It is a widely held expectation that if and when we choose to, we will be able to have a family. We do not challenge this assumption until difficulties in conceiving are encountered and for some this presents a major life crisis. The pain and loss can be immense. And, not surprisingly, infertility can have a significant negative impact on marital and sexual relationships. It is a multi-layered and complex phenomenon and a number of issues are involved for the individual and couple going through it, as it spans the biological, emotional, physical, relational, social, financial and psychological domains.
Impact on females:
The female experience can be both complex and painful. It is generally characterised by periods of intense feelings of isolation – from her partner, her social circle and society. As more than one female client has reflected, it can feel as if they are ‘on the outside looking in on the rest of the world’. Females can feel unsupported and misunderstood throughout the experience, which adds to their despair and isolation...For those females who desire a child, this desire can increase as the possibility of having one reduces and for some it can become overwhelming, which creates a sense of urgency about finding a ‘solution’ to the problem. The result of this can be that treatment is pursued without pausing to consider the impact of this route on them, their body, their partner and their relationship. Treatment can be an unpredictable, long drawn-out rollercoaster of hoping, waiting and disappointment, which may or may not result in the birth of a child, and which can take a serious toll on females in a number of ways. Ultimately the experience for females can be one of grief.
Impact on males:
Whilst many males have a strong desire for a child and a family, unlike many females they tend to have a ‘pragmatic ambivalence’ towards fatherhood and children. That is, they will be happy if it happens, yet can come to accept if it does not. A symptom of their pragmatic ambivalence is that they consciously adopt a compliant position in relation to treatment. One consequence of this and their inability to ‘fix the problem’ – as perhaps they can in other situations – is that they tend not to express their negative feelings about the treatment process or how they feel about having/not having children, to their partner. This can be mistaken by their partner as ‘not caring’, but, on the contrary, it is often because they care about their partner so much that they adopt this position...
The experience for males can be an anxiety-filled one that poses a major threat to their masculinity. However, it is not necessarily an experience they either want or feel able to share with their partner, or anyone else. And unfortunately, this can lead people around them to make the assumption that they are ‘OK’ and ‘coping fine’. This is often not the case and, moreover, it can add to their anxiety and sense of inadequacy. Another feature of the experience for males is that they worry about the pressure on their partner, and their partner’s increasing desire for a child, and the prospect of what might happen in the future if they do not achieve their goal. So it can be a time of great insecurity for males.
Impact on the couple:
A combination of factors, including female sense of isolation, male pragmatic ambivalence, growing resentments, the medical, emotional and financial pressures of treatment and uncertainty about what the future holds, can exert extreme stress on the couple relationship. This normally manifests in a distance between them. The result of this distance is at best a lack of communication and at worst a breakdown of communication, which for many couples can result in separation. Throughout the experience, couples tend to oscillate between periods of distance and closeness, and the nature and frequency of these distances is likely to be a key factor in whether couples stay together during and beyond the experience.
Wow. The article hit the impact on me and Brian (I feel) to a "T." But thankfully there has NEVER been a time when we felt distant from each other or a time when our communication was broken. Our marriage is solid and there is only one person I can thank for that...my Heavely Father. He knew what path my life was going to take. He knew what path Brian's life was going to take. And He knew that we would need each other on this journey. And oh what a journey it has been.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28