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Infertility is taking its toll

QUESTION: I have been trying to conceive for two years. Each month, at ovulation, I am so sure this will be "the month." And then, like clockwork, my period comes and I spend at least a day feeling depressed. Sex has even become a chore for both me and my partner. This whole infertility roller-coaster is definitely hurting our relationship and sex life. Well-meaning friends tell me it will happen when the time is right, but I don't know how to help our relationship in the meantime. Can you help?

ANSWER: Infertility is not only a major emotional roller coaster, but it can seriously impair your sex life. Spontaneous sexual encounters diminish, taking a toll on passion and romance in a relationship. And if this is not enough, women begin a spiral into a depression by the second year of infertility, which can make both romance and conceiving even more difficult. No wonder you are feeling helpless and discouraged. But there something you can do!

Take to heart the following suggestions to decrease depression brought on by infertility, and to restore the romance in your marriage.

1) Consider taking a break from "sex on command"

Your sex life has been dampened in the last two years by focusing solely on trying to conceive. Schedules to maximize fertility make sex a scheduled event, rather than a spontaneous one. Do take a break. Release yourself from pressure and just enjoy each other. Take a month off of the fertility driven schedule every so often. (And who knows? Surprises have been known to happen, especially with regards to conception.)

2) Re-establish intimacy

Make time to focus on one another, re-discover your bodies and renew your sensuality. Schedule a weekly date to spend time together. Whether it is going out to dinner, taking a bath together, or an afternoon hike, re-focus your attention on connecting with one another. Make this a priority! As you spend time together, consider ways to revitalize the sensual dimension of your relationship in a variety of ways. Consider warm baths with candlelight and music. Practice giving each other a full body, or even a foot massage. Even when you resume trying to conceive, keep the sensual aspect of sex a priority!

3) Take preventive measures to protect your mental health

Depression has been linked to infertility, and two years is a crucial turning point for women trying to conceive. Research has found that women who seek group support to deal with depression before they are diagnosed as depressed have statistically higher viable pregnancies than women who proceed into their third year of infertility with no preventive measures. (See my article on depression and infertility, on site, for more information and suggestions to improve your chances of conceiving!)

Self-care is critical to your physical and emotional well-being. Pay attention to your feelings by utilizing mind-body approaches for relaxation, group support for emotional release, and cognitive restructuring (see the article mentioned above for full description) to prevent the downward spiral of depression that women are vulnerable to when they enter this third year of infertility. Without preventive measures, women do not recover from depression brought on by infertility until 6 years later!

Remember that your relationship is the garden in which a child grows. Your future child depends on the two of you to nurture the love and passion that make your marriage strong. Take care of yourself on this very challenging and painful journey. Let your husband know you are ready to rekindle the fire. And do not neglect to refill your own energy supplies at this crucial period.

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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