Today’s post is from a long time reader of APW. She’s a past wedding graduate and very involved in the community. She’s a strong iconoclast, and someone I deeply respect. Today, she’s writing anonymously about her marriage and their struggles with infertility. But her story isn’t just about infertility. It’s about how we continue to chart a course together when life becomes hard to bear. It’s about how marriage is not easy, but how, like all really hard things, it can be rich and deep and worth it.
We were naïve enough when we got married to think sex was how you made babies. I know people who knew going in to marriage that getting pregnant was going to be an issue, and they were ready to deal with it. But we didn’t figure we were those people. I mean, we’re both healthy. I have clock-work regular cycles. How hard could this be?
It can be real hard. And our marriage is different for it.
We’ve lost a lot because of our infertility.
We’ve lost our innocence. We know having a baby requires a lot more than just fertilizing an egg. Sometimes it requires pills and shots and tests. My big fear is we will go through all of this, get pregnant, and then have a miscarriage and not be able to take our baby home with us. I don’t know that I will be able to relax the whole time I’m pregnant when/if that actually happens.
We’ve lost the intimacy of the process. When you’re going to the doctor this frequently, and they poke something into you every time—trans-vaginal ultrasounds, needles, speculum—making a baby isn’t that romantic and intimate any more. It will still be my husband and me making the baby, but we’ll be doing it with outside help rather than in the intimacy of our home.
We’ve lost the beautiful surprise that can be finding out you are pregnant in the early morning hours before you’ve done your hair and while you are still waking up fully, but you decide to use a home pregnancy test because of a hunch you just might be pregnant. I’ve known people who have kept the results a secret from their husband until they could put together a special dinner to tell him he’s going to be a daddy. We’re both so aware of my cycle at this point that he pretty much knows exactly what day will be the day we find out if it worked or if we need to try again. No secrets there. Now we’ll get a phone call from a nurse with the results of a blood test. It’s very possible we won’t even be the first to know we’re expecting.
However, we’ve gained a lot as well. Our infertility has become a fertile ground for growth in our marriage.We talk. A lot. And regularly. We ask questions about what we do next, about what we fear, about what we don’t understand. And those talks always end up being about the rest of our lives, as well: work, school, family, vacations, dreams and hopes. We’ve always been good with communication. But through this we’ve really cemented how important it is to always talk, and listen, about everything.
We do things for each other in our marriage, so there is no doubt our fertility does not determine our love for each other, nor does it determine who we are. He makes sure I do not feel like any less of a woman because I cannot get pregnant and I make sure he does not feel like any less of a man. A lot of this is based on communication, regularly talking about all the other aspects of each other we love, everything else we’ve got going for us in our lives, and all the reasons we got together and got married in the first place. Our love and life are not based on our fertility.
We’ve strengthened our support of each other. When I tell him the hormones are making me emotional he tells me he’ll be my solid support, and he is. I’ve wet more than one of his shirts with my tears and snot when I just can’t keep it all in any more and just have to let it all out on his shoulder. When I’m dizzy and nauseous from the extra hormones being pumped through my system he lets me sleep on the couch while he makes dinner. This process is difficult for both of us in different ways, but we make sure we are there for each other when we need it.
Our support system has grown to include close family and friends we’ve told. Opening up about our struggles has allowed them to open up about theirs. Each couple’s journey through infertility is unique. But we have similar fears and desires. It truly is incredible how many people around us suffer through infertility in isolation. Infertility is one of the last great taboos.
We’ve gained an understanding of how others have their own troubles, nobody can judge the troubles of another, and the world could do with a little more sensitivity to others. Jokes about pregnancy are no longer funny to me, and I’m realizing that a lot of the things we say in jest might be an unsuspecting knife to the heart of someone else. That’s not to say we stop joking, just that we try to do so with more understanding and sensitivity.
And we’ve gained laughter, even more than we had before. Sex itself is funny to begin with. But throw in the needles, probes, speculum, specimen cups, stirrups, catheters, and a bit of a character for a doctor—making a baby just gets funnier still.
I have never felt more vulnerable than I do right now, wanting something so badly and being almost completely helpless to control what happens. But I know he is laughing, and crying, with me through it all. This trial has strengthened and molded our relationship in a way few other things could. As he put it, every couple has trials, but that doesn’t mean they have to be a net negative. This trial for us is truly turning out to be a net positive (even if I occasionally need a bag of chocolate and a good cry before I remember that again).