Seven Ways to Extend Kindness When a Friend Is Dealing with Infertility

You’ve probably struggled to find the right words to say to a friend who has been trying to conceive. According to experts, here’s what can help.

The other moms and I chatted while watching our kids’ gymnastics practice through the glass. The small talk grew deep, and then awkward, as one mom shared with sadness that she wanted another child, but so far, it hadn’t worked out. “At least you don’t have to worry about birth control,” another mom offered.

I cringed. I wasn’t sure what the right response was but I was pretty certain the birth control comment wasn’t it. Given the fact that one in eight couples experience infertility, if you haven’t been on the receiving end of insensitive comments, you’ve probably struggled to find the right words to say to a friend who has been trying to conceive for months or even years.

There are, in fact, at least seven important ways you can support a friend dealing with infertility. The following tips came from conversations with experts: a dozen women who have experienced infertility and a clinical social worker.

Acknowledge the loss

Abby MacDonald, LICSW, an infertility specialist in private practice in Cambridge, MA, says a vital part of helping a friend with infertility is understanding that they’re grieving a loss. While it may not be as concrete as a miscarriage or a death, the intangible losses are many – privacy, autonomy, and the loss of the narrative when pregnancy just naturally happens. Your friend may also be struggling to reconcile her relationship with her own body, which she may perceive as having failed her. Even if you’re not sure what to say, your friend will appreciate your sensitivity to the fact that she’s grieving.

Remember it’s not about you

Especially if infertility isn’t something you’ve personally experienced, it’s not helpful when you project your own feelings onto the situation. For example, one friend cringed as another friend would ponder the possibility of multiples as a result of fertility treatments, and “be either excited by or terrified of it.” As a new parent, I have no idea what having multiples would be like. I might feel excited or terrified. Either way, I don’t give a shit how you feel about it. Nor do I care that you think I’m misguided for being excited or terrified. I’m allowed to feel how I feel about it.  

Sharing the fact that you would never be willing to go through IVF is also not helpful. As my friend said, “It’s personal. People feeling so free to comment on what they would do in my situation was unsettling.”

Unless you’ve been there, avoid giving advice

If you take nothing else from this post, take this: friends don’t tell friends who are dealing with infertility to just have a bottle of wine and relax. Nor do they give any variation on this. That includes telling the story of the couple who adopted only to find themselves pregnant immediately.

“Tips” from people who’ve never personally been through infertility are not tips at all. At best, they are annoying. At worst, they are cruel and insensitive, no matter the intention. No one who has given hours of her life to scheduling doctors’ appointments and carefully timed shots wants to hear about the position you heard was effective, or your sister’s friend’s cousin’s brother’s wife who got pregnant when she ate pineapple.

One woman recalled feeling insulted by a friend’s suggestion that she supplement IVF with herbs. “The implication is ‘You could do more.’ And my response is, ‘No, I couldn’t. I’m at my limit. I took three injections a day for the past week and a half, my stomach is purple, I woke up early and went to the clinic four of the past six days, and I am done.”

On the other hand, advice from someone who has been through it is comforting. One woman said she was grateful to hear her best friend, who’d also struggled to conceive, break things down in a very matter-of-fact way. She recalled her best friend’s warning, “There are only 24 to 48 hours a month that you’re likely to get pregnant. Time your ovulation and time sex. Don’t leave it to chance.”

Leave the wise sayings to the greeting cards

Perhaps even less helpful than advice from the uninitiated are their theories on why this is happening. As MacDonald explains, “Comments like ‘God has a plan,’ while often offered with good intentions and seemingly supportive of allowing faith to take a front seat during this difficult time, can reinforce questions someone has about why this bad thing is happening to an otherwise good person.”

Another cliché many women told me they did not appreciate: if it’s meant to be, it will be. Let Hallmark handle the “encouraging” remarks. All you need to do is be there if your friend wants to talk.

Just listen

This can be easier said than done. In a culture obsessed with doing, staying quiet can feel like inaction. However, the opposite is true. Giving someone space to talk (or not talk) is among the most powerful gifts you have to offer.

MacDonald says that it is key to simply listen and offer reflections based on what your friend says. For example, if she says she feels hopeless, an appropriate response might be, “Given all you’ve been through, it’s hard to expect anything will go to plan.” MacDonald emphasizes the importance of stopping at that point to give your friend a chance to talk about her feelings, rather than filling any silence with a stock line about hope or positive thinking.

Be curious (but not nosy)

If you have to ask when or if someone is planning to have a baby, that’s a pretty clear sign that it’s none of your business. Nothing is more awkward or painful than having an acquaintance put their hand on your belly and ask why you’re not pregnant yet, when you’re privately tortured over that very same question.

But if your friend has been open about her struggles, make sure she knows you want to support her, even if you’re not sure how. Said one woman, “Even if awkward things were said, I appreciated getting to have the conversation rather than nothing being said at all.”

MacDonald says one way to show that you’re curious and that you care is by taking the time to educate yourself. She and several other women I spoke with recommended connecting with Resolve, a non-profit dedicated to providing support, advocacy, education, and community for people facing challenges in their journey to create a family.

Offer genuine support

Avoid offering vague support, e.g. “Let me know if you need anything.” If you’re compelled to offer more than a listening ear (which is plenty), give something specific (exceptions: advice, platitudes). Women who’ve battled infertility recalled being grateful when friends:

  • called or texted just to say they were thinking of them
  • reached out to see if they wanted to get a drink
  • sent a copy of the book “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron
  • educated themselves on infertility
  • left flowers on the porch when they knew her period came

Another gift you can give is a pass when it comes to attending baby showers or kids’ birthday parties. MacDonald encourages people to be sensitive to the fact that holidays (including Mother’s Day and Father’s Day) can be triggers. One woman expressed gratitude for a friend who only called when she was away from her kids so the woman wouldn’t hear the sound of babies in the background.

Supporting a friend through infertility is showing up, listening, and being sensitive. It’s letting your friend feel her feelings. It’s sharing a long pause instead of filling it with anecdotes or adages. It’s asking, “How are you doing” and giving space for your friend to answer or a shoulder to cry on. It’s saying, “I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know I care.” It’s simply being a friend.

New Fertility Treatment as Effective as IVF for Fraction of the Cost

In a recent study, researchers confirm flushing the fallopian tubes with poppy seed oil increases the odds of conception in previously infertile couples.

Families struggling to conceive have reason for new hope this week. A recent study published in the “New England Journal of Medicine” confirms the validity of an old wives’ tale, and it’s not only all-natural but also affordable and effective.

One in six women in the United States will struggle with infertility, which is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse. It’s a cruel statistic, and one that is often underestimated. After all, most women spend a significant portion of their fertile lives taking steps to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. In fact, a 2013 release from the National Health Statistics Reports concluded that “virtually all” women in the U.S. of reproductive age who were sexually active in 2006 to 2010 have used at least one contraceptive method. The exact statistic was 99 percent.

So it comes as a somewhat bitter irony that of these 99 percent who have tried so carefully to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, one in six will struggle to conceive when they do decide they’d like to become pregnant. The mental anguish only becomes deeper for the majority of couples who choose to keep private their struggles with infertility, often suffering quietly and alone.

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Unsurprisingly, fertility treatments are a booming business in the United States. Resolve, the National Infertility Association, estimated that in 2006 the average cost of one in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle using fresh embryos was $8,158. That number does not include any of the medication necessary before the procedure, and the number has only gone up since 2006. A 2014 article in Forbes indicated that the average cost had risen to over $12,000 and that medications would typically run another $3,000 to $5,000. All this for a procedure that is generally less than 40 percent effective.

But there’s now new reason for optimism.

In a study published this week, researchers confirm that flushing the fallopian tubes with poppy seed oil, a technique known as hysterosalpingography with oil contrast, significantly increases the odds of conception in previously infertile couples.

In the study, 1119 women who had struggled to conceive for at least one year were treated with either hysterosalpingography with oil contrast or hysterosalpingography with water contrast. Nearly 40 percent of those who received the oil treatment conceived within six months of their treatment, compared with 29 percent who received the water treatment.

The hysterosalpingography procedure was originally developed as a diagnostic tool to help identify blockages in the fallopian tubes on an X-ray. It is now thought that it may be effective in flushing any mucus or blockages from the tubes, acting as a treatment rather than a diagnosis.

Previous studies had shown no clinical difference between the water and oil treatments, but none were as well-controlled or as comprehensive as the current study.

While the potential costs of this treatment, if it were to become mainstream, are still up in the air, researchers suggest that it will be minimally invasive and inexpensive as compared with IVF.

The procedure will not help in all instances of infertility, but the lead researcher, Dr. Ben Mol, is hopeful that it will become more mainstream. “If you know your infertility is due to poor semen quality or no ovulation then this is not going to help, but if there’s any other cause this might be beneficial,” he says.

How Research Is Destigmatizing Older Motherhood

Despite the stigma, older moms and their children may experience some benefits that only come with age.

“It just hit me that I’ll be 44 years old in the kindergarten pick-up line,” my friend says as we sip our coffees.
Her words remind me of another conversation with a different friend, who is only 43. She told me she’d been mistaken for her school-aged daughters’ grandmother more than once.
Then there’s me, a mom in my late 30s with four young kids, who once mistook a young nanny for a mother.
“No, I’m the nanny,” she corrected me.
“Oh, sorry. I thought you were just a really young mom,” I laughed. “Anyway, I am the mom of these four, not the nanny,” I explained while pointing toward my kids.
Without missing a beat, she looked me up and down and said, “I never doubted it.”
Ah, to be young!
 
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I tell my friend who is worried about the kindergarten pick-up line that there will be plenty of other mothers her age there. The decision to wait to have kids wasn’t a misguided one.
What I told her is true. Maternal age is rising in many places, with the U.S. seeing women waiting later to conceive, and countries like Sweden and Denmark noticing increasing percentages of women waiting until their late 30s or early 40s to have children.
What I would have told her if I’d known it at the time is that older moms and their children may experience some benefits that only come with age. In fact, for all the older moms out there, researchers say the kids are all right, the moms are all right, and youth does not particularly have the market cornered when it comes to raising children well.

Why being an older mom is under fire

Being an older mom comes with a stigma for many reasons. There’s no denying that certain risks increase the longer a woman waits to have a baby. That’s why doctors classify women over the age of 35 as “advanced maternal age” and treat them like high-risk patients regardless of their health.
The ability to conceive is never guaranteed, but as woman age, the quality of their eggs decreases, and they are more likely to experience miscarriages or the inability to become pregnant at all.
Those who do conceive have a higher risk of having a child with Down’s syndrome, and they face other risks to the pregnancy, such as preterm labor and stillbirth. That’s the bad news. But fertility treatments and high-risk monitoring aid women who conceive later in life.
Many older moms also deal with the concern about whether they’ll have the energy or desire to parent in their 40s and 50s. The question changes from “Can I conceive?” to “Will I be a good parent?”
Science says yes.

With age comes wisdom – or at least patience

A recent research study printed in “The European Journal of Developmental Psychology” showed promising outcomes for young children born to older moms. Older women tended to punish their children less by verbal or physical means. The patience these women cultivate throughout their lives comes into play, which they then offer to their children.
As a result, their children don’t suffer from behavioral issues at as high of a rate as other children. These kids are more socially and emotionally capable, avoiding the pitfalls children who are yelled at or spanked may suffer.
Why are older moms more patient and less likely to lash out? There’s no way to know for sure, but several factors come into play. Older moms are usually more financially stable and finished with their education. Their career path is set, or they’re in a position to stay home full-time. Because of the previous advantages, older moms may have better access to prenatal care and healthcare in general.
All of these factors lessen the stress that outside forces, like money or healthcare, often create. This means older moms may be less likely to snap or overreact to their kids because they’ve learned to manage or have less of those stressors. Their personal relationships, both with partners and friends, tend to be more stable as well, allowing them to bring a child into a calm, steady environment.
But researchers conducting the study in “The European Journal of Developmental Psychology” chose to control for those factors in order to focus specifically on the role of age. They discovered that, even with the previous conditions removed, age itself plays a huge role in how moms parent.
We know that as women grow older they tend to be more tolerant of others and more flexible. They mellow out, you could say, and this is a huge benefit for a child. A mom with a few years under her belt also understands the importance of taking care of her own emotional wellbeing. This, in turn, helps her support the emotional wellbeing of her child.
There’s a limit to the good news in this study. The child’s age that seems to be the factor. Researchers checked in with children of older parents on their emotional, social, and behavioral development when they were ages 7, 11, and 15. The positive results were present at the earliest two ages, but by the teenage check-in, the benefits were no longer apparent.
This could be a reflection of the way the parent/child relationship changes for everyone during the teen years as opposed to any real information about parental age.

Taller, smarter, and physically fit

Children of older moms also excel when it comes to school and fitness. A different study completed in 2016 shows that children of older moms are slightly taller, in better shape, and score better grades. The reasons are still unknown, so researchers are cautious with the data, but their research was thorough. With a sample group of over one million people, the results aren’t likely to be a fluke.
One theory has to do with genetics. When a woman is able to conceive later in life, this could be an indicator of stellar genes. These are then passed on to the children they conceive. There’s also the chance that older moms pass down good health habits to their children, teaching them to exercise and eat well.

Waiting may keep mom around longer

Older moms worry that having children so late will mean not being around when they’re older. Pressure to start young is sometimes traced to the idea that popping out babies early will ensure we’ll stay alive long enough to watch our children age and get to meet our grandchildren. New research says this shouldn’t be a motive because older moms are more likely to live longer than younger ones.
A 2016 study first introduced researchers to this idea when it showed that having the first child after the age of 25 (which, to be fair, is not old by any means) increases a woman’s chance of living to 90 by more than 10 percent. A study from two years earlier already offered good news to older moms. It concluded that moms who have children after the age of 33 double their chances of living to 95. So why rush?
Though researchers can’t explain why older moms live longer, the data is there: Having a child late doesn’t necessarily mean missing out on them as adults.

What about older dads?

Stories abound about men in their 60s and 70s easily impregnating women who are much younger. However, all bodies age and the effects are obvious, even in older dads.
Babies born to older dads offering aged sperm are at an increased risk of dealing with autism and certain cancers. They are also more likely to be born small, creating problems related to low birth weight.
While we tend to focus on problems for older moms without discussing the advantages of them waiting, older dads receive the opposite treatment. We just assume men can happily procreate without any negative consequences until they die, despite the data. That could be why being an older mom is stigmatized, but no one blinks when an older man has a child.
This information isn’t meant to discourage older fathers, but it should help us view older parenting as a choice to be made by both partners with benefits and disadvantages. Yes, the risks for a pregnancy go up due to the age of both sexes, but the experience can still be rewarding and produce children who experience advantages in important areas.
Knowing this helps us stop looking at older mothers with sympathy as if the path ahead is automatically paved with age-related struggles. It’s not. In fact, it may be paved with fit, intelligent kids who turn into adults that their 90-year-old moms are around to enjoy.

Are You Supposed to “Just Know” When Your Family's Complete?

Aren’t mothers just supposed to “know” certain things? When our kids have fevers, when something’s wrong at school, and if we should do it all over again?

I pull into the driveway and see the faded, weathered toddler picnic table upside down in our trash can. Before I’ve even had time to think about it, tears spring to my eyes.
I know it’s time to get rid of it. I remember the April afternoon when my husband brought it home for our 18-month-old daughter. She will be 11 this summer, and her sister is five. Both pairs of bony legs are too tall to fit under the table anymore.
I’m suddenly acutely aware of the pastel green infant swing lying on its side in our basement storage, next to the bars of the dismantled crib and boxes full of onesies and bibs, tiny ruffled swimsuits, and Easter dresses. I keep forgetting that it’s all down there, but not really. I can’t decide if we should give it all away.
I don’t know if it’s time yet.
 
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I always assumed I would just know when our family was complete. Mothers are supposed to “just know” these things: when our children have fevers, when something is wrong at school, when we’ve conceived – perhaps even the second it happens. Our intuition is given so much weight, and I bought into it, too. I always felt, in an almost mystical way, that we would have a third baby.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit that, minutes after I had given birth to my second daughter, my first thought was “I can’t wait to do that again.” When I weaned her at 16 months, I never suspected I had nursed for the last time. That secret, all-knowing, intuitive part of me believed that there was another baby still to come.
Having a third baby seemed impractical at best, irresponsible at worst. My husband and I knew it made more financial sense to stick with two. I also knew that my tendency to try to juggle too many things at once – working part time, writing, keeping the house clean, exercising, seeing friends – could make adding another child a complete disaster.
So we didn’t really try, or we tried inconsistently, on and off for several years. We were spinning the Roulette wheel while averting our eyes. It was as though I was attempting to spare myself the accountability of a foolish decision to overburden myself with another baby, while also protecting myself from disappointment.
We were, essentially, trying for an “oops.”
An “oops baby” was something to be shrugged off during times of stress and chaos: “It’s not as if we planned for him, but really, we couldn’t imagine life without him!” But I knew there was nothing accidental about what I was doing, squinting at a pink stain on the toilet paper so faint it would be invisible to those who weren’t looking as that sinking feeling settled into my stomach.
It was sadness.
Then, days later, it was relief. After all, I was still in bed at eight o’ clock on a Saturday morning while my daughters watched TV alone downstairs. How ridiculous to start over.
I was prepared for an early pregnancy loss, or even two, as we began not-trying for our hypothetical “oops.” That part of my fertility history was something I would never be able to escape. I’d had one early miscarriage before my first daughter was born, and another miscarriage as well as an ectopic pregnancy before I conceived my second child.
But I wasn’t prepared for…nothing. Nothing happened. I had always gotten pregnant easily, even if it didn’t stick. Then another thought struck me. I had assumed most families knew for sure when their family was complete. I had never considered the arrogance of the assumption that every family got to choose.
I began to wonder if I was just being greedy by wanting to have a third child. The adage “quit while you’re ahead” entered my head more than once. Maybe some divine force knew I couldn’t handle another child, that my mornings of burning bagels, missing school busses, and muttering curses over unpacked lunches would be sufficiently complicated by the presence of a hapless newborn Moby-wrapped to my chest as to push me over to the dark side for good.
Maybe it was for the best.
I imagined my abs getting strong and my waist slim again. I imagined my weekends continuing along their relaxing trend, my school day mornings settled into a comfortable and do-able routine. I imagined the vacations we could take with the money we would save. At some point, my daughters stopped talking about having a baby brother or sister.
“I won’t feel like our family is incomplete,” my husband assures me, and I agree. Our girls are wonderful. Our family of four is perfect as it is.
But when I put the tiny clothes in the basement, I didn’t know that I wouldn’t get them out of storage again. I didn’t know that the last time I nursed my baby in the rocker, it would be the last time ever. I didn’t know. I didn’t choose.
Did other women experience such profound ambivalence about their family’s completion? Did other mothers feel regret? I had been so certain that most families knew when they were done having babies – that they at least chose it, even if conflicted about it. This third way had never entered my mind.
Years ago, I had a friend who bred his female boxer, Ana. He confessed to me that after they had sold the puppies, Ana ran frantically from room to room, whimpering, searching for her babies.
I think of the boxes in storage. Maybe if we get rid of everything, then we will get pregnant – a classic comedic parenting scenario. “I just bought a giant box of tampons from Costco,” I will say, laughing, shrugging.
These things happen to women.
I tell myself I won’t feel like there’s something missing. But I wonder if, in a corner of my heart, I will always feel like Ana, searching for the babies who aren’t there, waiting for a baby who will never come.

How Flu Shots May Improve Your Chance Of Getting Pregnant

If you are trying to get pregnant, then you definitely want to listen up.

Flu shots are a must have during pregnancy to make sure mother and baby do not get severely ill. For years, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization have recommended that pregnant women get seasonal flu vaccines. But now scientists have found evidence that flu vaccinations actually improve the quality of pregnancy, and may possibly increase the odds for a successful IVF (in vitro fertilization) cycle. If you are trying to get pregnant, then you definitely want to listen up.
A recent article in Science Magazine highlighted two clinical trials that are currently being done by the Center for Human Reproduction to determine whether giving women flu shots before they begin an IVF cycle can improve success rates. The scientists conducting these studies think that the vaccinations can increase the chances of implantation by stimulating a woman’s immune system to accept the embryo. They expect to see better implantation rates and fewer miscarriages from the flu shot.
They think this is possible because of the relationship between the immune system and reproduction. Women must have a strong and active immune system for a healthy pregnancy to occur. An increase in molecules that promote inflammation helps ensure that the lining of the uterus is ready to receive an embryo – a process called immunological tolerance. The flu shots are expected to stimulate molecular pathways that keep tolerance from breaking down too early. The scientists wonder if the flu vaccine can have this effect late in pregnancy, then maybe it can also help early in pregnancy as well.
In one of the trials, women will receive a flu shot or a placebo injection 10 days before they begin an IVF cycle. The researchers will assess whether the women who got the actual vaccines were more likely to become pregnant. They will also look at the levels of immune molecules in their blood to determine if tolerance occurred. The second trial will follow the same protocol except that the women will use embryos created from donor eggs instead of their own eggs. The research team intends to work with other fertility clinics to study about 1500 women in all.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the impact on fertility is still expected to be limited because researchers estimate that only about 15 percent of miscarriages happen because of a lack of tolerance. Instead, most occur because the embryo has chromosome abnormalities which the flu vaccine will not have an impact on.
The scientists working on these current trials came up with their hypothesis based on a few recent studies showing how flu shots have improved pregnancy. A 2014 study intended only to confirm the safety of flu vaccines during pregnancy ended up finding that it actually protected the baby by reducing the occurrence of stillbirths.  
Next, a 2016 study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases reported that stillbirths were half as common in women who received a flu shot during pregnancy than those who did not receive the shot. Researchers in Western Australia analyzed data from 60,000 births during the 2012 and 2013 seasonal influenza epidemics. They found that women who received the vaccine during pregnancy were 51 percent less likely to experience a stillbirth than the unvaccinated expectant mothers
Finally, another study from 2016 determined that women in Laos who had gotten a flu shot were 41 percent less likely to give birth prematurely. They had a reduced risk of delivering a preterm infant during the flu season. The research found that overall, vaccination may prevent one in five preterm births.

How to Help Your Marriage Survive Infertility

Facing the real possibility of never conceiving or giving birth to biological children pushes some couples to their limits.

As a couple who endured four and half years of infertility, my husband and I can attest to the strains it puts on a relationship. Having a baby is emotional anyway, but the inability to conceive when that’s all you want is devastating.
When encountering setbacks or obstacles, people often react or cope differently, which can be frustrating, but completely normal. My husband and I didn’t feel the same emotions at the same time, and we definitely approached our situation in different ways. Yet as a couple, we’re supposed to be united, right?
Facing the real possibility of never conceiving or giving birth to biological children pushes some couples to their limits. We had to face this question head on. How did we come out of such a trying ordeal still together – and even closer?
Here are some tips that not only helped us survive infertility, but actually helped strengthen our marriage.

Do not blame each other

Even if the main problem is his slow swimmers or her PCOS, pointing the finger or assigning blame has no positive results. Chances are the one “responsible” already feels guilt or questions his masculinity or her femininity because of fertility issues. Assigning blame only makes things worse and adds self-esteem issues on top of the already emotionally stressful experience.
Inconsistent ovulation and tissue damage from a ruptured appendix labeled me as the problem in our situation. Instead of accusing me of fault, my husband talked about the fertility issues as our issues. He said, “What should we do about this?” and reassured, “We will get through this together.”
To have a chance at successful conception or making their marriage succeed in general, couples must be united in the infertility fight. Assigning blame is a surefire way to create separation.

Be supportive during times of grieving or venting

Whether the cause of the infertility is known or not, experiencing disappointment in attempt after attempt, month after month, year after year wears down any hopeful couple aching for children.
Emotions during these times can jump from grief to anger to doubt to hope, and they can jump quickly. Being partners means supporting each other. But being supportive can mean different things to different people.
Do you need someone to hug you? Do you want someone to listen quietly? Do you want to hear solutions to your problem? Do you want to be left alone?
Find out what you and your partner need when you mourn or vent, whether it’s a shoulder to cry on, an occasional pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy ice cream, or time alone. If you don’t know what your partner needs, ask. If your partner doesn’t know how to help you cope, tell him or her what you need. However much you might wish your partner could read your mind, it’s better to explain what you need than not receive the necessary support.
Over time, we learned that when I cried after yet another failure, my husband could soothe and comfort me with reassuring words. When my husband vocalized his frustration, I needed to listen silently. Other times, he didn’t talk about his feelings at all, which frustrated me at first. I expected him to share his feelings as vocally as I did, but he didn’t always need to in order to heal. Eventually, I learned to simply ask if I could do anything for him.
We cope so much better now that we know each other’s needs and can meet them more effectively.

Discuss options honestly and practically

When you’re so emotionally invested in something, it can be hard to detach and talk about it objectively. These are your potential babies after all.
When considering fertility treatment, obviously the first important party to weigh in (beside you and your partner) should be a fertility specialist. After tests, the doctor will review treatment options, processes, and costs. As a couple, review the options and allow for open discussion.
Each partner should be honest about what they think is best and feel they can handle. Some treatments, like In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), are not for the faint of heart – or for those who literally faint at the sight of needles. Believe me, with IVF, you see a lot of needles!
Our only fertility option was IVF, and fortunately, we both felt we could handle the financial, physical, and emotional stress that comes with the procedure. But I know other couples who cannot afford IVF, or who don’t want to deal with the drastic procedures. These couples have expanded their families through adoption, which is another amazing way to bring children into a family.

Understand and respect your partner’s feelings and opinions

Even in marriages where spouses have similar backgrounds and beliefs, spouses may still have different feelings and opinions as infertility struggles – or any life struggles for that matter – arise.
Even if your partner expresses the same desire to press forward with fertility treatment, he or she may disagree about financing, timing, or priority of treatment over other life goals. Talk about your feelings and opinions, and try to understand your partner’s viewpoint.
We both decided fertility treatment took top priority. When we experienced severe setbacks with surgeries and busy schedules, however, my husband wanted to postpone further treatment for a year. I didn’t. We compromised at delaying IVF treatment for six months. Through respectful communication, we both felt heard and moved forward with a plan we both could agree on.

Make a plan, and work together toward it

Creating an action plan helps guide individual and collective decisions towards your goal. If you decide to pursue fertility treatment as a priority, but then keep smoking or your partner buys a boat with the money intended for treatment, you will likely not get any closer to success.

We made a financial plan to cover the cost of IVF. In addition, we discussed larger purchases before pulling the trigger and made cuts in our spending habits. If one or both of you seem to deviate from the plan, it may be time to reevaluate your actions, your plan, or even your goal.

Some fertility treatments, like IVF, can take a heavy physical toll on a woman’s body. Her partner should be prepared to make sacrifices to give extra help during difficult times. My husband took over some of my chores on days when I felt awful during my IVF cycle.
Sticking to a plan isn’t easy, but sharing the load between the two of us made it a lot lighter.

Develop a sense of humor

A sense of humor is an essential survival tool for the challenges and stresses of infertility treatment. If you can handle it, when appropriate, try making a joke about yourselves and the situation.
After a few days, we became accustomed to – dare I say experts at – doing shots every night. The sound of my shot alarm on my phone used to make me groan. So my husband tried to make me laugh by calling me his “pin cushion” and saying, “Time for me to shoot you!” Or he would playfully smack my butt before giving me the progesterone shot. We joked that if IVF worked it would be my doctor, and not my husband, who “knocked me up.”
The jokes didn’t necessarily make the shots any less painful or my butt any less sore the next day, but laughing reduced some of the stress and kindled more affection between us.

Try to keep the magic alive

I’ll be honest: infertility is a mood killer. Sex becomes an item on a to-do list and sadly like a chore, an inconvenience. Try to keep it romantic in any way you can.
Before IVF, we were on Clomid for three months, an oral drug that hyper stimulates ovulation. We had to have sex during a specific time frame, which completely drained the fun out of love making because we knew we “had” to do it. We were so concerned about conceiving that we didn’t think to put extra effort into the romantic part of the process.
My husband says that Clomid was worse than IVF. I beg to differ – he wasn’t the one getting shots every night for eight weeks! But I get his point.

Get help if needed

Infertility carries so many emotions and so many struggles. Sometimes individual partners simply struggle to understand themselves, much less try to understand each other. That’s where a little extra help comes in.
Marriage counseling can sound like a dirty word, probably because it implies that something is wrong with your relationship, or wrong with the two of you. But having an unbiased third party facilitate the discussions you have about infertility and your feelings can be a huge benefit.
Both marriage and individual counselors can ask the right questions to get to the root of a problem, offer advice on how to cope with loss or disappointment, and suggest techniques to try at home on your own. Think of it as preventative care for your marriage. Instead of treating the problem long after it has been festering, you can seek help early and prevent the problem from getting worse and causing deeper issues.
Although my husband and I didn’t see a counselor, I can see how helpful talking about our challenges with someone would have been. There were times when I thought my husband deserved someone else – someone who didn’t struggle with the most “natural” acts for a woman’s body to perform.
Even though we followed this advice, my husband and I still occasionally fought and had issues. Infertility could have torn our marriage apart. Instead, my husband and I became a closer couple because we learned to accept to our situation together, meet each other’s needs, adapt our family goals, work as a team to reach those goals, and laugh at ourselves.
These techniques helped us endure difficult times in the past, and will undoubtedly come in handy when life presents more challenges – as our twin toddler boys continue to grow.
What techniques have you used to strengthen your relationship during stressful fertility treatment?