Infertility can put a strain on the best of relationships. It is never something a couple expects to go through or can imagine how it will be when they start out. You can quickly go from deciding its time to start trying for a baby to it impacting every area of your life, talking to clinics about treatments you never dreamed you would need and wonder how you got to this place.
Over time, ‘Project Baby’ can become all-consuming. It can infiltrate all aspects of life. From lovemaking, the food you eat, whether or how much alcohol you drink, what social events you do or don’t go to and even the size of your friendship circle as more and more friends have children. As time goes by, the intensity can increase as the fear of time running out gets grows.
Having a baby is supposed to come from a place of deep love and connection but can often become the source of a wedge between a couple. It can go from something that you expect would give such great joy to be the kill-joy.
Sarah came to see me to help her be in the best place possible to get pregnant. However, she was frustrated her partner wasn’t making any effort. He didn’t seem to care how much he was drinking or whether he smoked or not even though there was a problem with his sperm quality. She said it’s like he’s given up, he can’t be bothered with it any more. This hurt her. She felt he didn’t care about her and them having a family together.
What if one partner says ‘enough is enough’? What if it comes to the situation of being ‘me or baby’? Or more accurately me or Project Baby?
Dealing with infertility can be tough enough on its own. Unfortunately, a study found that the pain of infertility can cause even more pain and heartache. Couples who didn’t have a baby after fertility treatment were more likely to break up.
For the study, which was published in the journal Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, Danish researchers tracked 47,515 women who were evaluated for infertility over 12 years. After the 12-year follow-up period, it turns out that the women who didn’t have a child were up to three times more likely to have divorced or ended their relationship with the person they were with at the time of the study than the women who gave birth.
This shows the need to ensure Project Baby doesn’t become the sole focus in the relationship at any time; open and honest communication and connection is the priority. This creates the glue and also keeps both parties on the same page.
If one of you has had enough, the first thing to explore is what have they had enough of. I would suggest is not the idea of having a baby but the impact that it’s having on the relationship and life as a whole.
They probably resent that Project Baby has crawled its way into every area of life with what appears to be negative consequences. The carefree fun-loving times have seemed to be replaced by regimes, timetables, rules about what you can or can’t eat, not being able to have a drink and a partner, who is more often than not, anxious, distressed or depressed.
Do these experiences have to go with the territory? Is it possible to continue trying to have a baby as well as living life to the full in the now? Is it really ‘me or the baby’ or ‘me or the all-consuming, partner-imploding, fun-zapping Project Baby?
If it is the former, then open and honest conversations need to take place about the future of the relationship and where your lives are going. Keep reading and you’ll find something to help you with that.
If it is the latter, then I have some good news. It is possible to continue to explore having a baby without all the distress and for it to come all-consuming. In fact, you are more likely to be successful that way.
Project Baby takes over when it is founded on fear. Fear of not being successful. Fear of not having what you think a baby will give you. I have asked many, many people what they think having a baby will give them. More often than not the answer is something like fulfilment, purpose or happiness. I genuinely believed we would be happier with a baby than without.
This is living ‘outside-in’. This is thinking I’ll be happy when… or I’ll be happy if… people do this with all sorts of things. ‘I can relax and be happy when I have more money’. ‘I’m okay if people don’t think badly of me’. ‘I’m okay I’ve proved myself to be okay’. The thing is it’s just not true. Nothing has the power to make us feel anything. 100% of our experience comes from thought. Our perception of the situation, not the situation itself.
I was very much in this place. It wasn’t until the middle of our fertility journey I realised this was the case. I’d been like it all my life. I’ll be OK when I’ve proved to my parents I am good enough, then my teachers, then it became my employer. I was a people pleaser. It wasn’t until I let go of this and KNEW I was OK for who I was that I needed nothing to be OK, that I found peace of mind on our fertility journey. It wasn’t until we realised we could create a life that is inspiring and fulfilling with or without children than things happened for us, naturally against all odds. The underlying fear of not having a baby was impacting our fertility as well as day to day happiness in life.
If you feel like this I recommend you look at exploring some therapy or counselling to help you let go of the fear of not having a baby. For you to know you are OK now, there’s nothing you need to be OK. The fear of not having a baby is usually fuelled by a fear of failure or fear of not being good enough or not deserving. The emotional rollercoaster of infertility can shine a spotlight on these things. They are not really about having a baby but are contaminating your experience of trying to have a baby. Thee can create psychological blocks to getting pregnant.
Whatever the specifics of the situation if one partner decides enough is enough there needs to be some open and honest dialogue in order to understand how each other feels; not what anyone thinks. Not to fix each other’s feelings or change their thinking about it. To understand how they feel. To get into their head and understand it from their perspective. Their perspective on whether you think it’s right or wrong. Too often we communicate to defend our position, to tell our partner where they are wrong if we feel criticised, to fix problems and make them feel better rather than to truly seek to understand them. To understand how they feel about things. Men are often a little rusty at communicating feelings but quick to fix problems and not hear what their partner is wanting them to hear, how they feel about it.
I suggest in this situation each person writes down how they feel about the situation. Not what they think, how they feel. This process can help men to be more aware of the feeling within them, especially if they keep the pen moving..
Writing can also help each other identify the feelings the other person is communicating. I found when I read something my wife had written it stopped me interrupting to fix the problem. It helped me focus on the feelings she wanted me to hear and understand. I would read it twice to make sure I’d really ‘heard’ them.
Once you have both written how you feel about the situation you can take turns in talking about what each other has written. The listener/reader can ask questions to ensure they’ve understood, what they think is being communicated. To understand what is meant behind the words. If someone says they feel angry what does that really mean? How angry? What’s that anger like? A word can mean different things to different people so it’s important to understand the experience behind the words that are being communicated.
All too often we hear what we think we’ve heard and not really heard what was being said. This is about really understanding each other and where each other are at on this journey. It’s can be a long and tough journey. Sometimes people want to give up. Sometimes this is a passing experience, sometimes it goes deeper.
Don’t jump to conclusions about what the other person is saying. Don’t make it into what you think it is or means. Listen. Seek to understand. From that place, there is no situation you cannot deal with.
At the end of the day, whatever happens, you are going to be OK. Whatever happens. Our psychological well-being is within us. You may not feel OK at any time but underneath the emotional experience is a soul that’s got this and whatever happens covered. Emotions come and go, you cannot hold on to them forever even if you wanted to.
Take a breath, come back to the here and now and seek to connect, understand and you may find it’s not what you think it is.