Infertility is hard. Really hard. If we let it, it can break our hearts.
And our marriages.
In addition to the thousand other things no one talks about related to this secret tragedy, add to the list its effects on marriage . Dealing with infertility can wreak havoc on your emotions, your body, your mental stability, your friendships. And yes, on your marriage.
First of all, very few go into marriage thinking that starting a family will be a problem. We just don't talk about that or prepare people for that (Pet peeve #1).
Second, once we realize there might be some infertility issues, we don't think that it will drive us apart instead of pull us together. But sometimes, that is exactly what happens. For lots of reasons. Men and women process these kinds of things soooo differently - and communication between men and women can be tough even on a good day. We women are often so jacked-up on hormones and other foreign invaders in our bodies that it's almost like looking at ourselves from the outside asking, 'Who is that crazy, raving lunatic?' Our husbands are probably asking themselves the question (If they are smart, they are silently asking themselves).
As if that's not enough, there's the timed sex - even when we are exhausted, cranky, had a rough day, had a fight...but we gotta do it now, or we are out another cycle. How romantic.
Then there's the repeated heartbreaks - the negative pregnancy tests every month. Her screwed-up ovulation. His low sperm counts. The miscarriages. The recurrent miscarriages. The failed IUIs. The failed IVFs. The delays. The physical complications. The bad test results. The let-downs. The disappointments. Month after month. It adds up.
There's the stress. The anxiety. His insensitivity. Her over-reaction. The unvoiced blame. The fear that underlies all of this but we are too afraid to say out loud:
"What if none of this works? What if we can never have kids?"
And the follow-up question to that: "If we can't have kids, then what? Can our marriage survive this?"
Infertility puts crazy amounts of stress on a marriage and seems to be the perfect storm. But nobody really tells you that going into infertility treatment. At least they didn't tell me.
This journey has caused me to do a lot of soul-searching. Why did I get married? Was it just to have a family? Did I marry the man who would be the future father of my children - or did I marry just the man - no strings attached? Was I satisfied with just him, even if he never became the father of our children?
If I remember my wedding day correctly, I married J, the man. I took a vow before him and before God to be committed 'for better or for worse, til death do us part.' Infertility falls under the 'worse' category, for sure. It's hard. All of it. It's hard to face the possibility of a life-long dream not coming true. What does that do to a marriage?
Well, obviously, it can either bring you closer together or tear you apart. What determines which way it will go?
I don't think there is a blanket answer for that. Every couple is so different. Some husbands are ultra-senstive. Some are ....well, they're guys. Some girls are thrown into the depths of sorrow and depression over this; others are able to cope a little bit better.
As I think about this (and I'm no expert), here are a few things that stick out in my mind in trying to keep a marriage strong while dealing with infertility:
1. Be aware of how trying and demanding this whole journey. How much it will suck the life out of you as you try to create life. This is no small issue; it can be all-consuming - emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually and in every other way. This takes a much heavier toll on us and our marriages than we initially anticipate. Knowing this, at least we can know what's coming and try to brace ourselves for it.
2. Pro-actively build up your marriage while you are TTC. Make sure your whole relationship doesn't revolve around getting pregnant. You have to make time for the two of you apart from TTC. Do things together that you love to do. That you used to do when you were dating. That bring you closer together. Even for a few hours of escapism, take a break from this TTC madness.
3. Extend grace to each other. Each of you handle it differently. Give each other the benefit of the doubt; keep believing the best about each other. If he withdraws, don't assume he is an insensitive jerk; maybe he just feels powerless and helpless to fix what is breaking your heart. If she freaks out and is irrational, realize that this is a HUGE deal to her and affects how she sees herself and her value as a woman (And, it might just be the hormones talking). Communication is huge; try to get to what is behind the responses, not just the responses themselves. That's where it can end up bringing you two closer - right as you open up. Remember that your spouse isn't the enemy; you guys are on the same team.
4. Remember why you got married in the first place. It was because you loved a person - not just what he could give you (e.g. a family) or how he could fulfill your dreams. Even after your kids are old and grown, it will still be the two of you. You said vows to a person, not under conditions of whether or not the end result would be a baby. Stay true to your vows. There was something that drew you to each other before the conversation about babies ever came up. Don't lose that.
5. Your kids are going to need you to have a strong marriage. If the cards fall in the right place, your kiddos are going to need parents who are stronger together. Parents who have weathered storms and came out on the other side closer, tighter, better. Surely, there will be more storms you will face. If this storm of infertility weakens your relationship, whose to say that the next storm you have, after you have kids, won't be the one that destroy it? What's the point of having babies and a family if you have a crappy marriage? Your kids need you to have a strong foundation, a solid relationship for them to grow up in. Build that foundation now.
6. Pray and trust God. Prayer is so important in being able to share your hearts and unload your burdens. On most days, this is too much for us to carry. It is so good to be able to jointly dump this on God's shoulders. And when you realize this is in God's hands, in His timing, it takes the pressure off both of you. You do what you can, but ultimately, it's up to God - the when, the how, the if. It allows you to release the expecations off each other, the anxiety from the lack of control, the weight of how this will all turn out. You can turn your attention to other things - namely, each other and all the other million things that are still going right in your life.
7. Remember that God brought the two of you together. He has a plan for your marriage. Hopefully, it will include babies of your own. It may not. But not having your own kids does not erase His plans for you! There's a reason you two are together. If it doesn't result in your own babies, find out what it is! He didn't bring you together to TTC and then divorce if it didn't work out; He brought you two together to be together, no matter what you face! Your union with your spouse is the only relationship God describes as 'two becoming one.' This is a sacred, covenantal union! It's not just about the children you may spawn - it is about you two. Together. With or without children.
Having babies is important. But it's not worth your marriage.
Your thoughts? Any advice for keeping a strong marriage during infertility? Or any other storm?
(Photo credit: lovendar.com)