Part II: Staying connected with your partner during infertility
Karen also lent her time and expertise as a guest speaker for a Shine Together Conversation in November. Shine is a nonprofit organization that supports women through their fertility journey by providing free mentorship, support, and education to empower and promote a proactive approach to fertility and women's health.
The Shine Together Conversations are confidential, but a summary of Karen's answers from questions on the call is below.
The big takeaway
The main point Karen emphasized in her interview and during this call is that each person in the relationship has a unique experience of the fertility journey. It is critically important to remember and honor that.
Questions and Answers:
Is it a good idea to share your infertility journey with friends/family?
There is something very important about support during the process. Who can you turn to outside of your couple relationship that you can receive support from, process with, that is also a healthy relationship you would feel comfortable sharing with? The journey can be challenging if you are only looking at one another for support or don't want to "burden" the other. It can create a “vacuum” or “seal” that could even prevent you from meeting each other's needs.
Each of you should ask, “who can I/we trust that feels safe to lean on at this time?” Have an
understanding of what that looks like for each of you to avoid feeling betrayed or overexposed with another person outside of your relationship knowing what is going on. Work together as a couple to develop a plan for who and what information is “within bounds” to disclose and share outside of the two of you.
What are the top strategies you recommend to couples during fertility treatment?
First and foremost, focus on the communication between one another. Carve out intentional time to check in with each other. It can be all-consuming and there are lots of times you don't want to bring it up. Aim for at least once a week. Where are we at with this? Does it look the same as last week? How are we feeling, what are we needing?
Secondly, and related to the prior question, get additional support. It can be a professional or someone else outside of the relationship.
Third, think about ways to have fun, ways to feel like "you", time to smile, have fun, be lighthearted - individually and as a couple.
Finally, keep the lines of communication open around fears, needs, and expectations - especially as they relate to sex and intimacy. Fertility treatment can be most “unsexy” but dismissing it as such entirely may leave one or both of you feeling unfulfilled.
In the spots of erectile dysfunction that scheduling sex and the pressure/frustration of trying to conceive can cause, how can i be a supportive partner and keep the problem from snowballing?
Create space to hear from your partner, create opportunities to figure out what the person is needing and how to best support him or her. Allow space to talk about the scary, hard things; create space to be honest. If he isn’t immediately sure of what he needs, continue the conversations to keep exploring.
In a similar vein, for women going through treatment, there is no physical escape from what the body is going through. It is both a physical and emotional process. Again, communication is key. Remember your partner is also having an experience and honor that they are totally different. The partner not undergoing many of the procedures may not have a physical experience, but there is an experience nonetheless. Communicate the experiences. Remember there are times your partner may not be able to show up. It can be powerful to validate that the man can't experience the physical...validate it rather than worry about what he can do to make it better or "fix" it.
how do you handle your partner's hopefulness during the "two week wait"? It can create a lot of additional pressure for me.
It is key for each of you to have additional support during this time - someone outside of the relationship. If the woman is feeling overwhelmed or pressured, she can turn to someone else to express this. At the same time, it is important for her partner to express his questions and hopefulness. Both people need to express what they are anticipating, but without the pressure.
A specific time to check in with your partner could be really helpful at this time - it is a contained space where you can both share what you’re thinking and going through.
Intentional time can be the groundbreaking piece. One of the participants suggested making the injection time intentional time with your partner. Instead of that being only about medication and the process, it can be about the fertility/family building journey and the larger vision of parenthood. And then when that time is over, you can put that "piece" on the shelf as well. Doing injections together can emphasize you are in this together. Ask questions like, "what do you feel like when you're watching me do this?"; "what are you thinking when you mix meds?"; or “what are you feeling/afraid of/hopeful about?”.
after failed ivf, i feel very hopeless and am taking it very personally...any suggestions to cope?
The emotional ups and downs are so challenging. Think intentionally about what you need, what you need to step back from, and who you need to surround yourself with. Individual therapy can be helpful - it is intentional space to process what you're going through.
Pay attention to self-care...what fills you up? What are the things that are important to you - even before fertility - and bring that back to your everyday. It is easy to lose sight of our life, what we hold to be important and true, and what makes us whole. Can you incorporate those into your day to day?
how do you know when to give up?
This is a hard space to be in. It can look different for different couples. What's so challenging in the question is the finality of it. "When we say we're done, we're done forever." Honor the energy you've put into the journey thus far. If you are in the space where you aren't sure whether you’ve gone too far or far enough, it is a gray space rather than black or white. It may help to recognize this as such - a gray space - and take a break or step back. Honor the in between space. Keep this as an ongoing question you openly discuss and talk about whether you are both on same page or not.