Relationships are tough enough as it is -- throw infertility into the mix and they can become even more complicated. When struggling with infertility, a couple's time, thoughts, and finances tend to all revolve around one goal: taking home a healthy baby.
I'm no stranger to the heavy toll infertility can take on a relationship. My husband and I are now in our fourth year of trying to have a baby. During that time, I've had four miscarriages, seven IVF transfers, three IVF retrievals, and lost twins during delivery. Needless to say, it hasn't been easy.
According to a recent survey conducted by the nonprofit organization HealthyWomen, nearly one-fourth of the women surveyed said that infertility had a negative impact on their relationship. Frankly, I'm surprised it was that low.
It takes two to make a relationship work -- especially when battling infertility. To keep your relationship going strong, here are six things your infertile partner needs you to know:
1. I need you to step up.
I can't do this without you. I know we have our own ways of handling and coping with our infertility, but I want to see that you're also taking a proactive approach to finding a solution.
How to do it: Men and women approach infertility struggles in very different ways. Dr. Robin Roberts, a licensed clinical social worker, explains in an interview that women tend to take the lead when it comes to fertility issues.
Part of this is because of their biological clock, and the other part is because the female body is the site of most or all of the medical intervention -- regardless of the source of infertility. Instead of letting your partner be the source of all of your information, seek to educate yourself by attending appointments and doing your homework. Dr. Roberts suggests reading the following books:
- How to Make Love to a Plastic Cup: A Guy's Guide to the World of Infertility by Greg Wolfe
- What He Can Expect When She's NOT Expecting by Marc Sedaka
2. I want to have a conversation.
I know it seems like this is all I ever want to talk about, and that the infertility discussion can seem endless. But I want to step down from my soapbox and have a conversation where we both contribute.
How to do it: Whereas men often believe that women only ever want to talk about infertility, women fall into the trap of believing that men don't want to talk about infertility -- neither of which is actually true.
Dr. Roberts suggests trying what she calls the "20 minute rule." Set aside a certain amount of time to have a focused discussion on your infertility. This keeps both parties from talking about infertility all day long and ensures each person is given ample time to speak and be heard.
3. I want you to attend appointments.
I know you have other obligations (i.e. a job), but I want you to attend every doctor's appointment that you can. You're my partner and you have a stake in this process. I want you to attend to learn more about our options firsthand and to ask your own questions. And having you by my side for moral support doesn't hurt either.
How to do it: It's one thing to not attend your partner's doctor appointment because you have work -- that we get. It's another thing entirely to not attend an appointment because you've "seen one, seen them all."
It's a commitment to attend these appointments, a commitment both parties need to strive to make. If you simply can't make it, be sure to ask about it later or give your partner a list of questions you'd like the doctor to answer.
4. I don't want to lose intimacy.
Sex. It might seem like I have zero sex drive -- and maybe, for the moment, I do -- but I don't want to lose the level of intimacy we have. The last thing I want is for sex to become a chore for us both. But I need you to understand that sex can be emotionally painful; it's a reminder of what isn't working. I want to overcome that, but I need your help.
How to do it: With timed intercourse, ovulation tests, and one goal in mind, it's no wonder why sex can sometimes feel like a chore for couples trying to overcome their infertility. As a result, couples begin to lose their sex drive, find it hard to achieve an orgasm, experience erectile dysfunction -- in short, infertility robs them of any and all pleasure. And that's no fun.
To bring intimacy, romance, and pleasure back into the bedroom, don't make every month a treatment month. Dr. Roberts put it perfectly: "Make it about connection, not conception."
She also suggests getting out of town on occasion. After weeks, months, or years of failing to conceive, the bedroom can become associated with tension and stress. Getting out of town for a weekend can make a world of difference.
5. I need to talk to someone.
As much as I love and value your advice and opinion, I need to occasionally talk to someone other than you and our doctors. And so do you.
How to do it: When it comes to dealing with the social stress that accompanies infertility, it's important for both men and women to have someone to talk to outside of their relationship. According to Dr. Roberts, these "allies" can serve as valuable outlets and support systems during uncomfortable social situations.
It can also help to talk to a mental health professional who specializes in infertility. They know and understand the emotions that accompany infertility and how to best process and overcome them.
6. Thank you.
Above all else, I want to thank you. I know that this isn't an easy journey we're on, but we're on it together. I need you to know that I appreciate every hand squeeze during doctor appointments, every question you think to ask the doctor, every hug when the emotions overtake me -- all of it. I couldn't do it without you.
What else do you need your partner to know when it comes to your battle with infertility? Leave a comment below!