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Fertility Counselor Hosts Couples Evening on April 11
Mars and Venus on the Fertility Journey
By Lisa Tuttle
Last night I ran into a couple that I worked with over 7 years ago, when they were patients at RMACT. After exchanging hugs and updates about the present ages and activities of the couple's “miracle babies”, they explained that they were heading out for a “date night”, and they walked away looking as happy as newlyweds.
How thrilling it was to see how far this couple had come from the first time I met them! Part of what I remember most about working with them is that this couple had clearly loved one another so much, and still they had struggled in their efforts to understand and support one another through their fertility journey. It was so sad for them that they were not “on the same page” during that very difficult time; not able to comfort each other as easily as they wanted to, and not coping in the same ways. They participated in the first couple’s workshop that I ever offered at RMACT, and last night they reminded me of how helpful and reassuring that workshop had been for them. How it had allowed them to complete their family-building journey feeling much more connected and comforted by one another.
Infertility Affects Men and Women Differently
One of the sad truths about infertility is that it affects men and women quite differently. At exactly the time that couples could REALLY use each other’s support and understanding the most for infertility, they may find that they are not “getting” each other. I have run support groups for women and support groups for men, and I can tell you that the conversation and concerns of the two groups are quite different! Both groups are experiencing real distress, but the sources of their distress are not the same. For example, women who are struggling to get pregnant are more likely to be preoccupied with the demands of their fertility treatment, the difficulty of being surrounded by fertile friends and co-workers, and fear that treatment will never work. They are more likely to be depressed and anxious. On the other hand, men in this situation tend to be more optimistic that treatment will work, hence they are less anxious and depressed. They tend to be primarily worried about their wives, feeling helpless to make her feel better, feeling guilty for the treatments that she has to endure, and they lament how their lives have been derailed by the process. They often don’t feel the social strain and jealousy of infertility because “pregnancy” and “babies” do not dominate male conversations in the same way that they do for women, so they may not feel the same need to withdraw socially as their wives feel.
To make matters worse, the ways that men and women cope with the stress can be completely opposite…. What is helpful for one partner might actually be hurtful to the other. For example, a wife might find relief in talking about her infertility and the related emotional pain at great length, whereas a husband might find that these conversations only make him feel worse. So no matter how much the husband and wives love each other, and no matter how much they want to “be there” for their spouse, they may find it nearly impossible to get it right.
At these times, it is really helpful for couples to be CLEAR about why this disconnect happens, and how normal it is. It is helpful for men to hear that their wives reactions are “normal”, and for the women to hear that their husbands’ ways of coping are “normal”… so that both sides can be more accepting, and ultimately be more empathetic. It helps couples to feel less upset about the “disconnect”, and to know that it’s not a sign of a bigger problem in their marriage. It helps for men and women to understand why the opposite sex is acting and feeling the way they are, rather than trying to decide which of them is “right”.
A Fertility Seminar for Couples
I’m excited to be offering another couples workshop at RMACT on April 11th, as part of our “A Fertility Seminar for Couples” evening. The fertility journey can be so difficult, but a little understanding can go a long way toward helping couples feel more connected as they travel the road to parenthood… together.