Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How Couples Cope with Infertility

I don't mean to leave anyone out but this post is from the perspective of a couple, married or not. Marriage or a long term relationship with a spouse is hard enough. Trying to live with someone, compromise on major and minor things on a daily basis, and putting in the effort needed to remain happy is challenging. When a couple goes through a crisis, the true strength of that relationship cannot help but show itself. If there were already major communication problems, the crisis will all the more difficult to deal with. A crisis can bring out varying opinions never spoken of and for some this can mean the demise of the relationship.

Infertility is usually unplanned. Most couples are unaware of any fertility issues or at the very least the magnitude of trying to conceive. For example, a woman may know she has endometriosis, but then goes on to find out there is male factor infertility as well. My husband and I never even considered problems conceiving. Even when we found out I had PCOS, we felt that with some medical intervention, I would get pregnant. Our situation steamrolled into a colossal problem with finding out there was MFI and then the additional diagnoses of severe endo and anti-nuclear antibodies for me.

In the beginning I was more worried and consumed by PCOS than my husband was. I was very worried and down in the dumps. His positive attitude about it all being fine made me angry. I thought it was a huge deal. When we found out there MF, things became more complicated. We did several IUI's without success and I was a wreck.

When we moved on to IVF, there was a lot of stress involved with finding the money. Learning to do all the shots and coping with the endless appointments (most of which I attended alone) took their toll. The short version of our experience was that I had an ectopic pregnancy on the first IVF and 2 more unsuccessful IVF's where we decided to halt all medical intervention.

This happened over the coarse of 3 1/2 years. So, how did we get through it? Amazingly we did not argue that much. Even though we both dealt with our emotions in very different ways, somehow it did not come between us. One way infertility affected our marriage is that it forced us to learn more about each other very early on in our marriage. We were childless for the first five years of marriage, and it made us stronger. We had a lot more time as just as a couple than we would have had if we got pregnant when we first started trying. Infertility taught us how to act as a team. To our advantage we also had the same goal in mind- parenthood. Even though we did not know how it would happen, because we both agreed we would not live childless helped eliminate a major conflict.

We learned to respect each others opinions. With all the options out there for ART like donor eggs, sperm, surrogacy, etc. we had a lot to think about. We chose each other over a procedure that would result in pregnancy if both parties were not 100% on board. We married each other to be together, and if that meant we would not have a biological child, then we could live with that. Pregnancy was not the end all be all for us.

You hear a lot of infertiles joke about drinking a lot of wine and martini's.
"Give me some wine and I will trudge through the latest BFN or cancelled cycle."
We drank a lot during infertility. We would sit and talk and sit and talk over a bottle of wine or vodka tonic. Let's face it. We had a lot of time on our hands and a lot to talk about. We were facing not being able to have kids. Adoption was an option, but we were so overwhelmed with that topic it was too much to try and tackle. We talked about how to improve our house or what cars to buy. We focused on other things besides TTC, even though that always weezled its way into the conversation. Drinks would be poured after another failed cycle or pregnancy announcement. There was a lot to deal with that wasn't a whole lot of fun.

Some people eat a lot, smoke too many cigarettes, drink a lot when going through infertility. This is very common. Coping with the stress and disappointment is extremely difficult. I recommend therapy. I talked with a therapist often about my emotions. Admittedly DH did not go this route, and it turned out okay, but couples counseling could be very effective if both parties are willing to do the work. If both people are not willing to take the therapy sessions seriously, save your money.

Some people choose to be very private about their struggles, others choose to talk about it and seek support. We were quite open about our TTC battle. Not many people understood, but we made it clear that we were trying to get pregnant, and it wasn't going very well. The questions died down making things easier on us. If the ALI community was around in my beginning days, I believe I would have reached out. The anonymity really helps many people to get things off their chest without exposing their identity. The support is a gift. Feeling understood and having someone tell you they are thinking of you means a great deal.

Each couple has a different situation. Each couple faces their own challenges and will find their own coping mechanisms for dealing with infertility and the multi faceted problem it imposes on a relationship. The most important factor to consider is communication. Rely on your partner, learn what the other needs, be honest about your feelings. You're in it together. You're both hurting even if you show it in different ways.

A hug and an "I love you" did wonders for me. Coping with a partner does not have to be complicated. Go with your instincts- they will see you through.


Anonymous said...

Josh and I definitely have a completely different relationship because of Infertility....

Meg. said...

My fiance (who I'm marrying next month. Yay!) knew I was infertile (and I mean TRULY infertile) a month into our relationship.

And yet he still willingly asked to make me his wife! I'm constantly amazed by his brave, selfless decision. What a guy.

We know we're in for a wild, wild ride.....but somehow I think it will make our relationship even stronger.

Julie said...

Each person definitely deals with things in different ways. I am very open about my emotions (probably mostly because I can't conceal them very well). On the other hand my husband keeps things to himself a lot. We have each dealt with infertility in very different ways.

Thank you for this post. It was a good reminder that while infertility sucks it has forced us to grow closer to each other.

Dana/WiredDesign said...

I wish all my friends would read your blog! ;)

Our experience was very different as well. We were only TTC for a short period of time when we found out that I have very high FSH levels, so high that treatments were not an option. We were left with the decision: egg donor or adoption.

It has been a blessing that we did not have to go thru years and years of pain and heartache TTC.

The most interesting part? Somehow, deep down in my heart, I think I always knew.

Thanks for sharing, as always!

Leah said...

What a great post. It's such a difficult thing to deal with and I've heard many couples really suffer. It feels good to have come out on the other side stronger.

Geochick said...

I have to say that since we had already gone through a mini-crisis (vulvodynia) which changed our intimate life dramatically when we were still dating I felt slightly more able to deal with the infertility. Until it hit me like a freakin' freight train that is. This was so much worse yet we've come out the other side relatively unscathed.

Geochick said...

btw - fantastic post as usual!

Amy said...

At first DH and I had to cope with the unimaginable loss of our first born son dying hours after birth. We coped, we drank, we hit punching bags, cried, wrote - everything and anything we could do to deal with the grief we carried in our hearts.

Then came the infertility whammy. After about 6 months of trying I got concerned, then another few I got worried, sad, depressed, envious and bitter. Now at over a year of TTC I'm resigned to the fact the universe sucks sometimes and we have to cope with this blow too.

We drink wine and beer as you did, talking about life, it's cruelties, our options at becoming parents. The stress of the double whammy has hit us. We have to work harder at our relationship than ever before. It is easier to slip into our own survival modes, unintentionally leaving the other alone. But we cope, and we reach out and take notice if our relationship begins to drift away from center. It takes work but it is worth it.

Thank you for this post.

Lisa said...

Welcome back! The struggle absolutely affects relationships and can strengthen or otherwise......

Missed your posts! :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that post! We're smack in the middle of going through it right now and it sounds pretty similar. We're doing ok but we show it differently and I'm a wreck a lot of the time. It will make us stronger in the end I'm sure. Thanks again

Kristin said...

What a great post. As long as both people remain open with each other and continue to communicate, surviving infertility can actually strengthen a relationship.

The Mamabunny said...

This is such a thoughtful, kind, caring post. Thank you so much for sharing these words, and this side of your story. Going into marriage, we thought we had one healthy baby on the way and would have many more - turns out that wasn't the case on any level. Giving some thought to how we will manage the ups and downs, and how it affects our relationship is so important. Thank you, thank you - just a great post!!

Mary said...

Infertility brought my husband and I so much closer than I ever could have imagined. Who knew I would thank infertility for helping our marriage? If a couple can make it through that, they can make it through anything.

Anonymous said...

Frozen embryos ‘make healthier babies than fresh ones’

Jewls said...

Infertility really changes you. I definitely think that if you let it, it will strengthen your relationship!


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