Navigating the emotional issues that naturally occur during your fertility journey is not always an easy path – as an individual and as a couple. And you are definitely not alone, although it may feel that way at times.
Fertility issues impact 1 in 8 families in America. The stress can be enormous. Not just the societal pressure to have a family but also fearing the potential judgment from well-intended family and friends.
It’s not uncommon to have a plethora of feelings that may include inadequacy, doubt, failure, embarrassment, emptiness, sadness, confusion, and the understandable feelings of hope alternating with feelings of hopelessness that can affect the quality of your life and your relationship.
It is completely normal to experience these thoughts and feelings when trying to navigate the myriad of issues that are often associated with trying to have a baby.
At times, you may feel like you are going crazy. Many who have experienced issues with fertility have certainly felt that way. Please know this: you are not crazy. Rather, you are simply a normal person, having very normal reactions to what can be a very trying situation.
Research has shown that the psychological stress for women dealing with infertility is similar to those coping with major illness like chronic pain, cancer or HIV. Studies have also shown that men are also at risk for depression, anxiety, and sexual dysfunction.
Undoubtedly, you’re putting up a brave front and being stalwart in hope and optimism. However, there are many emotional challenges to overcome as an individual and as a couple.
Trying to cope with all of this can certainly be a strain on both of you. Instead of having the stress divide a couple, which I’ve certainly seen when couples first contact me, this is a time to come together and dig down to strengthen your resolve.
Here are a few tips to help you along the fertility path that you are on, that other couples tell me have been very helpful. The main idea is to help keep you both moving forward, together as a couple.
Set some initial guidelines
Before you get too far down the road, it’s important to set some guidelines. There may come a point where one or both of you will need to say “enough.”
But before you get there, try to imagine in advance where those lines might be. The line may be the same for each of you, or different than it is for your partner. Here are a few questions to ask yourselves. The answers are simply a snapshot in time of where you are right now. They can change in the next five minutes. But start by having the conversation.
- Where you stand now, how long are you willing to pursue your decided treatment (medication or fertilization procedures)?
- When will you say “uncle” and would you be willing to go the next step (surrogates or adoption)?
- How much are you willing to spend?
- What treatments are you willing and not willing to attempt?
It is quite possible that you may not be able to actually answer these questions at any point during the process of trying to conceive. Who knows what twists and turns you may encounter?
Again, no matter where you are in your journey, the most important thing is for the two of you to stay connected to each other while you both go through this.
The cost and stress really can take its toll, so to have these initial conversations before it all gets started, many couples have found that it helps to have a framework to operate from. One of the best ways to establish a beginning plan, is to have an idea of what some of the common fertility themes are that millions of couples encounter.
Become familiar with common themes around fertility
Every major event in our lives involves themes. Certain themes bring about common thoughts and emotions.
Knowing what the themes are that you are experiencing, can be a tremendous help as you both travel down the emotional aspects of your fertility journey.
Here are some of the more common themes that couples often encounter:
- How much time in months if not years, do we want to try and have a baby?
- How much money are we willing to commit to this right now?
- How much grieving can I go through if an IVF treatment or any other procedure isn’t successful?
- How do we know if we are with the right fertility specialist?
- At any given point in the process, what are the medical odds that we can conceive?
- How do you both feel about being involved in this process: e.g. is your partner comfortable giving injections?
- What additional or other fertility treatments or options might we be willing to try?Are we both on the same page?
- How are we doing when around other couples – including family and friends – who are pregnant or have young children at home?
- Do we need to stay connected or is it becoming too uncomfortable to be around them right now?
- Are there any religious issues or concerns for either or both of us?
Plus, when it comes to infertility treatment, it is often helpful to have a Plan B because nothing is certain and in order to keep you both out of the constant spin of “What ifs…,” it is good to know that you’ve mapped some possible alternatives in advance.
Note: As with most things in life, there are no universal “right” answers to any of these questions. The only right answers are the ones that work for you. And since your situation may go through changes, your answers to these questions may also change. That’s perfectly ok.
Develop your support team
It is so easy to find yourself feeling isolated, alone, and lonely when having difficulty trying to conceive. One of the best pieces of advice that couples find helpful is when I encourage them to embrace their own self-care.
And one of the most valuable ways you can do this is by making sure that you both surround yourself with people who are utterly supportive of you, and who offer safety, comfort, encouragement, and also acceptance no matter what the outcomes may be.
Your support team can include your fertility specialist; other couples who have or are now going through this experience themselves; as well as other trusted family, friends, and colleagues.
It can also be tremendously helpful to have team members who genuinely want to learn more about what you are going through.
Embrace patience and your self-care
Knowing the themes and having your support system are great ways to help you go through this journey.
Even in the best of circumstances, during the course of this process, there will be a lot of waiting – waiting for results, waiting for your period to not come, waiting for doctors, waiting for answers, waiting for insemination, waiting to find out if you’re pregnant. It is completely normal to feel some anxiety and stress as you go through all of this.
To help you out, find practices that support your peace of mind and calmness. This may be a perfect time to take on a meditation or yoga class and regularly practice deep breathing and gratitude for the all the good in other areas of your life right now – hopefully, including a partner who loves you deeply, no matter the outcome.
This is a process and the more that you can find patience and appreciation for the journey and each other, the better off you both will be!
Accept the inevitable ups and downs
This process can often have you consistently focusing on what’s not happening. And it is way too easy to blame yourself or your partner for a thousand things on this journey. This is a rabbit hole that you want to try and avoid whenever possible. And sometimes your nerves may get so frayed, that you will feel like you are on that emotional rollercoaster.
Over the years many couples have told me that it was helpful to try and stay away from the more extreme emotional ups and downs.
The way they did this was by trying to balance their hopeful optimism with a realistic perspective that their hopes may or may not be realized.
Let me distinguish hope versus expectations. I think it’s quite fine and necessary to hope that at the end of this journey you will have your dream fulfilled and you will be parents to a beautiful baby.
The balance to this is to be hopeful without an expectation that everything will go the way you want. Taking this hopeful but realistic approach can help quell some of the stress and anxiety for both of you.
Communication is key
Having the desire and ability to be open with each other, communication is always the answer for couples going through tough times.
Dealing with infertility can be a hurdle in your relationship. However, it’s important to talk through all of it – the fears, the desires, the frustrations, the sadness – for both of you. You are, after all, a team in this.
And communication includes listening. Listening to what is said and unsaid. Nonverbal communication counts.
During times of stress, a moment of tenderness can go a long way…just like the couple below.
Tenderness can come in many forms: hugs, kisses, snuggling, and just holding hands can help you through all of this.
Sex for fun – remember that?
Medical examinations and treatments can be incredibly intrusive. Too many fluorescent lights in doctor’s offices with your private parts exposed can take feeling sexy right out of any relationship. Sex on demand and ejaculating in a cup is all a part of the journey. But sex for fun? Who has time for that? Or where’s your heart in that process?
Whatever you can do to remember you as a couple and the loving, fun sex times, do your best to find (or dig up or laughingly, lovingly recreate)! Clearly, desire discrepancy can be an issue for a couple facing infertility, but keeping that part of your relationship alive is a fast track to remembering your love and reason for wanting to have a baby.
Find ways to laugh through this journey and accept lapses in performance and desire as a part of the process.
Remember the love
In the midst of all the visits to the doctors, injections, medical procedures, and considering other alternatives, it is easy to lose track of your love for one another.
Infertility can be all-consuming. It can suck up all your time and thoughts. It’s not uncommon to become obsessed with finding solutions or ever-more resources. However, don’t forget to connect with your partner inside of all of this.
And above all, the most important thing to remember is this: throughout the fertility – no matter what the outcomes – your relationship needs to be your highest priority.
So, the next time you’re both at the doctor’s office, it’s vitally important to keep the love of your partner central to the quest for a baby. Otherwise, you may lose sight in all the technology, trials and tests that you’ll be going through. It may be important to declare an infertility-free time where you actually talk about things other than the topic du jour.
Seek out additional support when needed
You may find yourself unable to sleep or find that you can’t stop thinking about what else to do. Maybe the number of tests you are going through is getting to you. Perhaps you and your partner are so stressed that you are not getting along as well as you normally do. And your mood may cycle up and down to the point where you feel like you are on a perpetual rollercoaster.
It is not uncommon and rather wise to seek additional support during this time or even before you start the conversation with your partner about treatment. If there is any way that I can be a resource for you, I want to invite you to reach out for a free 15-minute phone call.
I’ve helped many a couple through these kinds of challenges that helped them weather this storm to a full and loving relationship, no matter the outcome.