Can Infertility Cause PTSD?

There were 61,561 infants born in 2010 with the help of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). While those babies were no doubt seen as gifts to their parents who had struggled with infertility, a new study shows that fertility treatment is stressful – even for those who manage to conceive.

The process is so stressful, in fact, that research found that women who undergo fertility treatments may become distressed enough to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In the study, nearly half of all participants met the official criteria for PTSD, a figure that is roughly six times higher than PTSD rates among the general population.

While experts have long known that infertility can be heartbreaking for couples longing for a baby, it wasn’t necessarily classified as “traumatic.” But study researcher Allyson Bradow, director of psychological services at Home of the Innocents, a nonprofit organization in Kentucky, suggests we may need to consider redefining PTSD to include this growing group.

Currently, PTSD’s definition is limited to people who have experienced or witnessed a life-threatening event or an event that could cause serious injury. This new research seems to suggest that emotional injury can also lead to the manifestation of PTSD symptoms for many people.

The problem may be compounded when the possibility of emotional or psychological distress isn’t even brought up during fertility treatments. This can leave women feeling isolated or broadsided by their feelings and afraid they’re not normal. Bradow, who herself struggled with infertility, presented her findings to American Psychological Association recently in Orlando, Florida.

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