About one out of every 10 couples has problems with infertility. And, unfortunately, not all of them get the happy ending they sought: conceiving a child together. This can be one of the most painful challenges you and your husband face together.
If your infertility is caused by issues with your body, you might be experiencing guilt or shame. Both men and women often go through feelings like these if they believe they’re at fault for infertility.
You may even be worried that your husband will leave you because you can’t give him the child you had both longed for — and that he’ll seek out another woman who can. Again, such feelings are normal, and they happen to both wives and husbands. Sometimes one spouse even offers to let the other go so he or she can pursue parenthood with someone else.
Believe it or not, in an overwhelming majority of marriages, one spouse’s inability to conceive a child is not a deal-breaker for the other partner. In fact, if managed well, this experience can actually bring a couple closer together. The important thing is to keep the lines of communication open. Talk openly about your disappointments, your feelings, your fears. I’m willing to bet that your husband will tell you that his love for you is unchanged no matter what happens. Believe him.
It’s also vital to talk about what’s next for you as a couple. For many people, parenthood is closely tied to their sense of purpose in life. How true is that for the two of you? Are there other family building options you’re open to considering? Be honest. Do you want to explore other paths to creating a family? Or do you want to create a meaningful life in other ways? There’s no one right answer, of course.
I hope it’s heartening to know that others couple have felt the same things that you’re feeling and that their relationships have stayed strong. I encourage you to explore additional resources for coping with infertility and to work with infertility specialists in your community.
Going through the in-vitro fertilization process can be a blessing for building your family, but a big stress on your marriage. As a psychologist, one of my areas of specialization is working with couples dealing with infertility. I’ve counseled many couples doing IVF and seen what helps and hurts their relationships. Here are some insights I’ve gained that can you help you take care of your marriage while you’re on your own IVF journey.
Different Coping Styles
Men and women often cope differently with the IVF process. One the most common relationship patterns couples fall into is the wife becoming extremely focused on the IVF process, while her husband, worried that he’ll add to her stress, pulls back. She wants to talk to him about IVF constantly because that’s what’s foremost on her mind. When he seems disinterested, she starts to feel alone and angry and wonders if he even cares.
Does he care? Clearly, he does, but his priority is often different from hers. It’s not at all unusual for the husband to be more concerned about his wife’s distress than whether or not they conceive. His primary goal is making sure she’s OK and happy. He thinks he’s protecting her from stress by not joining her in talking about IVF all the time. He’s most likely thinking,”She’s worried and crying all the time. I want a baby, too, but I want her to be OK more than anything else.”
It’s easy to misinterpret each other’s actions and to ascribe malicious intent when stress is high. In reality, each partner is just trying to cope — and each is having trouble understanding the way the other person is dealing with IVF. Sometimes guys don’t get that that talking about feelings can lead to a sense of release for women. And sometimes women don’t get that a guy still cares about her and the IVF process even if he doesn’t want to talk about it as much as she does. It helps if both partners can open up a little more about what works for them. For example, a wife could say: “I know I can get kind of intense sometimes when we talk about IVF, but it helps me feel calmer afterward.”
You’re Still Valued
Women dealing with infertility often feel inadequate because they feel their bodies have failed them. For some women, pregnancy and childbirth are so central to their identity as a woman, that they can’t imagine how a man could want to be with them if they can’t conceive. More times than not, men are the first to say that they love their wives and will be OK, with or without kids. Sometimes wives have trouble believing this and will need to hear this message repeated several times before it sinks in. But when a wife does fully take in this loving message — that her partner cherishes her and values her when she’s feeling flawed and broken — it’s very powerful.
Expanding the Options
Sometimes couples who are struggling during IVF need to consider other ways they could become parents, such as through surrogacy or adoption. Doing so can help ease some of the stress of the IVF process if you know that it’s not your only route to parenthood.
I’ve noticed that sometimes husbands may not get why it’s helpful to talk about other options while the couple is still doing IVF. Their mindset is more like, “We’re doing IVF right now, so let’s stay positive about that. Why should we plan for something we may not even need to do?” It’s important for a man to understand that talking about other options doesn’t mean his wife is giving up on IVF — it just gives her back some of the hope and sense of control she might be missing.
More Tips for Couples Going Through IVF
Take stress seriously. Did you know that stress levels of people dealing with infertility are comparable to those of people with cancer? Going through IVF is physically, emotionally and financially stressful. And couples are at risk of becoming isolated because family and friends don’t understand what they’re going through, especially their pain as others welcome children.
Pace yourself. Think of conceiving through IVF as a marathon, not a sprint. You may need to take a break sometimes, especially if your marriage is showing signs of wear and tear from the process.
Let yourself grieve. Feelings of loss are a normal part of infertility and IVF, and space needs to be created to deal with these emotions. Especially when you’ve had a loss, such as a miscarriage, it’s important to make sure you’ve absorbed this loss before soldiering on.
Stay connected. Check in frequently with each other about where you are as a couple. Make sure your marriage is still a priority. You don’t want to end with a baby and a damaged marriage.
Get information and support. I recommend RESOLVE.org, the website of the National Infertility Association. Another useful resource is the book Conquering Infertility by Alice D. Domar. Learning more about your situation can help you feel less alone and more “normal.” And If you are feeling extremely overwhelmed, please get professional support.
Finally, remember that while adversity can test your marriage, it can also bring you closer together. Remind yourselves to hold on tightly to each other while you’re going through IVF — and always.