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Dealing with infertility is hard on a marriage—but here's what we learned

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As a couple who endured four and half years of infertility, my husband and I can attest to the strains it puts on a relationship. Having a baby is emotional anyway, but the inability to conceive when that's all you want is devastating.

When encountering setbacks or obstacles, people often react or cope differently, which can be frustrating, but completely normal. My husband and I didn't feel the same emotions at the same time, and we definitely approached our situation in different ways. Yet as a couple, we're supposed to be united, right?

Facing the real possibility of never conceiving or giving birth to biological children pushes some couples to their limits. We had to face this question head on. How did we come out of such a trying ordeal still together—and even closer?

Here are some tips that not only helped us survive infertility, but actually helped strengthen our marriage.

Do not blame each other

Even if the main problem is his slow swimmers or her PCOS, pointing the finger or assigning blame has no positive results. Chances are the one “responsible" already feels guilt or questions his masculinity or her femininity because of fertility issues. Assigning blame only makes things worse and adds self-esteem issues on top of the already emotionally stressful experience.

Inconsistent ovulation and tissue damage from a ruptured appendix labeled me as the problem in our situation. Instead of accusing me of fault, my husband talked about the fertility issues as our issues. He said, “What should we do about this?" and reassured, “We will get through this together."

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To have a chance at successful conception or making their marriage succeed in general, couples must be united in the infertility fight. Assigning blame is a surefire way to create separation.

Be supportive during times of grieving or venting

Whether the cause of the infertility is known or not, experiencing disappointment in attempt after attempt, month after month, year after year wears down any hopeful couple aching for children.

Emotions during these times can jump from grief to anger to doubt to hope, and they can jump quickly. Being partners means supporting each other. But being supportive can mean different things to different people.

Do you need someone to hug you? Do you want someone to listen quietly? Do you want to hear solutions to your problem? Do you want to be left alone?

Find out what you and your partner need when you mourn or vent, whether it's a shoulder to cry on, an occasional pint of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Therapy ice cream, or time alone. If you don't know what your partner needs, ask. If your partner doesn't know how to help you cope, tell him or her what you need. However much you might wish your partner could read your mind, it's better to explain what you need than not receive the necessary support.

Over time, we learned that when I cried after yet another failure, my husband could soothe and comfort me with reassuring words. When my husband vocalized his frustration, I needed to listen silently. Other times, he didn't talk about his feelings at all, which frustrated me at first. I expected him to share his feelings as vocally as I did, but he didn't always need to in order to heal. Eventually, I learned to simply ask if I could do anything for him.

We cope so much better now that we know each other's needs and can meet them more effectively.

Discuss options honestly and practically

When you're so emotionally invested in something, it can be hard to detach and talk about it objectively. These are your potential babies after all.

When considering fertility treatment, obviously the first important party to weigh in (beside you and your partner) should be a fertility specialist. After tests, the doctor will review treatment options, processes, and costs. As a couple, review the options and allow for open discussion.

Each partner should be honest about what they think is best and feel they can handle. Some treatments, like In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), are not for the faint of heart – or for those who literally faint at the sight of needles. Believe me, with IVF, you see a lot of needles!

Our only fertility option was IVF, and fortunately, we both felt we could handle the financial, physical, and emotional stress that comes with the procedure. But I know other couples who cannot afford IVF, or who don't want to deal with the drastic procedures. These couples have expanded their families through adoption, which is another amazing way to bring children into a family.

Understand and respect your partner's feelings and opinions

Even in marriages where spouses have similar backgrounds and beliefs, spouses may still have different feelings and opinions as infertility struggles—or any life struggles for that matter—arise.

Even if your partner expresses the same desire to press forward with fertility treatment, he or she may disagree about financing, timing, or priority of treatment over other life goals. Talk about your feelings and opinions, and try to understand your partner's viewpoint.

We both decided fertility treatment took top priority. When we experienced severe setbacks with surgeries and busy schedules, however, my husband wanted to postpone further treatment for a year. I didn't. We compromised at delaying IVF treatment for six months. Through respectful communication, we both felt heard and moved forward with a plan we both could agree on.

Make a plan, and work together toward it

Creating an action plan helps guide individual and collective decisions towards your goal. If you decide to pursue fertility treatment as a priority, but then keep smoking or your partner buys a boat with the money intended for treatment, you will likely not get any closer to success.

We made a financial plan to cover the cost of IVF. In addition, we discussed larger purchases before pulling the trigger and made cuts in our spending habits. If one or both of you seem to deviate from the plan, it may be time to reevaluate your actions, your plan, or even your goal.

Some fertility treatments, like IVF, can take a heavy physical toll on a woman's body. Her partner should be prepared to make sacrifices to give extra help during difficult times. My husband took over some of my chores on days when I felt awful during my IVF cycle.

Sticking to a plan isn't easy, but sharing the load between the two of us made it a lot lighter.

Develop a sense of humor

A sense of humor is an essential survival tool for the challenges and stresses of infertility treatment. If you can handle it, when appropriate, try making a joke about yourselves and the situation.

After a few days, we became accustomed to—dare I say experts at—doing shots every night. The sound of my shot alarm on my phone used to make me groan. So my husband tried to make me laugh by calling me his “pin cushion" and saying, “Time for me to shoot you!" Or he would playfully smack my butt before giving me the progesterone shot. We joked that if IVF worked it would be my doctor, and not my husband, who “knocked me up."

The jokes didn't necessarily make the shots any less painful or my butt any less sore the next day, but laughing reduced some of the stress and kindled more affection between us.

Try to keep the magic alive

I'll be honest: infertility is a mood killer. Sex becomes an item on a to-do list and sadly like a chore, an inconvenience. Try to keep it romantic in any way you can.

Before IVF, we were on Clomid for three months, an oral drug that hyper stimulates ovulation. We had to have sex during a specific time frame, which completely drained the fun out of love making because we knew we “had" to do it. We were so concerned about conceiving that we didn't think to put extra effort into the romantic part of the process.

My husband says that Clomid was worse than IVF. I beg to differ—he wasn't the one getting shots every night for eight weeks! But I get his point.

Get help if needed

Infertility carries so many emotions and so many struggles. Sometimes individual partners simply struggle to understand themselves, much less try to understand each other. That's where a little extra help comes in.

Marriage counseling can sound like a dirty word, probably because it implies that something is wrong with your relationship, or wrong with the two of you. But having an unbiased third party facilitate the discussions you have about infertility and your feelings can be a huge benefit.

Both marriage and individual counselors can ask the right questions to get to the root of a problem, offer advice on how to cope with loss or disappointment, and suggest techniques to try at home on your own. Think of it as preventative care for your marriage. Instead of treating the problem long after it has been festering, you can seek help early and prevent the problem from getting worse and causing deeper issues.

Although my husband and I didn't see a counselor, I can see how helpful talking about our challenges with someone would have been. There were times when I thought my husband deserved someone else—someone who didn't struggle with the most “natural" acts for a woman's body to perform.

Even though we followed this advice, my husband and I still occasionally fought and had issues. Infertility could have torn our marriage apart. Instead, my husband and I became a closer couple because we learned to accept to our situation together, meet each other's needs, adapt our family goals, work as a team to reach those goals, and laugh at ourselves.

These techniques helped us endure difficult times in the past, and will undoubtedly come in handy when life presents more challenges—as our twin toddler boys continue to grow.

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If there's one thing you learn as a new mama, it's that routine is your friend. Routine keeps your world spinning, even when you're trucking along on less than four hours of sleep. Routine fends off tantrums by making sure bellies are always full and errands aren't run when everyone's patience is wearing thin. And routine means naps are taken when they're supposed to, helping everyone get through the day with needed breaks.

The only problem? Life doesn't always go perfectly with the routine. When my daughter was born, I realized quickly that, while her naps were the key to a successful (and nearly tear-free!) day, living my life according to her nap schedule wasn't always possible. There were groceries to fetch, dry cleaning to pick up, and―if I wanted to maintain any kind of social life―lunch dates with friends to enjoy.

Which is why the Ergobaby Metro Compact City Stroller was such a life-saver. While I loved that it was just 14 pounds (perfect for hoisting up the stairs to the subway or in the park) and folds down small enough to fit in an airplane overhead compartment (you know, when I'm brave enough to travel again!), the real genius of this pint-sized powerhouse is that it doesn't skimp on comfort.

Nearly every surface your baby touches is padded with plush cushions to provide side and lumbar support to everything from their sweet head to their tiny tush―it has 40% more padding than other compact strollers. When nap time rolls around, I could simply switch the seat to its reclined position with an adjustable leg rest to create an instant cozy nest for my little one.

There's even a large UV 50 sun canopy to throw a little shade on those sleepy eyes. And my baby wasn't the only one benefiting from the comfortable design― the Metro is the only stroller certified "back healthy" by the AGR of Germany, meaning mamas get a much-needed break too.

I also appreciate how the Metro fits comfortably into my life. The sleek profile fits through narrow store aisles as easily as it slides up to a table when I'm able to meet a pal for brunch. Plus, the spring suspension means the tires absorb any bumps along our way―helping baby stay asleep no matter where life takes us. When it's time to take my daughter out, it folds easily with one hand and has an ergonomic carry handle to travel anywhere we want to go.

Life will probably never be as predictable as I'd like, but at least with our Metro stroller, I know my child will be cradled with care no matter what crosses our path.

This article is sponsored by Ergobaby. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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The phrase "women can have it all" has always left a sour taste in my mouth. Sure, our options for fulfillment extend beyond the home. But between wage gaps, the astronomical cost of childcare, student loans and ever-rising living costs coupled with shrinking wages, can we have it all?

Some women know their calling is at home with their babies and they make it work. They budget like it's an Olympic sport and find resourceful ways to save money. Many women are single mothers and are the sole earners in their homes. Every household has different needs and we absolutely deserve to choose whatever best fits our lifestyle.

Whatever that fit may be, it never encompasses "all."

I knew from a young age that I loved babies and wanted a family of my own, but that vision always included me working. Maybe it was the 90's TV boom of Ally McBeal and Detective Olivia Benson but I knew I wanted a career. I wanted a purpose that contributed to the world outside of my home. I knew I wanted a degree or two, maybe three. The fact that I made up my mind so early and never wavered, made me sure that "mom guilt" was something that other women felt; women who maybe felt the pull to be home but other circumstances were in their way.

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Mom guilt wouldn't hit me, I'd be immune, I thought.

Fast forward to the first month I went back to work from maternity leave. I ugly cried on my way into the office so frequently that I kept makeup in my car so I could fix it before going inside.

I'd dive headfirst into work until I had to pause to pump. Work, pump, work, pump, shove in some lunch at my desk at some point and sprint out the door to get my baby. I was productive but distracted. When I was at work, I wanted to be home. When I was home, I thought about the possible mistakes I had made at work.

I was in a job that was full of stress, last minute late nights, terrible pay and no appreciation. But from the standpoint of working and having a family, I had both. I had it "all."

Some days, I felt as though I was maybe just ungrateful for all the responsibilities I had to juggle. I blamed my attitude.

Facing my unhappiness at work and the baggage I brought home to my daughter and husband weighed on me. Then, six months postpartum, I lost my dad. I packed up that baby and flew home to say goodbye.

At the visitation, his colleagues shared many memorable stories, but the ones that kept coming up were his dedication to his wife and six children. They were memories of my sisters and I hanging out in his office, coloring while our mom worked. In fact, one of my masterpieces, a mosaic Great Dane, still hangs in my dad's old office window on Court Street because the owner of the building watched us grow up and didn't have the heart to take it down when he retired.

Dad was an attorney who nearly always made it home by 5:30, something unheard of in the world of owning your own practice. He didn't live to work; he worked to live.

I realized that when I leave this world, I don't want anyone to tell my children stories about how hard I worked. I wanted them to tell my children stories about how much I loved them and that they always came first. I had to make a change.

The right doors opened in the next month and I eagerly took on an entire career change (not something I necessarily recommend with a 7-month-old, but we made it work). I closed the doors of childhood ambitions that didn't match with the type of mother I wanted to be. It wasn't sad, it was liberating.

My new job included work from home days and a team of women, mostly moms, who value hard work and success but prioritize family and their roles as mothers. That attitude starts at the top of the company and trickles down. It was a breath of fresh air after seven months of feeling like I was suffocating.

Despite these life changes, I still don't have it "all." What I do have is realistic expectations for what I can accomplish in a day.

I have a house that looks like it's been ransacked Monday through Friday. I have a sink full of dishes.

I have a car littered with smashed cheddar frogs and peanut butter smears. I have a bedroom containing endless laundry baskets of clean clothes that get folded and put away maybe once a month.

I have a supportive partner whom I madly love and helps me rage clean all of the above when we can't take it anymore. I have a happy, healthy daughter who couldn't care less about dishes, laundry and dog hairballs.

I have a job that contributes to the betterment of humanity and a team who makes office days a joy.

I have women in my ear sharing their disdain for me working out of the home, but I also have women in my ear championing me as a mother, wife, homemaker, and career woman.

Maybe the answer to finding that peace was leaving a toxic job. Or maybe it was found in losing my dad and having my daughter in the same six months. Perhaps it was the priority shift that followed those changes. It could have been extending the same grace to myself that I so willingly give to those I love. Whatever it was, I'm grateful to have found it so I can enjoy living in our good old days, today. I don't have it all, but I really love everything I have.

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It's been more than a year since Khloé Kardashian welcomed her daughter True Thompson into the world, and like a lot of new moms, Khloé didn't just learn how to to be a mom this year, she also learned how to co-parent with someone who is no longer her partner. According to the Pew Research Center, co-parenting and the likelihood that a child will spend part of their childhood living with just one parent is on the rise.

There was a ton of media attention on Khloé's relationship with True's father Tristan Thompson in her early days of motherhood, and in a new interview on the podcast "Divorce Sucks!," Khloé explained that co-parenting with someone you have a complicated relationship with isn't always easy, but when she looks at True she knows it's worth it.

"For me, Tristan and I broke up not too long ago so it's really raw," Khloé tells divorce attorney Laura Wasser on the podcast. She explains that even though it does "suck" at times, she's committed to having a good relationship with her ex because she doesn't want True to pick up on any negative energy, even at her young age.

That's why she invited Tristan to True's recent first birthday bash, even though she knew True wouldn't remember that party. "I know she's going to want to look back at all of her childhood memories like we all do," Khloé explained. "I know her dad is a great person, and I know how much he loves her and cares about her, so I want him to be there."

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We totally get why being around Tristan is hard for Khloé, but it sounds like she's approaching co-parenting with a positive attitude that will benefit True in the long run. Studies have found that shared parenting is good for kids and that former couples who have "ongoing personal and emotional involvement with their former spouse" are more likely to rate their co-parenting relationship positively.

Khloé says her relationship with Tristan right now is "civilized," and hopefully it can get even better with time. As Suzanne Hayes noted in her six guiding principles for a co-parenting relationship, there's no magic bullet for moving past the painful feelings that come when a relationship ends and into a healthy co-parenting relationship, but treating your ex with respect and (non-romantic) love is a good place to start. Hayes describes it as "human-to-human, parent-to-parent, we-share-amazing-children-and-always-will love."

It's a great place to start, and it sounds like Khloé has already figured that out.

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Kim Kardashian West welcomed her fourth child into the world. The expectancy and arrival of this boy (her second child from surrogacy) has garnered much attention.

In a surrogacy pregnancy, a woman carries a pregnancy for another family and then after giving birth she relinquishes her rights of the child.

On her website, Kim wrote that she had medical complications with her previous pregnancy leading her to this decision. “I have always been really honest about my struggles with pregnancy. Preeclampsia and placenta accreta are high-risk conditions, so when I wanted to have a third baby, doctors said that it wasn't safe for my—or the baby's—health to carry on my own."

While the experience was challenging for her, “The connection with our baby came instantly and it's as if she was with us the whole time. Having a gestational carrier was so special for us and she made our dreams of expanding our family come true. We are so excited to finally welcome home our baby girl."

A Snapchat video hinted that Kim may have planned to breastfeed her third child. What she chooses to do is of course none of our business. But is has raised the very interesting question, “Wait, can you breastfeed when you use a surrogate?"

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The answer is yes, you sure can! (And you can when you adopt a baby, too!)

When a women is pregnant, she begins a process called lactogenesis in which her body prepares itself to start making milk. This usually starts around the twenty week mark of pregnancy (half way through). Then, when the baby is born, the second phase of lactogenesis occurs, and milk actually starts to fill the breasts.

All of this occurs in response to hormones. When women do not carry a pregnancy, but wish to breastfeed, they can induce lactation, where they replicate the same hormonal process that happens during pregnancy.

A woman who wants to induce lactation can work with a doctor or midwife, and start taking the hormones estrogen and progesterone (which grow breast tissue)—often in the form of birth control pills—along with a medication called domperidone (which increases milk production).

Several weeks before the baby will be born, the woman stops taking the birth control pill but continues to take the domperidone to simulate the hormonal changes that would happen in a pregnancy. She'll also start pumping multiple times per day, and will likely add herbal supplements, like fenugreek and blessed thistle.

Women can also try to induce lactation without the hormones, by using pumping and herbs, it may be harder but some women feel more comfortable with that route.

Inducing lactation takes a lot of dedication—but then again, so does everything related to be a mama. It's a super personal decision, and not right for everyone.

The important thing to remember is that we need to support women and mothers through their entire journey, no matter what decisions they make about themselves and their families—whether Kardashian or the rest of us.

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