Around 15% of couples find it difficult to conceive and, with partners delaying starting a family, this number is on the increase. Infertility can affect both men’s and women’s sense of masculinity or femininity, sexuality and self-esteem. And whilst your partner might be feeling the same way, the different ways you each manage your feelings may put more stress on each other and on your relationship. If this is you, there are things you can do, not only to help yourself and your partner through this difficult time, but build a stronger relationship in preparation for your family.
We tend to keep our feeling to ourselves
You will know that infertility is an emotional rollercoaster every month. You might have feelings of anxiety, disappointment or failure and grieve lost hopes every month that doesn’t result in a pregnancy. Men and women have often been socialized differently to deal with their feelings: you might take responsibility for your partner’s feelings, and also try to protect your partner by hiding yours and coping on your own. This can have an accumulative effect as frustration, anger, and loss can build up and become overwhelming.
So talk to him.
Your partner may be a man who is less comfortable with his emotions. If this is true, he can feel swamped by yours at the times they have become bottled up and so spill over. Your partner may try to cope with this by shutting you down or withdrawing from you (which of course just makes you feel worse!).
It’s common for men suffering self-esteem issues due to infertility to put more energy into their work – an arena where they may feel more successful. Men can also feel depressed and ashamed, and if they can’t express this and receive reassurance and comfort, this can actually become a self-fulfilling prophecy and psychologically affect potency.
So encourage him to talk to you too.
Pull together, support each other and focus on the important things.
For many reasons, active stress management is vital, some studies even suggesting high levels of stress can prevent conception. So build regular family friendly stress relief (like regular exercise and regular communication) into your routine now so it’s already a good habit when you’re pregnant and have a newborn – stress relief is important for new parents too!
Identify what you can change and what you can’t. Work towards accepting what you can’t change and find solutions or ways forward through those you can. Be aware if thoughts of blame creep in – either to yourself or towards your partner – and deal with them. This is nobody’s fault and blame only causes resentment – which, along with other negative emotions, makes baby making much less likely!
Make love not sex
‘Baby making sex’ can put more pressure on both of you by taking the fun and spontaneity out of love-making. When your focus is on the end result, sex can become stressful, rather than being a great source of stress relief.
So clear up any disharmony between you – frustration and resentment kills passion and desire, it’s a contraceptive! Use sex as a time of connection and celebrating your love for each other, regardless of the outcome. It can help to get in touch with your body, appreciate what it CAN do and do things that help you enjoy the feel and flow of it like yoga or massage. Get in tune with your ebb and flow – women tend to feel more amorous around the time of ovulation and some research indicates that the stronger the orgasm the better for conception, so go for it!
Focus on each other’s emotional and sensual needs and appreciate the loving space between you rather than the empty one. This is the space where you start to build the foundation for your family, in whichever form and in whatever time, that takes.
Elly Taylor is an Australian relationship counsellor, parenthood researcher and author. Her passion is teaching parents-to-be (and the professionals who care for them) about the stages of parenthood so they can prepare, support each other and work together through each stage to build foundations for a strong, loving family. Elly’s book Becoming Us, 8 Steps to Grow a Family that Thrives has been endorsed by CAPPA, the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association, and is available here: