How to look after your relationship when experiencing fertility struggles

How to look after your relationship when experiencing fertility struggles

08/21/2022

Why us? A question familiar to the never-ending plaguing thoughts of those struggling with fertility.

Couples will always face – and defeat – an onslaught of battles together. 

When it comes to trying for a family, these will come with intense strains that can push even the most stable of relationships into choppy waters and uncertainty.

And yes, epic fights that make you want to knock on the wall and apologise to the neighbours. Sorry pals, we’re trying for a baby, it’s all cool.

Infertility is arguably biggest test of all when it comes to relationships.

With lives suddenly going from romantic getaways, thrilling sex and fun nights out together, to ovulation monitoring, bird food dieting, scheduled, clinical intercourse and two week waits, things change forever.

What you thought would be an exciting journey together can quickly become something that threatens to bring toxicity into a safe space, one that always felt equipped to face the world.

Tensions and disappointments can lead to arguments and blame. Microaggressions such as implying that the glass of wine they had last month might be a factor in why this month hasn’t been the month, can seep in.

Neglect of things that used to be fun, exciting and loving can breed resentment and sap joy from life. This is not what you expected on that whirlwind first year together.

You thought that when you decided you want a baby, it would be full of rom-com type adventures and excuse to have sex after sex after sex. What could go wrong? Look, it doesn’t have to be this way.

My husband and I are in the middle of a very difficult attempt to have a child. The months have ticked by; and those months became years. There have been times when the pen could pretty much have been hovering over the divorce papers.

The clashes have been monumental, and the emotions have been raw and heartbreaking. But I have learnt a lot, and there are things I wish we had taken into account.

We naively entered this thinking it could only strengthen our relationship. And it can. But making the baby is only half the work; everything that goes with it demands just as much input.

‘Fertility struggles can have a profound effect on a couple’s relationship, with many couples experiencing anxiety and depression throughout their fertility journey,’ Victoria Jeffries, an accredited psychotherapist who specialises in infertility counselling, tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Quite often, the shock of the inability to conceive a child as quickly and easily as expected gradually leads to feelings of guilt and sometimes even shame.

‘In my therapy practice, I have noticed that those struggling to conceive are often left experiencing an identity crisis; if I can’t be a parent, who will I be? Along with concerns for years to come; what does the future hold for me without children?’

It will be tough, and there will be days where you just want to punch your partner in the throat, but your relationship isn’t doomed because you have fertility struggles.

Nothing is. So how can you have a better fighting chance of sticking this out (and in) together, through thick and thin?

Knowing the facts together

It’s no secret that our basic high school sex education class did not prepare us for this.

In fact, it actively sought to prevent a baby: ‘Look at a boy and you will have ten babies and your life will be ruined, heathen.’

So, it’s no wonder the expanse of naivety when it comes to producing children, is wide. Like it or lump it, it goes without saying that women will know more about what is happening in their bodies, and some of what is needed, than their male counterparts.

This is where being on the same page matters. You can’t communicate or make plans if you don’t both know the score. There are many things I have learnt, both mentally and biologically; and the same for my husband.

So, get this out of the way. You will need to learn together, you will need to accept that explaining stuff to one another is not patronising, and you will need to suspend any embarrassment if you don’t know basic things.

If you’re going to be at it for every waking moment during a fertile window, checking discharges and depositing samples, there is no time for embarrassment.

It is absolutely imperative that you start this on equal footing and don’t judge one another for not knowing stuff; for a circle of life species that is, at its bare roots, supposedly designed for procreation, it isn’t half complicated to have a baby.

Researching and learning together is a valuable bonding exercise – and also leaves you prepared for the journey ahead.

Support

Ask anyone who is trying to conceive and they’ll tell you: this is not easy. All of those people who routinely quote stats that moving house is the most stressful thing a couple can go through together have clearly never heard of the two-week wait.

There is so much that goes into this; physically and emotionally. And as a couple, we need to be there for one another.

To that end, Victoria can’t emphasise enough the importance of mutual support as couples ride through what are understandably choppy waters.

‘It is important to remember it is perfectly normal to feel stressed, anxious and drained while going through this journey,’ she says.

‘These are valid feelings and are to be expected; it is an incredibly trying process after all.

‘This is why it is critical that you both show compassion to yourselves and each other, and allow yourself to feel what you feel.’

We all deal with disappointment differently. Understand what helps your partner and tell your partner what helps you.

If you are both coming from different places, but neither of you know what that place is, then you are going to fall out. You will be confused over why your partner is acting the way they are and, until they explain where they are at, it will just leave you bewildered and often angry that they aren’t approaching this like you are.

Scheduling regular times to just sit down and reflect, talk about things and get things off your chest – even if it involves a bicker – helps to break things down. When you ‘get’ someone, you validate their feelings, whether they are positive or negative.

And when someone feels validated, they can trust that they can open up again. With all relationships, this is important for survival. This is even more the case when you are on such an intense and emotion filled journey like this.

Humour

My husband and I laugh a lot; him being funny was the first and main attraction I felt. We have a shared dark humour and I swear, this is why we are still standing.

If you approach this with nothing but severity, it’s going to be a long journey packed with fights and resentment. Making a baby is an absolutely ridiculous and often slapstick (slapdick?) process.

I am not saying that you are going to be making quips when your period comes again, or slapping your thigh with laughter when some dodgy tests come back.

But in among it all, you have to laugh before you cry. You will do both, but the former is so vitally important for couples.

Budget

If you are in a relationship and you claim that you never argue about money, then you are a bare-faced liar.

Cashflow is the Achilles heel of so many couples. We have so much to thank the NHS for and, many tests and treatments, including some rounds of IVF, are covered.

But your outgoings when trying for a baby will increase. Annoyingly, eating healthily and nutritionally is more expensive than chicken nuggets and chips. Supplements are not cheap. You need to take things into account.

Before the money stress gets you, get ahead of the game. Modify the monthly budget together to take everything into account so there are no shocks.

If you are someone who didn’t budget before (aka me), then start now. No-one wants those Omega 3 capsules to drive a wedge between you before you even get to the nitty-gritty.

Prepare

There are so many outcomes and stages and together, you need to be as prepared as you can. 

A positive outlook is so important, but you also have to be realistic about the fact that during this, there will be days when you just want the ground to swallow you up.

There will be setbacks and you need to discuss how you will approach them if they come.

This is when you can identify what is going to hit one another the hardest and how you can then support each other.

If you feel your other half in this journey does not have your back in these moments, this is when things can get seriously sour.

Self-care and rewards

It’s going to challenge your mental health more than you think it will. So, things need to be broken up so your whole life as a couple isn’t just conceive, conceive, conceive.

Ensure you take time to just be together, even if nights out, special meals or weekends away are scheduled far in advance.

Make sure you still invest in your hobbies, together and apart. You still need to have conversations that don’t involve the words ‘ovulating’ and ‘well it says on Mumsnet…’.

Don’t beat yourselves or each other up if there is a day or two when you slip from the fertility diet and have a takeaway or a beer.

Count some blessings, but in a certain way. I hate nothing more than someone telling me ‘well at least you have each other’ or ‘it could be worse’, so any blessings are between yourselves, and not with the idea that you should want or deserve a baby less because you have nice things in life.

Nevertheless, it’s still important to enjoy what you have.

Reward yourselves and each other as you go. Acknowledge how hard this is and how many life changes you have adopted. This is hard work, so make sure you tell each other how proud you are.

Romantic gestures, little gifts or cards and most importantly, hugs and ‘I love you’s are imperative tools to keep you going.

Take a break

Have sex that is not just conceiving sex. When that window isn’t open, it doesn’t mean your legs can’t be. It’s amazing how many couples forget that sex has other upsides.

‘Trying for a baby’ sex is vastly different to ‘let’s have sex’ sex. You need to keep the spark alive and enjoy each other sometimes without the pressures that come with having those all important ovulation sessions.

And take a break from it all now and again. It’s exhausting, individually and as a couple. There is no shame in taking a month off and just recuperating and existing, remembering what a human life is outside of this. Taking a break is not failure, it’s a positive move to reflect and get ready to go again. It’s the most important holiday that you will ever have as a couple.

Everyone needs time off from work sometimes. This is work. Take that month’s leave and take it together. Like you wouldn’t check your emails, don’t check your ovulation strips or obsess over your discharge. One month won’t change anything.

Most importantly, even if you have to write it down, remember that the whole reason you want a baby together is that you love each other, and you want to expand your family to share that powerful feeling with someone you will both love unconditionally, together.

If you are torn apart, the whole motive for what has divided you is lost. It’s the easiest thing to forget but the most important thing to remember – as clinical, bizarre and tense as this fertility mission can be, it is first and foremost a process of deep love.

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