Interview with Lindsay Liben // Infertility Psychotherapist
Anyone trying to conceive (TTC) is familiar with the bursting anticipation as you wake up on the morning after your Two Week Wait and race to the bathroom. Never has the first pee of the day been so important. Palms perspire as you frantically try to unwrap the First Response pregnancy test, while begging your bladder to hang on another few seconds. In college you had no problem acing exams, but this test is different - it’s fraught with anxiety and fear. You can’t help but peek as the liquid spreads past the results window. A single line materializes. Followed by…nothing. You wait a few more seconds, squint your eyes, put down the test, pick it back up and look from another angle. One solitary line stares back at you. Not pregnant…again.
Numbness, sadness and rage are common reactions. The longer you’ve been TTC, the more intense these emotions may feel, and the harder it will be to bounce back.
As an infertility psychotherapist, I treat individuals struggling throughout all stages of their pregnancy journeys. Many people are curious about what happens in infertility therapy, so I’ve combined some of the most common questions I receive to demystify the treatment:
What happens in infertility-focused therapy?
While each treatment is unique, there are a few common themes in the work. First we process the wide range of emotions you are experiencing, which helps you to understand, grieve, and cope with your feelings. Additionally, we examine the underlying expectations and pressures that influence your emotions. No two people respond the same way, so we will explore ways of improving communication with your partner, family, and friends. When appropriate, we will introduce techniques to reduce stress, depression and anxiety.
I have plenty of friends who will listen to me vent, why do I need therapy?
The therapeutic relationship is very different from a friendship. Sure, there may be similar levels of intimacy, but therapists are professionally trained to be objective, empathic, and encourage self-reflection. It is also a one-way relationship in that the therapist will not be sharing their emotions or giving advice. It is in this unbiased and non-judgmental space where deeper thinking can happen, and emotional blind spots can be uncovered.
How do I know if I'm ready for infertility therapy?
It has to be your choice to enter therapy. Just like a SoulCycle class, the effort you put into it determines the benefit you’ll get out of it. The decision to enter therapy can be hard, but ultimately you are taking steps to manage your mental wellness and decrease your stress, which can improve fertility success.
If I see a therapist, does that mean I'm crazy?
People see therapists for so many different reasons, but it is reasonable to seek treatment at this specific and challenging juncture in life. One of the most common reasons people engage in therapy is to help them during life-disrupting events, like cancer or divorce, and since this is just as stressful, it may be the optimal time to begin therapy. So if you ask me, pursuing help when you need it sounds like a pretty healthy behavior.
What are the most common emotional struggles while trying to conceive?
As I mentioned above, everyone experiences infertility in their own unique way. Many of my patients are women who have achieved success in other areas – getting into the “right” college, finding a meaningful career, falling in love with a wonderful partner, etc. For the first time, they are faced with failure and feel out of control (of both their lives and bodies). This can elicit feelings of sadness, anxiety, rage, loss, and depression among many other emotions. It also interferes with your interpersonal relationships, especially with your partner. You may feel like isolating or withdrawing instead of attending parties where you’ll be judged or asked “when are you going to give us a grandson.” There are so many “new normals” that even the adjustment to all of this change can feel like a traumatic experience.
Where do I look for a good infertility therapist?
The first place I recommend looking is at your existing social circles. Finding a therapist through someone who personally went through their own infertility process can be a great first step. You can also look to your medical provider, OB-GYN, or reproductive endocrinologist to provide names of clinicians or at least point you in the right direction. From there, check out your options on www.psychologytoday.com to learn more about these therapists. If it looks like a good fit, then give them a call and ask questions to get a sense of their style. Infertility is isolating and upsetting, and no one should have to suffer alone.
ABOUT LINDSAY LIBEN, LCSW
Lindsay Liben, LCSW, has a private therapy practice near Union Square, focusing on women’s issues including infertility, depression, anxiety, and life transitions. She believes that by helping her patients get in touch with their most authentic selves, they can make choices that set them up for personal and professional success. Learn more about Lindsay and her work on her website.