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Aspiring Parents: Insights for Those Seeking Medical Assistance

Many people wish to have children but face challenges in doing so without medically assisted reproduction. This term encompasses all medical treatments aimed at achieving the goal of parenthood, such as intra-uterine insemination - a procedure in which semen is implanted in the uterus - or in vitro fertilisation that handles human gametes- oocytes and sperm- in a laboratory. While some individuals deliberately choose to remain childless, numerous situations result in involuntary childlessness. Are you a couple or a single individual in need of medical assistance? You are not alone. In Europe, over 12 million cycles of medical treatments for conception have been performed between 1997 and 2019.

As a psychologist working with couples and families, I would like to share some insights learned during my three-year PhD research at the Institute for Maternal and Child Health “IRCCS Burlo Garofolo” (Italy), in the hope that this article may be beneficial to people trying to have a baby. Therefore, I will provide some clarifications and tips in the following paragraphs.

Comprehensive information regarding these procedures and securing the support of loved ones and professionals at every phase - both before and after medically assisted reproduction - are important to ensure a more fulfilling experience, helping individuals to avoid unnecessary suffering. Secrecy and stigma surrounding conception treatments persist in many countries, and couples, as well as singles desiring parenthood, may feel lost and silently desperate after years of waiting.


Nurturing Hope: An Informed Path


Many of us may have come across stories about medically assisted reproduction in shows, web searches, or in online forums, but these can sometimes contain confusing or misleading information. These rumours can discourage many people from trying to have a baby or, on the contrary, give false hope to others. Don’t be influenced by misconceptions. You should know that there are plenty of techniques with varying levels of complexity, and only a doctor specialised in medically assisted reproduction can explain the risks and benefits of these procedures to you based on your particular condition.

It is important to note that the availability of these techniques varies depending on your country’s policies. In Europe, some countries permit medically assisted reproduction solely using the couple’s gametes, while other countries also allow the use of donated gametes, embryos, and surrogacy. Furthermore, certain countries restrict access to medically assisted reproduction to different-sex couples only, whilst others adopt a more inclusive approach. I recommend checking the laws in your country with your family doctor.

If you decide to seek medical assistance, you should be aware that attempting to conceive is a complex and subjective experience. During this process, you must navigate physical and/or psychological changes, so take care of your mental health and don’t be discouraged. Indeed, undergoing medical treatments could be very demanding due to physical discomfort, such as the side effects of medications, and time constraints of procedures which can be difficult to integrate with work and leisure activities. If you are part of a couple, relationship issues may arise, as medical procedures can put a strain on the relationship. Additionally, medical treatments can sometimes be costly, as they are not always covered by insurance according to local law. All these factors can exacerbate stress, potentially leading to discontinuing medical treatments and reducing the chances of conceiving a child. Finally, it’s essential to acknowledge that treatments may not always succeed. Coping with this reality can be emotionally challenging, so seeking psychological support is crucial to moving forward and finding fulfilment, even if you remain childless.

If you are expecting a baby, you should keep in mind that the prenatal period can be stressful, and it is common to experience both positive and negative feelings. So, take even more care of yourself. Depression and anxiety are frequent conditions during pregnancy, and reaching out for assistance, such as through your National Health Service, is the way to feel better in the long run. This is vital not only for your well-being but also because mental health impacts pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm birth and low birth weight.

Moreover, certain methods of conception may increase the risk of neonatal complications, impacting your emotional well-being. Additionally, your medical practitioner may advise rest or recommend limiting daily activities if they pose a risk, and managing this advice can sometimes be challenging. Also, the fear of losing the baby can be particularly intense after medically assisted reproduction, and seeking psychological support can help you cope with it.


Families Through Medically Assisted Reproduction: Resilient Connections

If you are concerned that medically assisted reproduction might create challenges in your relationships, research in this field provides positive insights regarding the well-being of families formed through this method. Parents who have turned to medically assisted reproduction typically maintain strong and positive relationships with their children, even when there is no genetic or gestational connection.

Regardless of the family structure, the deep desire for parenthood and emotional investment drive parents to make significant efforts to establish close relationships with their children. Also, for couples undergoing this journey, it’s important to recognize that those who persistently pursue the dream of having a baby form a resilient group. These couples typically maintain a strong bond, demonstrating mutual support and cooperation. So, don’t be worried about the well-being of your family.

However, bear in mind that the initial months with the baby can be overwhelming for every parent due to life adjustments and childcare responsibilities. These changes may increase stress levels and lead to social isolation. A valuable social network is very important for mental health; for this reason, don’t exclude family and friends, and ask your loved ones and your National Health Service for emotional and practical support throughout the perinatal period.

Furthermore, transitional phases and stressful moments can negatively impact a couple’s relationship. So, if you are part of a couple, don’t forget it. Take care of your relationship through small daily gestures, such as emotionally supporting your partner during times of stress and dividing parental responsibilities fairly. By doing so, you will cultivate a shared identity as a couple and experience satisfaction in your relationship.

When deciding to share the truth with the child, it's important to note that some methods of conception pose greater challenges in disclosure and asking for professional advice would help parents find the right disclosing way. Additionally, the age at which children are informed about their conception can impact the process, with professionals in this field often recommending early disclosure.

What matters for a happy family are love and honesty. Being open about a child’s origins and fostering loving, supportive interactions between parents and their children, will positively influence family happiness.


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