The Fertility Chair: Supporting your partner through infertility
Fertility challenges suck. They can feel overwhelming, all consuming and wreak havoc on your relationship. If this sentiment resonates with you, consider one or more of the following suggestions to help you and your partner stay connected and supportive of one another throughout this tender time.
All emotions are welcome
There’s nothing like fertility challenges to send you and your partner on a roller coaster of emotions: grief, anger, worry, frustration, sadness… I think it would be safe to say that it would be strange if you didn’t experience a multitude of emotions. Rather than bottling them up or dismissing them, I would encourage you to lean into these emotions, acknowledge them and explore them. They are valid. Welcoming your own as well as your partner’s emotions can be deeply healing and strengthen feelings of connection in what can often feels like an extremely isolating time.
But I’ve gotta be the strong one!
Allow my emotions? But then we’ll both be a mess! I need to be strong for my partner. Yeah, yeah, yeah… I’ve heard this one a thousand times. The truth is that when you attempt to not express your emotions or feelings as a means of protection, you may actually be leaving your partner feeling more alone and less supported, rather than buoyed.
Grief: there’s no right or wrong
One emotion that people are particularly reluctant to feel is grief. We don’t live in a society that really embraces grief so it can be difficult to even identify, much less express. And, for the record, there’s no one way to grieve and no right way to grieve. Some people may find themselves outwardly expressing their grief, through tears or talking, while others prefer a more stoic, private approach. Neither of these are wrong. What can be challenging in a partnership is when the two partners grieve differently and don’t understand or welcome the difference. Lack of tears can translate as “she doesn’t care.” Tears and a need to talk about it sometimes registers as “he can’t keep it together.” Recognizing and communicating your grieving styles and giving permission for them to be different can be extremely helpful in maintaining connection throughout fertility challenges and losses.
When’s the next appointment?
What do fertility appointments look like? Do you go as a couple? Is this even possible in these times of COVID? Who’s monitoring the fertility treatment calendar? Is one of you more on top of things than the other?
Check in with each other. Make sure you’re on the same page regarding expectations around appointments, treatment and need for emotional or logistical support, even if this means one person is sitting in the parking lot as an act of solidarity for the partner who is inside getting their millionth blood draw.
Fertility chat updates
You mean, talk even more about fertility treatment and appointments???
I feel like that’s all we ever do!
I never know when I’m going to get ambushed just walking down the hall with
“should we go for another egg retrieval or transfer?”
True. Fertility challenges can most certainly hijack conversations, sometimes leaving partners wary of the next rabbit hole discussion. So consider scheduling times for fertility chats- every other day, once a week, every couple of weeks, once a month- whatever makes sense for your current fertility status. This can leave those fearful of another lengthy discussion reassured with the knowledge of when to expect said convos. And for those that feel the need to review options with the understanding that there will be a time dedicated to explore fertility with no push back, a scheduled time helps. That being said, there will be times for breakthrough fertility conversations, but these might not feel as overwhelming when there’s a little structure to your fertility communication.
Fertility-free date night
Plan dates. And plan them frequently! Don’t have any money after paying for fertility treatment? Go to the beach. Afraid that a movie might have an unexpected fertility theme? Go out to dinner. Maintaining connection with one another can be one of the most important ingredients to supporting your partner through fertility challenges. Yes, fertility may feel like it’s currently consuming your lives and identities, but the truth is fertility is merely a part of your lives. It doesn’t get to define you! Tap into the aspects of your partnership that have been around longer than your fertility challenges. Remember why you like each other; remember why you chose each other in the first place! And whatever you plan to do, make the agreement that there will be no fertility talk.
Attend a fertility support group together
Can’t think of a super fun date? Hit up a Family Tree Wellness FREE Fertility Support Group together. We’ve got one almost every week for both primary and secondary fertility challenges. Come join us. Surrounding yourselves with individuals and couples who “get it” can be profoundly therapeutic. Do groups leave you feeling anxious or self conscious? We’ve got you! Family Tree Wellness also offers reproductive mental health counseling for both individuals and couples. You don’t have to face fertility alone. Check us out today @ www.familytreewellness.org
Written by Jamie Van Zanen, LCSW