Trying for a baby can be stressful at the best of times. After all, it’s a major life decision.
But when you’ve been trying for a year or more without success, it can cost you dearly, even if you’re not the person planning to carry the baby. That’s because infertility – which doctors define as the inability to get pregnant after 1 year of trying – is a journey that affects both the carrier and non-carrier partner in various ways.
It can be helpful to read about these impacts ahead of time to prepare yourself and your partner for what lies ahead.
Infertility journeys are stressful – for everyone. Many choices can be complex and difficult to navigate. Plus, there’s lots and lots of uncertainty, which can make people anxious and nervous.
Fertility treatment is also expensive, which means that for many it can be a significant source of financial strain and additional stress. And that’s before all the emotional ups and downs that come along with the journey, including the high hopes and the big disappointments, the heartaches and the losses.
“Fertility treatment usually seems so emotionally difficult because of the uncertainty involved,” says Naomi Torres-Mackie, clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York’s Reproductive Health Program and head of research at the Mental Health Coalition.
“Psychologically speaking,” she continues, “when there is something we want that is complicated by a big unknown – in this case, wanting to conceive but not knowing when or if it will happen – it can be extremely taxing. emotionally and cognitively.”
Fertility expert and mental health counselor Dr Anna Flores Locke says non-carrier partners may find it supports their partner during times of hormonal changes during fertility treatment – and may struggle to cope.
“[They might] also feel helpless and disengaged from the process, even though they want to be supportive and helpful,” she continues. “The partner is also invested in building a family, but it is not the one undergoing fertility treatments and tests, [so] feels left out and unable to achieve the goal of having a baby.
Ultimately, feelings of helplessness may stem from the non-carrier partner feeling that they are not actively participating in the fertility journey. Additionally, they may feel like they don’t know how to help their partner with medications, tests or treatments, or getting to appointments.
If you’ve had a miscarriage or pregnancy loss, know that you’re not alone. These experiences are more common than people usually expect.
In fact, 10 out of 100 known pregnancies will end in early loss, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
Pregnancy loss can be a common occurrence before or while seeking fertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). And there is no doubt that these losses are painful.
Pregnancy loss can be a physically, emotionally and psychologically difficult and painful experience. It can also put a strain on your relationship. The partner who experiences the miscarriage may feel blamed and guilty, and the non-carrying partner may also feel emotional pain.
Despite its frequency, “there is also a lot of stigma and silence around pregnancy loss,” says Torres-Mackie. “People who live [miscarriage or loss] may feel lonely, which adds to the pain of the experience.
Over time, the emotional weight of dealing with fertility issues can turn into anxiety, sadness, or even depression. And according to Torres-Mackie, the chances of you feeling an impact on your mental health increase the longer you and your partner pursue fertility treatment.
“Grief and loss don’t belong to just one person,” says Dr. Yishai Barkhordari, a licensed psychologist in New York City. Both you and your partner experience losses, including the loss of the vision you both share for your future together and how you will raise your family.
This is true even if you end up conceiving a baby or decide to adopt instead.
“A lot of people think and imagine that those who ‘go through the other side’ of a fertility issue have automatically recovered or are now fine,” Barkhordari says — but that’s not true. “Many partners and couples often continue to experience, struggle, process and overcome losses and challenges for months, years and decades to come.”
Additionally, he adds, “many non-experienced partners experience their own form of secondary grief, seeing their partner suffer and struggle with issues of identity, self-doubt, and grief.” .
“Relationships are impacted by fertility because difficulty conceiving becomes the main stressor for the couple,” says Flores-Locke. “Fighting to have a baby impacts the relationship by placing too much emphasis on sex for procreation instead of sex for pleasure, and monopolizes the couple’s time and thoughts.”
Additionally, “fertility becomes exhausting and the couple forgets to cultivate their love and intimacy with each other,” she continues. “Disappointments, grief, frustration, anger, and sadness are just some of the emotions that get in the way of positive relationship interactions.”
Fertility issues can also cause some people to feel ashamed or responsible for having trouble conceiving, Torres-Mackie says. “Others feel completely alone in the process, and thus shut themselves off from their partner,” she continues. “Resentment can also develop if issues are not discussed early on.”
In particular, a pregnancy loss during your trip can leave a big mark on your relationship.
“A pregnancy loss can be considered an ‘ambiguous loss’ because even though the lost child never existed (outside the womb), the fantasized child assumes an emotional reality for the couple and remains psychologically present “, explains Locke. “This loss can create a chasm in the relationship full of shame, guilt and immense sadness that can damage it.”
There are many ways to support your partner on your fertility journey together. Here are some ideas:
1. To be involved
“If your partner is undergoing fertility treatment, the best way to deal with feelings of helplessness is to take action,” says Torres-Mackie, “and a great way to be active is to offer support to your partner. .”
For example, you could help your partner research information about fertility treatments so that both of you are better informed. Or, to reduce their stress, you can help or take charge of handling all the paperwork, medical bills, and insurance for treatment.
Not only will this help you feel more involved, but it will also help your partner. You’ll help them stay informed – a great way to reduce at least some uncertainty – and remove some stressors from their to-do list while undergoing treatment.
2. Take time to talk about what you both do by
“Be open about how you feel about [your fertility journey]recommends Torres-Mackie. “The more you can talk about fertility struggles with your partner, the more your relationship will not be negatively affected. If you can view the fertility journey as a difficult experience in which you can support each other, it may strengthen your relationship. .
“For someone who has experienced pregnancy loss and their partner, the best way to heal is to fully experience your reactions in the moment,” she adds.
3. Be an active listener for your partner
Remember to listen — without judgment — to your partner’s feelings, too. It should be a two-way conversation where you try to be empathetic and compassionate about what they’re going through.
“If your partner isn’t well, that’s normal and perfectly acceptable,” says Torres-Mackie. “What will almost certainly make matters worse is if you try to solve problems, correct their emotional reactions, or sweep anything under the rug.”
This is especially true if or when you suffer a loss. “Keep room for the tears, sadness, and anger of the parent who suffered the loss,” Locke says, and resist the urge to “fix” them.
“This is the time for silence and comfort, not problem solving or avoidance,” Locke continues. “The best support is a reassuring hug that communicates ‘I’m here with you.'”
4. Try not to take your frustrations out on each other.
“Remember, you’re a team fighting to have a baby, and infertility is the adversary standing in the way of that,” Locke says. “Infertility doesn’t define you – it’s a medical condition that warrants a couple’s medical solution.”
5. Try to make time for fun and intimacy
When you’re trying to have a baby during fertility treatment, sex can become clinical, which can only deepen the distance between the two of you.
“Spend time on ‘sex for fun’ and ‘bed and chocolate’ to cultivate love and intimacy in the relationship,” recommends Locke.
To be the best support for your partner, you must also take care of yourself.
“Be sure to meet your own needs holistically — not just your basic needs, but your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs as well,” says Torres-Mackie.
Locke agrees. “Pledge to take care of yourself and your relationships to manage the stress of infertility,” she says. “Give yourself permission to feel your valid emotions and engage in healing strategies that bring you comfort.”
If you start to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety, or if your grief over a loss becomes too much to handle on your own, it’s a good idea to seek help from a therapist or mental health professional.
“There’s no shame in tackling these issues, and the sooner you get help, the better,” says Torres-Mackie.
Consider seeking care from a therapist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional.
Some people also benefit from support groups with other couples who are also experiencing fertility issues. There are groups for you alone or groups that you can join with your partner.
Self-care is an important part of helping yourself. Options for personal care include things like:
- spend time outside
- talk with friends
- read books you like
Infertility is a difficult medical condition that can harm your physical and mental health, as well as your relationship.
“Be patient, kind, and compassionate with yourself and your partner,” recommends Locke. “Infertility is temporary and will pass, stay focused on the end goal and your life as a couple after infertility.”
Most importantly, remember that there is no shame in asking for help for yourself or as a couple along the way. Mental health experts can help you deal with stress, anxiety, grief and depression if and when they arise.