It’s no secret that going through infertility is one of the loneliest roads you can walk through as a woman. Even though one of four women struggle with infertility, it’s often unknown to those around us. Many women suffer in silence, feeling embarrassed, stigmatized or just unsure of how to talk about something so painful with others. Even if you do work up the courage to talk about this painful journey, most people don’t know how to respond or react. If you’re like me, you can end up feeling painfully lonely and isolated, even if you’re surrounded by a sea of people.
Unfortunately, infertility can also be isolating within your own home. As the one who bore the “fault” of our infertility, I felt especially ashamed, guilty and hopeless. At the beginning of our four year struggle with secondary infertility, our marriage was a pressure cooker of unmet expectations, unspoken feelings and hidden grief. I was feeling the pain of lost motherhood so acutely and as such a part of my identity. It never occurred to me that my husband was going through the same things, just in a different way! With a lot of work we finally intentionally came together as a couple to engage with our trial and came out stronger for it.
That doesn’t always happen. Infertility is BRUTAL on marriages and often leads to spouses withdrawing from the battle and retreating into isolation. Studies show that, quite often, infertility is a huge factor in divorce decisions.
If you’re walking through this, we want to encourage you to fight infertility together. Your spouse is not your enemy and, if you take the time to see the infertility struggle through their eyes, you’ll realize you’re hurting together, not separately.
Right now, we’d like to have a little open dialogue with you about what it was like for us to navigate infertility as a couple and how we came through it with our relationship in tact and actually thriving. We hope that it gives you some insight into what your spouse might be going through and how to work together to get through one of the toughest seasons of your lives.
TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELVES AND HOW YOU FOUND YOURSELVES TO BE STRUGGLING WITH INFERTILITY:
Spencer: I’m Spencer, I’m currently 30 and I have PCOS. We were college sweethearts and got married at age 21 and 22. We had a surprise baby eleven months later followed by four years of secondary infertility. For a long time we didn’t know what was wrong until I finally got an official PCOS diagnosis. We went through years of testing, varying treatments and invasive procedures. Nothing worked and I fell into a deep depression. After four long years, we were finally blessed with our second baby through hormone therapy and Clomid.
Doug:That is our story of infertility. Spencer usually puts things together more cohesively than I do, so I’ll just agree with that.
Spencer: I felt terrible about myself. You can read more about my struggle to cope with my PCOS diagnosis HERE (on my blog) but I really felt infertility struck at the core of my identity as a woman. I felt like a failure to my husband, myself and our older son (who desperately wanted to be a brother). I felt broken and empty…and then guilty for not appreciating what I already had. There were so many complicated emotions and I struggled to express them. I was angry, sad, jealous, self-loathing, insecure and incredibly emotional. It was hard for me not to obsess about becoming pregnant because I wanted it so desperately. It seemed to infiltrate and control every part of my thoughts and my days.
Doug: This is one of those places where I do have different words. According to a recent PEW research study, 41 percent of teen girls say having kids is a priority for their adulthood. Perhaps that’s unsurprising, but the significant part to me is that 39 percent of teen boys express the same priority for their futures. Even at a young age, being a parent is a sincere desire for both men and women. Yet, a lot of times culture dismisses men as not being vested in building a family or having children; they show it as a secondary priority or just something that just happens to be a part of their lives. I was always one of those kids who prioritized having kids. I love kids (I’m a teacher, if you didn’t know). So both having a loss of an earthly baby and infertility was hard for me. At the same time, I felt a little disconnected from the process. The procedures, monthly reminders and physical loss was happening separate from me and that was hard.
WHAT WAS THE MOST FRUSTRATING THING ABOUT SEEING YOUR SPOUSE GO THROUGH INFERTILITY?
Spencer: Doug is amazing with children and such a great dad; it’s one of the things I love the most about him. He is so deserving of that and I felt like it was my fault that he couldn’t have a house full of children. It was also hard to see him get frustrated by the lack of answers. He’s a fixer; he can fix just about anything he sets his mind to from a broken toilet to my emotional meltdowns. This was one thing that had no clear answers and I could tell that weighed heavily on him because he just wanted to make it all better.
Doug: Again, Spencer hit the nail on the head. I desperately wanted to make her pain go away. I think the hardest part, honestly, was when she’d come to me with a pregnancy test every month and say she thought she saw a faint line. We had gotten the economy bulk strips, with blue dye, because that’s more sensitive. Even still, she would come to me with that excited look and an invisible line. It ripped my heart out every month to tell her there was nothing there.
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO A COUPLE STRUGGLING TO CONNECT IN THE MIDST OF INFERTILITY?
Spencer: Resist the urge to blame and pull away. You are processing so many emotions and they often get tangled up and confusing.
Don’t shut your spouse out of what you’re going through. Include them in your thoughts and feelings, no matter how jumbled they seem at the time. Set aside time to talk, consider going to counseling together and give the other person the freedom they need to express themselves. Listen without trying to “fix” or offer advice. Just be there and let your spouse know you love them no matter what.
Doug: I think make sure your spouse knows she’s precious to you, and has value outside of her reproductive ability. Make her feel beautiful and try not to lose that romantic side of the relationship. Though fertility treatments, pregnancy tests, and other expenses can add up, don’t miss out on date nights, as much as possible.
WHAT MEANINGFUL WAYS DID YOUR SPOUSE GIVE YOU SUPPORT?
Spencer: Doug was really a blessing to me. I don’t think I could have made it through those years without him. He was patient with me through all the emotional highs and lows. He let me talk and cry as much as I wanted. He encouraged me to go out and do things with friends who he knew I could be myself around with no baby pressure. He tuned into stressful times and was there waiting to comfort me after every negative tests or failed treatment. He constantly told me how much he loved me and how valuable I was. That was all so meaningful to me!
Doug: It meant a lot when she would just talk to me about what she was going through and let me into her world. That communicated that she really trusted me and wanted me to be a part of what she was going through. Also, it was really meaningful when she would not judge me or getting angry with me when it seemed I was more wrapped up in work than fertility. Of course that wasn’t the case emotionally, but it easily could have been a point of contention that my focus had to be split so many directions. Understanding where I was coming from was huge.
WHAT SHOULD YOUR SPOUSE MAKE AN EFFORT NOT TO DO?
Spencer: Try not to be a negative voice (also called “the voice of reason”). It’s easy to feel hopeless and, in an effort to not get hurt, become overly guarded and cautious. Don’t view it as your job to prepare your spouse for the worst or give them reasons why the latest treatment or protocol might not work (in an effort to keep them from being disappointed). As hard as it is, try to stay hopeful together. Also, don’t share your spouse’s infertility story without asking. Things that may not seem like a big deal to share for you might be very personal and emotional for your spouse. Always ask permission to share what they’re going through.
Doug: Wives, don’t assume what your husband feels like; just because he’s not the one missing out on carrying the child doesn’t mean he’s not impacted by infertility. As much as it’s tempting, also don’t assume that he doesn’t feel emotional, just because he doesn’t show it in the same ways. I think a lot of guys have the need to be the “strong stoic” in these situations, but it’s still painful.
HOW CAN YOU FOCUS ON YOUR MARRIAGE IN THE MIDST OF INFERTILITY?
Spencer: Infertility can become life consuming. It’s important to focus on your marriage outside of your fertility journey. For your mental and emotional health, you need to take a time out sometimes. We would plan dates regularly to do something fun that got our minds off of our struggles. We also had set times (or days) where we made the conscious decision to not talk about fertility related topics. That gave us time to work on other aspects of our relationship and just relax a bit.
Doug: Yeah, I think we went on more dates going through infertility than we do now. That was really a key; keeping the romance alive, bringing home flowers (and not just after an especially tough week). Writing notes to her, keeping that connection going was really tough at times, but key.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SAY TO OTHER COUPLES GOING THROUGH INFERTILITY?
Spencer: I am so sorry you are going through this painful time. There’s no way around it; infertility is unfair, horrible and it HURTS. Even though it’s tempting, don’t give into and believe lies about yourself, your worth or your spouse. Take those thoughts captive and remember that this is only a chapter in your story; it’s not the end! Use this as an opportunity to make your marriage stronger and understand your spouse better. There is always hope; keep clinging to it!
Avoid the trap of thinking that this is just a “her” problem or “his” problem. A problem with your spouse’s fertility is a “our problem”.
Resist the temptation to think that your spiritual influence is held up when you don’t have children or your family unit looks different than others. I knew a couple growing up that had lifelong infertility, and they “adopted” the youth group that I went to. That couple did more for my spiritual development than anyone else in my life at the time.
ABOUT YOUR GUEST BLOGGER:
Spencer lives in the Shenandoah Valley with Doug and two miracle boys where she is a homeschooling mom and blogger. She welcomes you on her blog where you can find recipes, posts on wellness topics, community and lots of love as you discover your radiant self!