Lea and Adam have been trying to have a baby for the past two years and have recently had a second IVF cycle. They’ve just received a call from the clinic about the result of their treatment and it’s not good news. They sit both in silence and in shock, feeling sad, angry, frustrated, helpless, and dejected. Lea is crying and Adam holds her, not knowing how to soothe her pain and not wanting her to be sad. He feels like he doesn’t know how to help his wife and is annoyed and disappointed in himself.
Later that week, Lea brings up the topic of the cycle again and how she feels, but Adam is really tired of talking about this, considering the fact that they both can’t do anything about it. He wants to just let it be and not bring up a difficult topic again. Lea feels unsupported and not understood; she just wants to express her sadness about this and share it with her husband.
Research shows that women going through treatment to have a baby have a stress level equivalent to women going through a life-threatening disease.
This is just one example of how men and women perceive and cope with IVF differently, but there are many more. Most women want to seek help and see a specialist earlier than their husbands, who want to try on their own for longer. Men also tend to look at the result of the treatment in a pragmatic way, while women get emotionally invested in the result.
These differences can create a strain on the relationship and drive a wedge in between the couple, especially during a challenging time when the resources and support of both partners is needed.
Infertility interferes with your marriage, your intimate life, your relationship with family and friends, and your job and financial situation. Research shows that women going through treatment to have a baby have a stress level equivalent to women going through a life-threatening disease. What’s more, for some couples, the journey of trying to have a baby can last a few months and, for some, many years. Keeping that in mind, there are ways for a couple to support one another so that the relationship is nourished.
Here are a few tips on how you can get through treatment as a team.
Educate yourself about differences in how men and women react and cope with stress and know that your partner might do it differently than you.
Know that there might be times when you and your partner are out of sync and you both are not feeling or wanting the same thing at the same time.
Don’t give in to the temptation to blame each other, even though things are not going as you expected.
Use practical issues to come together. If you’re undergoing treatment, he can take care of the insurance papers or, if you need injections, he can administer the shots. Work together to find ways to share the burden.
Try to listen and talk about how things are for your spouse. Do not react, try to fix, or offer advice – just listen!
Create ‘treatment-free’ time. Put aside time for yourselves when you don't talk about it or mention it, and try to have fun with doing something together or with a few other people.
Priyanka Bhatia is a Fertility Journey Coach and Counsellor at Bourn Hall Fertility Centre.