Unbearable: Being Open About Infertility Is Good For Your Marriage

By  | 

infertility marriageHaving a child is usually a happy time in a woman’s life. Unfortunately, as we wait longer to have children, infertility and trouble conceiving can become a part of the family making process. Unbearable addresses these difficulties.

Lately, I feel like I’ve been talking a lot about… talking about infertility. We’ve looked at the ways that sharing your story helps you and those around you. We’ve looked at the added pressure that talking about infertility can put on you. I suppose that since I’m stuck in the same place I was a year ago when I started writing about infertility, my next move was to get a little meta and talk about how my talking about it has changed the process. I mean, otherwise these pieces would read, “No, I’m not pregnant yet. Yes, I’m still trying.”

So imagine my surprise when my local newspaper warned me that talking about infertility might be bad for my marriage. Well, first I was shocked to see my local newspaper mention infertility at all. But after I got over that wowzer and read the article, I was even more confused.

First, the article describes at length the problems that can befall infertile married couples.

Women report feeling abnormal; incomplete; failures as women; as if they’re broken. There’s a sense of incredible unfairness and incompetence. It feels as if every other woman on the planet is pregnant, and you’re not. And, the medical solutions are humiliating at best, making women feel like lab experiments. Harvard Medical School reports that “women with infertility felt as anxious or depressed as those diagnosed with cancer, hypertension, or recovering from a heart attack.”

Men report feeling cheated, as if their manhood has been compromised; they’re “less of a man.” Sex is a constant reminder of their inability to produce. Many men experience lowered sexual desire and satisfaction. Harvard Medical School found that infertile men “experience the same levels of low self-esteem, stigma, and depression as infertile women do.”

Obviously, all these issues make it extremely difficult for married couples. The stress and depression are very hard on relationships. So what should couples do to keep their marriage strong while they battle these problems? “Agree together what you will share and who you will share it with. These are sensitive issues. Only tell people you both trust. Never violate your agreement. This is especially important for women, who more than men tend to share private information with their friends.”

No one tell my husband what I’ve been up to for the past year, please.

In all seriousness, couples should be discussing who they want to divulge their private business to. That isn’t special to infertility, that really reaches into every area of a couple’s personal life. But the idea that men and women shouldn’t discuss infertility outside of a close-knit group of people who they trust is limiting. And it’s part of the reason that infertility still feels like such an isolating problem. We aren’t talking about it.

Of course, I sat down with my husband and talked it over with him before I started writing about our struggles to get pregnant. Infertility isn’t just a woman’s journey, it involves and effects men as well. They should be partners in all the decisions surrounding this process.

But this condescending idea that “chatty women” shouldn’t talk about a private issue is just ludicrous and it’s not helping anyone, especially with all those problems listed above, which are serious issues for so many couples. Should you respect an agreement you made to your partner? Of course. But should the two of you struggle in silence? That’s a personal choice to make, but I don’t think that anyone should feel like they have to stay quiet about this problem.

Personally, I have to say that sharing my journey has been wonderful for my marriage. It helps me connect with other women who have had similar issues. Those relationships have kept me positive, which has definitely helped my marriage. I think my husband would agree that sometimes we need to talk to people outside of our current situation to gain other insight and perspective.

There are lots of challenges that face infertile couples. I don’t think that staying silent is going to help any of them.