It is next to impossible for infertility to not cause stress on a marriage. Let alone the thought on not being able to have children, you also introduce the added stress of the decision making and medical challenges that a couple may face. Unfortunately, few physicians advise couples in regards to the the emotional impact of infertility will most likely have on there relationship. In the grip of infertility, the deterioration of a marriage can happen without the couple realizing it until it reaches a point where saving a relationship is no longer possible.
Most couples take it for granted that they will be able to have children when they choose. However, one in six couples trying to conceive experiences problems. When couples begin trying to have a child, they expect that becoming pregnant may take time but that it will eventually happen. When conception fails to occur in the usual or expected time frame, one or both partners become worried. Typically, it is at this point the couple decide to seeks the consultation of an infertility doctor to explore their options.
The Step to Getting Treatment
A diagnosis of infertility creates upheavals similar to those associated with a death in the family. Denial, shock, disbelief, anger, grief and depression are common. Some people may rush into treatment without assessing the diagnosis. The impact of infertility differs greatly and is influenced by the couple’s cultural background and the importance a person places on having children. Since infertility is usually unexpected and almost always disappointing, infertility introduces greater unexpected uncertainty into the life and family planning process.
Once a couple has been diagnosed as infertile they are typically referred to a specialist. In general in cases of infertility about one-third of the time the problem is with the man, about one-third of time the woman, and about one-fifth both partners. About one in ten couples experience unexplained infertility.
While treatment is stressful for both partners, there are qualitative differences in the stress each partner experiences.
Women may feel angry and resentment towards pregnant women. They may also have feelings of guilt, regarding their infertility as punishment for putting a career above motherhood, for using contraception or for previously aborting a pregnancy.
Some women become uncomfortable around children and isolate themselves from family and friends with children. This isolation leaves women without social support networks to help overcome depression and frustration associated with infertility. Christmas, Mother’s and Father’s Day often become painful reminders of their infertility.
A woman may develop feelings of inadequacy, perceiving her body as dysfunctional. Similarly, a woman’s sense of femininity is often closely associated with fertility. Infertility may therefore have a serious impact on a woman’s sexual identity, leaving her feeling less sexually attractive or asexual. A diagnosis of infertility often leads to feelings of grief associated with the loss of control over reproductive capabilities, plans and goals. The woman may think of herself as barren or inadequate.
Infertility and treatments can lead to a loss in perspective. Women may put everything else in their lives on hold, focusing all their energy and time into getting pregnant. They may delay making changes in everything from their careers to their current housing situation, deciding to wait until after they have ‘had the baby’.
Many of the medical treatments for infertility focus on the woman’s body, which leaves a man feeling helpless and left out of the process. These feelings of exclusion may escalate because of intrusive testing or treatments. If the couple’s infertility is a result of sperm dysfunction, the man may feel inadequate and feel that his sense of masculinity is challenged. The strong societal link between fertility and virility causes many men to keep their infertility a secret, in turn increasing their feeling of isolation.
Infertility strains on a relationship, particularly where the diagnosis relates to only one partner. The infertile partner may fear being left for a fertile person; the fertile partner may blame or feel anger towards their partner. Differing levels of enthusiasm for treatment can occur, particularly in couples where one partner already has children. Agreeing on what fertility tests to perform, which treatment options to pursue and when to stop treatment can all cause conflict. If one partner does not want to begin or continue with treatment, the other partner may feel they are being denied the chance to have a child and become resentful.
Treatment for infertility also frequently interferes with a couple’s sex life. The initial discussions to identify possible fertility problems involve disclosing details regarding sexual activity. Similarly, the loss of privacy associated with tests such as sperm counts and the post-coital test can destroy feelings of intimacy. Timing sex around ovulation can make it feel like a chore rather than something pleasurable.
Family, Friends and Support
Family and friends can make the situation worse. Families, in particular prospective grandparents, may place added pressure on people by announcing their expectations for grandchildren. Questions by in-laws can feel intrusive and be stressful. Friends may seem unsympathetic and offer unhelpful and thoughtless suggestions. Friends and family with children may avoid announcing their own pregnancies.
Employers may not fully understand the issue of infertility and therefore be unsupportive. It can be difficult to arrange time off work for those undergoing diagnostic tests or pursuing treatment. In addition, employees may not feel comfortable revealing to their employer why they need the time off.
Infertility treatment can be extremely expensive. Often times, most if not all, is not covered under medical insurance and the taxing financial burden on the couple can be next to impossible to substantiate or afford. The decision to pursue or continue is not easy. Couples can struggle to agree on how much they are willing to sacrifice financially and/or how long they want to continue the process. Saying on the same page is no easy task.
Infertility treatment can take a physical toll on a woman and is often quite painful. Hormonal changes that occur will almost always cause severe moodiness. The longer treatment continues without a sign of success, the greater the level disappointment, anxiety, and a sense of failure tends to occur.
It is vital for couples to focus on other things besides procreation. Regular date nights and romantic weekends can balance the often intense process of trying to have a child. It’s also a good idea to decide on a time line for pursuing treatment.
Although infertility can demolish a marriage relationship, some couples also report that going through the experience has made their relationship stronger.
The couple should be ready fro the fact that treatment may not work or be an option after all. The most common alternative is adoption, becoming more involved in the lives of the children that surrounding themselves, like nieces and nephews, or deciding not to have children at all. Making peace with infertility can be very demanding.
Adoption remedies childlessness, not infertility, but some couples accept it as a next step. But for others it is not. They yearn to see their genes in the next generation and they want pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. They want some degree of control over their child’s intrauterine environment and genetic makeup. For them, parenthood is more than simply parenting; in short, they simply want what comes so easy for most people.
In addition, some infertile couples find satisfaction in what is called “social parenting,” which crosses adoption with childfree living. These childless people become very involved with the children around them: nieces, nephews, godchildren, or friends’ children. The children love their social parents, who become special grown-ups and influence their developing values and skills even as the children can confide in them. The parents love these routines because they get a break from their kids, and social parents benefit enormously because they love and are loved by the children. A child who is loved always finds room in this or her heart to love to love one more person.