Tell Me About It: I don’t think he realises how much his comments and inaction make me feel like I’m flying solo
PROBLEM: My husband and I have fertility issues. We thankfully had our daughter through our first round of IVF two years ago. Since then, we’ve had two failed rounds of IVF. We will try one more time but can afford no more.
I am finding it very stressful at the moment and it’s having an awful impact on our relationship — I organise everything around the IVF, which we do abroad, including how we’ll work out how to pay for it. There are male issues also, but I have to continually remind him to take zinc and supplements as advised by the doctor. These are simple things so it really annoys me to have to ask him.
I feel he doesn’t care too much about it as we have one child, and that’s enough for him. I don’t think he understands how important this is for me and how much his comments and inaction make me feel like I’m flying solo.
ADVICE: However, most couples struggle with the medical, psychological and social impact of infertility and this often has an effect on the relationship. We know that individuals can feel very alone and misunderstood as they go through yet another unsuccessful treatment cycle and they can turn away from their usual source of support, their partner. All this suggests that getting professional support at this time is crucial so that the couple can, not only survive the ongoing roller coaster of hope and despair, but also set themselves up for managing the trials that will come their way as they go through life together. Learning coping strategies to deal with the feelings of loss and grief can alleviate the pressure on the relationship at a time when there is yet another cycle fast approaching. Each person can be helped to see the pain in the eyes of the other and helped to understand that we all express sorrow and grief differently. Indeed, we can even get competitive about who is suffering the most and this would not augur well for the success of the relationship.
Your letter suggests that you as a couple have very different perspectives on what is happening in your family and that both of you feel alone in your respective positions. If your partner expresses what you think he feels, that you should be happy with the child you have and not add more pressure, you may feel abandoned and rejected so he may chose to stay silent and this will have the unfortunate effect of creating an emotional distance between you. On the other hand, if you raise your fears and pain in an angry and accusatory tone you will probably be met with defensiveness, and he may feel that you are only interested in his role as a father and not as a partner. It is very hard for you both to disentangle this mixture of emotions on your own so engaging with someone suggested by your treatment centre, or someone based locally, is worth pursuing. It is because this is such an important issue that you are feeling so heightened emotionally so give this some attention. Identity may be at stake here as cultural or family expectations may lead us to assume that we will have a certain type of family, to have two or more children, for example.
Women traditionally have led the way in investigating infertility and men may have less capacity to talk about their concerns, fears and shame in dealing with the challenges which arise. We can assume that everyone is deeply affected, and different people have different needs in terms of the help they need in order to be able to express and come to terms with their concerns and feelings. For many couples (same sex and opposite sex), pregnancy is achieved through sperm donation or surrogacy, and this can bring with it insensitive comments or opinions of people who are close to the couple or are just acquaintances.
The couple need to protect themselves from this invasion of privacy while also availing of extra community support to help them through this big challenge and this balance is not easily achieved. You and your husband are in this together, but you may not necessarily see the issue from his perspective so be open to seeking help when it is needed. While it can feel that you are in the trenches, the goal is that your family will stay together through the ups and downs of life with the knowledge that the bottom line is solid. Right now, you are building that solidity so dig deep and seek to understand your partner’s position while also ensuring that you are fully heard. (For accredited psychological support see the Irish Council for Psychotherapy and the Psychological Society of Ireland.)