Mood swings. Agitation. Bloating. A tendency to overeat, oversleep and lash out. Hope smothered by helplessness as you keep an eye on ovulation strips and pregnancy kits. The rush of despair when you see only one – negative – result. Infertility preys on relationships, pecking at any chinks in the wall till it gives way. Find yourself stuck in the cycle and your partnership with your spouse suffering? You aren’t alone.
Jyotika Aggarwal, Clinical Psychologist at UAE-based German Neuroscience Center, says: “Infertility treatment is usually the last option couples take. Before this they usually have tried conceiving in the regular way - they have tried multiple diets, therapies, etc. in the hope that this process is as natural as possible. It is after several tries, multiple frustrations and difficult realisations that the partners usually choose this option. Thus, there is already a sense of depression, self-depreciation and reduced hope when this process is decided upon.
“In addition to this, the artificial fertility treatment comes with its own set of emotional baggage. From a social perspective, while science has made such beautiful progress, for many families and other individuals, unfortunately, fertility treatment methods are still stigmatised. Hence, many couples find themselves anxious due to the fear of being misunderstood and judged.”
Artificial fertility treatment comes with its own set of emotional baggage. From a social perspective, while science has made such beautiful progress, for many families and other individuals, unfortunately, fertility treatment methods are still stigmatised.
There’s also a crippling fear of a change in relationship that actually exacerbates it. “What I often discover with couples is that they are very afraid that fertility treatment is going to change their marriage, and they don’t know how they are going to change it but they are afraid that it will. And so the thing that I always say is, yes, it will change your marriage but so does everything … Don’t be afraid of the change – that’s always going to happen so there’s nothing to fear,” says UAE-based fertility doula Cassie Destino.
Additional stress factors
The process is long and can be arduous – replete with hospital visits and intrusive scans. You’ll probably be revealing details about your life that you never wanted anyone to know, making you feel vulnerable. And then, once decided and the treatment finally begins, there’s an enormous amount of pressure on you to ‘make it succeed’. “The unpredictable outcome of the treatment exaggerates the anxiety and is likely to evoke feelings of depression, as well,” says Aggarwal.
“Sometimes there can be some guilt or shame if it’s the woman’s issue; she might feel like she’s not being a good wife, good woman, she’s not fulfilling what she’s supposed to biologically. I almost never find in my work that anyone really blames anyone,” says Destino. “So the husband doesn’t blame the wife if she’s not getting pregnant, but the wife needs to know that otherwise she might feel guilt and shame. If she can communicate what she’s feeling, then very often she will hear from her partner, ‘of course not, I don’t blame you’, and then they can move on together from that.
Next thing to contend with is the actual hormonal – and other – support. “During the process, there are multiple cycles, and the women needs to go through hormone treatments that lead to mood swings, irritability and increased sensitivity. In addition to the emotional component, excruciating injections that leave the body sore, bloated and uncomfortable magnify the distress for the mother-to-be,” says Aggarwal.
The way forward
First, say the experts, it’s important to realise that you are both in this together. “What you have to be focused on when you go through something like this, is that you are continuing to communicate with each other and when you are frightened , you are talking about it with each other so you don’t have to be frightened alone,” says Destino.
Secondly, express what you are feeling. “Say, for example, ‘I’m feeling guilty because I feel I haven’t been able to produce a child for you.’ To hear your partner express what they are feeling gives you an opportunity to say, ‘of course I don’t blame you, we are a team. We need both of us to be the parent to our future children’,” she adds.
Thirdly, get your information from verified sources instead of relying on hearsay. “Getting information is one thing, but getting it from a verified expert source is of utmost importance. It is harmful when we let search engines, and hearsay stories get the better of us. Instead speak to the specialist about all the doubts and have faith in the doctors doing your procedure,” says Aggarwal.
Finally, do your research before embarking on the journey. “Gain insight into how the relationship’s emotional, financial, physiological and social aspects will be impacted. The more aware you are, the more cognitively prepared you will be to handle setbacks and unpleasant surprises,” she adds, “Acceptance and commitment to each other and the infertility treatment will strengthen the bond of the couple irrespective of the outcome.”
If you tried everything you could, you can have peace. But if you haven’t tried everything, then that’s where the resentment can come.
A build-up of resentment
It’s a tough journey ahead – it can be isolating and emotionally and physically draining, more so without a supportive partner. “I have found that if women are not supported by their partner then there’s some resentment. If the partner is saying, ‘we are in this together no matter what it takes, I’m there for you, I will go to these appointments with you,’ then I don’t find that resentment,” says Destino.
However if you find as a couple that your goals misalign – one person wants to stop a fertility treatment while the other does not, it ends up in bitterness that may lash out at you at inopportune movements throughout your marriage. Destino offers an example. “If they’ve gone through a fertility treatment and it hasn’t worked or miscarriage, and it’s been very, very painful, and the woman has been upset and then the man says, ‘I don’t want to watch you go through that again, we are not going to do this again, it was too hard on you and it was hard for me to see you suffer so we can’t do it again.’ But the woman really wants to do it again, she’s trying really hard to be a mother. This is her chance. She wants to be told, ‘let’s keep doing this until we are successful’. I have seem situations where someone has said, ‘I don’t want to do this again’ and then the chance is gone and you don’t become a parent and then 10 years down the road, you look back and say, ‘you kept me from parenthood’.”
“If you tried everything you could, you can have peace. But if you haven’t tried everything, then that’s where the resentment can come,” she explains.
If you are considering the fertility treatment route, remember the goal: being a happy family.
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