Even the most solid union may not survive the strain of lost intimacy, dealing with the shame and anguish associated with being infertile, as well as the steep financial burden of getting fertility treatment.
Geraldine Tan, a principal psychologist at The Therapy Room, and Fiona Maher O’Sullivan, a couple’s counsellor at Incontact Counselling and Training Centre, advise on overcoming the following conflicts:
Challenge #1: Coming to terms with how each party deals with fertility issues
WHAT? In general, men and women react very differently to emotional issues — women tend to prefer talking about an issue and finding a solution as a couple, while men may appear withdrawn. Noting that infertility brings a couple to a very vulnerable place in the relationship, O’Sullivan explains, “Often, when men appear to be emotionally distant (‘stonewalled’), research shows their heart activity is high, so they are emotionally affected, but can’t show this.” The term stonewalling refers to a listener when he withdraws from interacting, becomes unresponsive or evasive such as by tuning out or turning away.
EXPERT’S ADVICE Tan suggests there are many other ways to communicate your love and concern for each other as a couple. “Communication doesn’t need to be words, it can be time, affection and writing little notes for each other — anything to let the other party know you are present on this journey together.”
A third person’s perspective — such as a couple’s therapist or counsellor — may help to get each party to openly discuss their feelings and perspectives.
You may also want to try talking to your friends who may be going through a similar journey or join a support group to normalise the emotions they are dealing with. O’Sullivan shares that a third person’s perspective — such as a couple’s therapist or counsellor — may help to get each party to openly discuss their feelings and perspectives.
Challenge #2: Handling the financial strain of fertility treatment
WHAT? The financial strain for getting preconception testing and treatment may spill over into a couple’s relationship, causing emotional turmoil. O’Sullivan points out that unfortunately, your insurance policies may not cover fertility treatments.
EXPERT’S ADVICE It’s important that you and your significant other sit down, plan and set limitations from the start. Taking stock of your financial status will let you both decide if fertility treatment is feasible. If so, you should also figure out how many rounds of treatment you can afford. O’Sullivan notes that keeping mum will only cause issues later on, especially when one partner decides to continue treatment and the other wants to stop. That said, fertility treatment isn’t the only option, you may want to give adoption or fostering a child some thought.
Challenge #3: Dealing with the stress and anxiety of repeated setbacks
EXPERT’S ADVICE So as not to feel down over repeated disappointments, it’s important to focus on the good things in your life before you began IVF. O’Sullivan suggests concentrating on the positives like being married to a good husband, having a great career or enjoying good health.
Or else, seek help from a trained psychologist or counsellor who’s able to provide the long-term care you’ll require, Tan advises. “There are a lot of emotional ups and downs in this journey and the psychologist can walk the couple through them and process these challenges.”
Challenge #4: Handling your in-laws
WHAT? Your well-meaning in-laws may turn out to be another source of stress, especially if they are anxious for a grandchild.
EXPERT’S ADVICE Having a child is a decision only you and your husband can make. Tan says, “Having children is really their choice and others shouldn’t put pressure on them.” So, explaining the situation to your in-laws and ask that they give you and your spouse the space and time to sort out these issues as a couple.
O’Sullivan suggests concentrating on the positive like being married to a good husband, having a great career or enjoying good health.
Challenge #5: Having different expectations of your “dream family”
WHAT? Dealing with second infertility ― not being able to conceive after having a child ― can be a source of stress, especially if one partner wants a larger family than the other. This is because one partner may not be able to empathise and trivialises their spouse’s feelings, O’Sullivan notes. “There is more judgement and criticism, less empathy.”
EXPERT’S ADVICE Instead of obsessing over wanting more children, focus instead on the child you already have. Tan advises that you not spend all your energy longing for another child, which could compromise your existing relationships with your spouse and child. O’Sullivan also stresses that it is important to take care of yourself by doing something you love. “Although you can’t control when and if you’ll get pregnant with another child, you can control how you treat yourself — join a yoga class or talk to a trusted friend.”
Challenge #6: Feeling jealous or resenting friends who can conceive
EXPERT’S ADVICE Tan says it’s perfectly fine to give yourself time to grief and avoid attending such occasions. “It is a normal emotion that needs to be dealt with and if you don't feel ready, let the other couple know and do not join the meal or party as you’ll only feel worse.”
Challenge #7: Losing interest in everything except having a baby
WHAT? In your pursuit to get pregnant, you and your spouse may end up putting your other goals, hobbies, interests and dreams on the back-burner. This may even be to the detriment of your own well-being and your friends.
EXPERT’S ADVICE Both O’Sullivan and Tan agree that you should put yourselves first as a couple, your friends should be secondary. Tan adds, “There were instances where the couple reconnected with each other and conceived naturally even when the doctor said they could not!”
So, consider taking up different couple activities to relax. O’Sullivan suggests trying meditation, visualisation exercises or even something completely new. “Bringing quality ‘us’ time back into their relationship is key ― with time, they can reconnect with each other and enjoy each other’s company again.”
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