How To Help Your Relationship Survive Infertility
By InCircle Fertility (Sophie Dornstreich & Abbe Feder)
I will never forget the day I was sitting in my therapist's office, telling her how poorly my relationship with my husband was bearing the weight of infertility. She locked eyes with me and said, “what happens if you get the baby you want so badly but your marriage doesn’t survive as a result”?
My heart started pounding. I felt my all-consuming infertility anxiety screech to a halt in surprise. The reality at that moment was that I had let our struggle to conceive completely take over our lives. Everything else took a backseat to my willful, laser-focused effort to make this work, no matter the cost (literally).
But the cost of infertility goes well beyond our bank accounts, and my experience of unwittingly offering up my marriage as a sacrificial lamb in service of “accomplishing my goal” is not uncommon. We all know the toll that the struggle to conceive takes. It wreaks havoc on our confidence and our feelings of identity and purpose. It is a source of daily stress, physical, financial, and emotional.
Infertility also has a way of slowly dominating our life. It can dictate our work schedule, upend travel plans, insert itself into previously enjoyable social events and hang over our interactions with colleagues, friends, and family. The constant monitoring, tracking, and anxiety can creep into every waking moment.
However, making the assumption that our primary relationship can withstand ongoing neglect and assault through the turmoil of infertility is a mistake. No matter how our infertility journey is “resolved”—whether it ends with a baby or not—leaving the destruction of our relationship in its wake is far from the ideal outcome for anyone.
So what can we do to make sure that our struggle to conceive doesn’t become the top (and only) priority, despite the intense sense of urgency that we all feel during this process?
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
You and your partner don’t always need to be on the same page, but you DO need to communicate. In fact, it is highly unlikely that you will always be on the same page through this process. Each person experiences and copes with the TTC rollercoaster differently. Not to mention that one of you is likely taking on much more of the physical burden.
The goal is not to “make it equal.” The goal is to make sure you continuously hear and understand one another. Validate one another's feelings, whatever they may be. Check-in regularly. Be clear with one another about what you need and how you can best be supported by the other. What works for one person will not work for another. There is no guidebook for this. The only way through is a total commitment to honesty and transparency, no matter how ugly or uncomfortable.
2. Remember your why.
When you’re dealing with infertility, it’s important to remember why you wanted to build a family with *this* person in the first place. Take the time to do the things that you have always enjoyed doing together. Do the dinners out, the hikes, or the weekends away. It’s easy to put recreational things on the back burner during infertility, and especially during pregnancy loss. It can sometimes feel like we’re not allowed to feel comfort and joy in the face of loss. But you can and you should.
Grief and joy can coexist. Not to mention that if you’re resistant to spending money on yourselves given how much you're already spending on treatment, divorce is also really expensive. Creating opportunities that remind you of why you chose this person to be your partner in bringing a child into the world is vitally important.
3. Maintain intimacy—or physical connection—that is separate from TTC.
We know. The bloating from IVF meds makes you feel less than sexy, and the scheduling of “timed intercourse” (or knowing that sex is no longer a means to conceive) puts a serious damper on things in the bedroom. And maybe that’s okay for now.
Most importantly, make sure you are carving out time to connect with your partner—physically— in a context that has nothing to do with making, or not making, a baby. That core connection, between the two of you, and dependent on nothing but the two of you, will keep your relationship strong.
Relationship first, infertility second
Yes, these 3 things are easier said than done. And no, you are not “failing” if you are experiencing marital hardship during infertility. In fact, you are in very good company. Building a family under the best of circumstances requires a strong foundation. Building a family by way of fertility treatment can put that foundation to the test.
Passing the test does not mean you got your long-awaited baby. Passing the test means coming out on the other side of your journey, no matter the outcome, with a primary relationship that remains as your anchor. The journey through infertility may be worth the tremendous cost to our life savings, to our physical and emotional wellbeing, and even to some of our friendships. But the one cost we should not have to pay, under any circumstances, is that of our relationship with our partner.
Abbe and Sophie founded InCircle Fertility after emerging on the other side of all-consuming struggles with infertility and pregnancy loss. These experiences were life-altering and when the dust settled, it quickly became evident that the only possible next step was supporting others as they navigate this turbulent terrain. Combining professional expertise, industry know-how, and an abundance of empathy and compassion, InCircle Fertility is here to meet you wherever you are in the world and wherever you are in your journey to parenthood to provide the support and guidance so desperately needed to find your resolution.