faith or spiritual practices during this challenging time. 

Relational effects 

The stress and emotional toll of infertility can strain relationships, not just between partners but also with family and friends. Individuals or couples may feel isolated from peers, especially when those around them are having children. However, some couples report that facing infertility together strengthens their relationship and emotional bond. 

Alternative approaches to infertility 

When providing infertility counseling, it helps when nurses are knowledgeable about the various alternative approaches to infertility. Exploring these approaches involves focusing on mind, body, and lifestyle changes.  

While these infertility counseling methods show no definitive evidence of treating infertility, they can complement traditional medical approaches and help address the overall well-being of individuals or couples experiencing infertility. Here are some essential alternative approaches: 

  • Acupuncture may improve blood flow to reproductive organs, balance hormones, and reduce stress. 
  • Yoga and meditation can reduce stress, enhance emotional well-being, and potentially improve hormonal balance. 
  • Getting more foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals can improve reproductive health. Reducing processed foods and focusing on a balanced diet may also have benefits. 
  • Nutritional supplements such as folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, and Coenzyme Q10 can address nutritional deficiencies and improve overall reproductive health. 
  • Practices like guided imagery, cognitive behavioral therapy, and stress reduction techniques aim to reduce the stress and emotional impact of infertility, improving overall well-being. 
  • Making lifestyle changes like reducing stress, improving sleep, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol, and maintaining a healthy weight can enhance overall health, indirectly impacting fertility. 

It is important to note that while these alternative approaches can be beneficial, they should be considered complementary to, rather than replacements for, conventional medical treatments for infertility.  

Providing support and guidance through infertility counseling 

Infertility counseling incorporates various treatment modalities to address the emotional and psychological aspects of infertility. Some fundamental treatment approaches used in infertility counseling include: 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. It is effective in managing stress, anxiety, and depression, often associated with infertility. 
  • Couples therapy and support groups: Couples therapy focuses on enhancing communication and support between partners. It helps couples navigate the emotional and relational challenges posed by infertility, strengthening their relationship in the process. Facilitated group sessions provide a space for sharing experiences and receiving support from others who are going through similar challenges. This can reduce feelings of isolation and provide a sense of community. 
  • Grief counseling: Grief counseling can help individuals or couples process feelings of loss, whether it is the loss of a pregnancy or the idea of a biological child. This is an essential aspect of counseling, as infertility can often involve complex and unresolved grief. Each of these modalities can be tailored to the specific needs and experiences of individuals or couples dealing with infertility. 

Challenges of infertility counseling 

Infertility presents a range of challenges that can vary depending on the individual’s or couple’s circumstances. Specific populations, such as single women, transgender individuals, and gay and lesbian couples, face unique challenges in addition to the general difficulties encountered by heterosexual couples. Understanding these differences is crucial for providing appropriate support and care. 

Infertility can cause significant emotional stress and result in feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, or frustration. It can also be a physical and financial strain due to the physical demands and financial burden of fertility treatments. Those dealing with infertility may also encounter stigma or pressure from family, friends, or society. 

Challenges for single women 

Single women may face additional challenges of infertility. These challenges might include: 

  • Facing stigma and societal norms that prioritize traditional family structures. 
  • The process of selecting a sperm donor can be complex and emotionally taxing. 
  • Navigating legal aspects of donor insemination and bearing the financial burden of treatments alone. 

Challenges for transgender individuals 

Transgender individuals also face additional challenges when dealing with infertility. Those involved with infertility counseling should be aware of these challenges, which might include: 

  • Hormone therapies and surgeries may affect fertility. 
  • Potential discrimination or lack of understanding from healthcare providers regarding unique needs. 
  • Decisions about fertility preservation (like egg or sperm freezing) before transitioning. 

Challenges for gay and lesbian couples 

Finally, it is crucial to understand the challenges faced by gay and lesbian couples during infertility counseling. These couples may experience legal and social hurdles when navigating adoption and surrogacy laws, as these laws can sometimes be discriminatory. Deciding on sperm or egg donors or a surrogate also involves emotional, legal, and financial considerations. There is also a lack of representation in fertility resources and support systems for gay and lesbian couples. These systems are often heteronormative. 

While the emotional core of infertility’s impact might be similar across different groups, the experiences and hurdles can be distinct. Understanding these nuances is essential for healthcare providers, counselors, and support systems to offer meaningful and effective assistance. 


The importance of infertility counseling cannot be overstated. Infertility is not just a medical condition but also a complex issue intertwining physical, emotional, and social dimensions. Effective counseling for infertility goes beyond treating the physical aspects; it involves addressing the emotional turmoil, mental health challenges, and relational strains that individuals and couples face.