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."
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.