Fertility investigations and treatment can be both emotionally and physically challenging. Many couples will feel a huge sense of grief and injustice, which can leave couples worried about the impact this may have on their relationship and the life they had planned with each other. Appointments and schedules can be overwhelming, and you may feel like nobody else feels the same way you do. Although fertility treatment often feels predominately female orientated, both partners will experience the emotional distress of infertility and will use their relationship as their main support resource.
Men will often look for practical solutions to “fix the problem”, however, infertility is not all black and white and we often find ourselves searching for answers in a world of grey. This can be a source of frustration for many couples, it can be difficult to always know
the right thing to say and unwavering optimism is not always helpful. It may be your natural instinct to protect your partner from pain or distress, be it emotional or physical. However, often the best thing you can do is just listen, acknowledge her feelings and be open – you are not expected to have all the answers.
It takes great strength to open up and talk about how you are feeling. The stigma attached to men speaking out about infertility is slowly starting to fade, however, there is still a long way to go. Men often find it easier to forget about their grief until they are forced to deal with it, however, by doing this you may cause your partner to feel more isolated. Opening up to your partner about your true feelings surrounding infertility may validate her emotions allowing her to realise that she is not alone. Although it comes from a good place by not wanting to put any additional stress on your partner, bottling up your feelings may cause more harm than good. It is better to deal with these issues early on before it begins to affect your mental health and relationships with others.
It is also important to recognise that you and your partner may have different coping styles; one may appear to “cope better” if they talk about it less or could be perceived as not caring as much. There is no right or wrong way to feel during this time as you may be at different stages of acceptance, however, communication and honesty is important throughout.
Support comes in many forms and practical solutions such as sitting down together and making a plan can help alleviate some of the stresses surrounding fertility treatment. Although you can never fully predict how things will go, it is useful to discuss potential outcomes prior to starting treatment. Talk about what she needs from you and what you need from her. Talk about what you fear the most and let her know where you stand. By doing this you can ensure you are on the same page when it comes to treatment options and boundaries. Together you can also decide who you want to tell about the treatment and how you want to inform them.
Sometimes all your partner will want is a distraction from treatment. Daily injections, drug side effects and regular monitoring appointments can take its toll. Be open to trying new things which may help her relax and escape from treatment. She may want to avoid gatherings where there will be babies or children; you should respect and support this tough decision rather than trying to change her mind. Look out for triggers which may cause her to feel anxious or upset, if you are unsure about this then just ask her. As your partner will be dealing with physical aspects of treatment whilst trying to manage her day-to-day life, she may feel more tired than usual. Although you are unable to alleviate these symptoms you may find it useful to help on a more hands on level, things like helping with her injections, attending appointments with her or doing work around the house can be a subtle way of showing your support.
It is important to be open and honest with each other; however, additional support is sometimes required and should be available through your clinic. By speaking to a therapeutic counsellor you may adopt coping strategies which can help through the tougher days.
Implementing these tools can help you feel more empowered as a couple and better equipped to deal with negative outcomes should they arise. If you are unsure about talking to a counsellor – either as a couple or individually, consult your clinic and ask about other options such as peer support groups or online forums. These can be a life line for patients as understanding there are others on the same journey can provide much needed comfort and reassurance.
The truth is – this is not your fault. You are not the problem; however, you can be a beacon of light for your partner during treatment. Letting go of the guilt surrounding infertility is step one towards acceptance and getting through it together. If you have realised this already – fantastic! If not, then it’s time to stop suffering. Let go of the emotional burden you have been carrying and give yourself a break.