My spouse and I had big plans in the leadup to our marriage. We would live in our condo for two years. Upgrade to a house. I would pop out two babies. There would be cats and careers and maybe even a backyard garden.
But life never goes as planned, does it? The economy collapsed. We were unable to sell our condo. And when we decided to start trying for children anyway…nothing happened.
In fact, nothing happened for a full year and a half. This despite the fact that I tracked my ovulation, scheduled sex accordingly, and ordered fertility-friendly lubricants in bulk.
We eventually sought out the help of fertility specialists.
And then another year or so passed.
What happened next looks different for everyone dealing with infertility. In our case, doctors ran several tests on us and had me go through several rounds of IUI (intrauterine insemination). Then my spouse’s new urologist finally pinpointed the problem. My spouse began taking medication and many months later—right before we were due to try one final round of IUI—my period was late.
I was finally pregnant.
There are other things that happened during those years of frustration and uncertainty. The emotional whiplash that came with the monthly onset of menstruation. My bitterness over the endless baby announcements that showed up in my mailbox. The comments from folks who had no idea what we were going through. The growing distance between myself and my spouse.
Nope. Infertility is no picnic.
But infertility is also super common. Which makes the isolation so many of us feel when we’re grappling with it inexcusable.
The basics of infertility
Before we get into the how (as in, how the heck do I deal with this situation?), let’s first pin down what we’re talking about.
Infertility is defined as not being able to conceive after at least one year of unprotected sex. Infertility can be caused by any number of things. As the CDC puts it, pregnancy is the result of a process that has many steps. An egg is released from an ovary. A sperm must fertilize that egg. The fertilized egg must then travel through the fallopian tube and into the uterus. And finally, the embryo must successfully implant inside the womb.
Things can go awry at any point in that process.
As for the prevalence of infertility, a recent report released by the World Health Organization reveals that around 17.5% of the adult population—roughly 1 in 6 worldwide—experience infertility.
Those who can access fertility care—and not everyone can, mostly due to its lack of affordability—may consider reaching out to a reproductive endocrinologist. At that point, you and your partner would share your medical history and likely also go through a semen analysis, a tubal evaluation, and ovarian reserve testing. Treatments for infertility include medicine, surgery, intrauterine insemination, and assisted reproductive technology (like IVF).
But this post is not about that part of the process. Rather, it’s about how to manage the emotional impact of infertility.
The emotional impact of infertility
I mentioned earlier the emotional rollercoaster ride I went on when we continued to not get pregnant. None of this is uncommon. Women, especially, experience a lot of fallout when struggling with infertility, including violence, divorce, social stigma, emotional stress, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
This despite the fact that infertility affects men as much as women.
Stress can also come from the fertility treatments themselves. The financial cost of such treatments can be anxiety-inducing. The process of taking pills and/or daily hormone injections, having bloodwork and ultrasounds done every other day, and going through egg retrievals and other procedures can be exhausting.
There is also the repeated cycle of hope and disappointment that comes with menstruation.
In short, infertility is stressful as heck. In fact, research shows that women with fertility problems are just as anxious and depressed as those undergoing treatment for cancer, heart disease, and HIV.
What can you do?
Don’t you dare blame yourself.
Now that you know how common infertility issues are, I hope you realize that it would be ridiculous to place blame on either yourself or your partner. This sucks… and also it’s no one’s fault. Now’s the time to work together to figure out next steps.
Do your homework.
When you first meet with your fertility specialist, come prepared with any questions you have. Ask about the entire process, from cost to testing all the way through conception, so you know what to expect.
Ask for help.
It’s common to feel anxious and depressed at a time like this. Consider seeing a therapist and/or joining a support group specific to folks coping with infertility.
Communicate with your partner.
My spouse and I were both so shattered by what we were going through. But we each coped with it in different ways, and we didn’t talk to each other about how we were feeling. Things got so bad for us during this time that we nearly separated. I write about communication a lot. Usually, I write about it in the context of improving your sex life, but it’s just as important here. Be open with your partner about how you feel and what type of support you need from them. Do the same for them.
Set healthy boundaries.
So many things enraged me during this period of my life. Baby announcements. Baby showers. People asking when I was going to have a baby. (I’m trying!) It’s okay to RSVP “no” to those baby showers. It’s okay to shut down those intrusive conversations. Do what you need to do to safeguard your own mental and emotional wellbeing.
Try relaxation techniques.
One thing that kept me sane during this point in my life was yoga. It might be something different for you. Breath meditation. Embroidery. Jigsaw puzzles. A massage. Whatever you might define as self-care, make time for it.
Find other ways to connect with your partner.
Babymaking sex is so stressful and, by extension, not very sexy. Which is why acts of non-sexual intimacy are so important. Snuggles. Spooning. Spontaneous hugs. Intimacy isn’t just about the sexy sex.
Know that it’s okay to not feel okay.
Seriously. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling.
It’s okay to take a break.
Finally, if the fertility treatments are stressing you out, you can always press pause. We did and and it was so good for us. It allowed us some no-pressure time to reconnect with each other, bringing us back to a place where it was more emotionally healthy to bring a baby into our lives.
I’ll end this post by saying it one more time: You’re not alone.
Infertility is a common experience, and you shouldn’t have to grapple with it by yourself.
Take care of yourself.