Normally, when you think of post-traumatic stress disorder, you think of soldiers returning from battles with a foreign enemy, not women battling infertility. Surprisingly though, researchers have found that women undergoing fertility treatments are highly likely to develop PTSD and are calling for a change in the definition of the disorder.
Based on a survey conducted by Allyson Bradow who is the Director of Psychological Services at Home of the Innocents, 50% of women who went through fertility treatments met the criteria for PTSD. As a result of their stressful experiences, infertile women are 6 times more likely to suffer from PTSD than the general population. This has led some to believe that perhaps the definition for PTSD needs to be expanded. Currently, its definition limits its diagnosis to those who have “experienced or witnessed a life-threatening event or [an] event that could cause serious injury.”
Bradow believes that it should also be diagnosed for those who have experienced trauma due to the failure to meet expectations for life.
The ability to procreate is believed to be a fundamental life process. Trauma is defined as a wound or injury. The word origin of injury comes from the Latin “injuria” (in = not + jus = right) and its definition is to cause one to suffer hardship and loss undeservedly and unexpectedly. Therefore, if one loses his/her ability to procreate, this satisfies the definition of trauma. It is not uncommon for couples struggling with infertility to suffer from anxiety, depression, and other related symptoms. Any time a person’s heart is set on something, particularly a life accomplishment like procreation, they are bound to react extremely emotionally to a negative outcome. Some find procreation so important, that they feel they have not lived up to the expectations of life when they cannot conceive and are severely traumatized by it. Whether or not this stress can be considered PTSD or not is yet undecided. What is clear though is that infertility physicians and clinics need to ramp up their counseling services. If infertility is an unfixable issue, then couples need help finding a way to be content with it, so they can live emotionally- and mentally-healthy lives.
- Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.