“Fifty percent of our infertility patients end up getting a divorce,” the nurse explained, when I questioned what I thought was a peculiar portion of the hospital’s legal paperwork. At that moment I was surprised to hear the statistic. But with raised eyebrows and a let’s–just–get–on–with–it mentality, I circled the appropriate decision for which one of us would be given custody of our frozen specimens “should divorce occur” and I went on with my day.
A few months later, however, as my husband and I struggled to overcome our intense grief over a double infertility loss, I remembered her words. I then understood perfectly well.
Infertility, miscarriage, and loss can drive a lasting wedge in your marriage, if you allow it. In fact, we found the easiest and most natural direction we drifted in the midst of our pain was apart.
During that time my husband and I were part of a 24-week marriage enrichment program called, MarriageCORE, as the focus of my husband’s doctoral dissertation. We were required to not just to show-up on a weekly basis, but also to also fully participate and even lead a group. His doctoral degree depended on it, and it was not by coincidence. With that motivator, we did the weekly homework—homework that required us to talk and ask probing questions of one another and our marriage, forcing us to keep the communication lines between us open.
What we learned about our marriage, each other, ourselves, and the potential for marital division from infertility and loss has resulted in the following suggestions for how to stay married while navigating infertility.
Seek Counseling or a Support Group
Infertility and loss, though common, is not a popular topic at dinner parties, and it is easy to become distant and separated from support. Many people may share about their cancer or other illness in a weekly Bible study group. But few women (or men) will share about their difficulties with infertility. Embarrassment, fear of inappropriate infertility remarks such as “Just relax,” “Why don’t you adopt, then you’ll get pregnant”, and the like keep a person isolated.
I still remember one visit when my counselor asked me how I was doing. I responded, “I’m not doing well.” She replied, “I would expect you to not be doing well.” That statement alone gave me much relief. It was okay to not be okay. In fact, if I had been doing well, that would have been a cause of concern for her, not the other way around.
Seek Out Friends Who Have Walked the Same Road
Over monthly meals of dessert and cappuccinos, a friend and I poured out our hearts to one another (Rom. 12:15). We made jaded, sarcastic jokes that only other infertility patients can laugh at such as, “Top 10 Places You’ve Shot up” (with infertility medicines) or “Top 10 Uses for the 1,000 Leftover Alcohol Swaps.” The solidarity of “you, too?” helped ease the tension and pain.
My husband began regularly having breakfast with one of the marriage program facilitators. As a pastor, it is with few people that my husband can openly share his emotions. But coffee, bacon and eggs, and expressed sorrow with someone who could handle the hard stuff helped ease his pain as well.
Seek Help from Your Husband
This might sound like odd advice, but as an independent–I–can–handle–anything woman, infertility taught me I cannot handle everything on my own. I realized I needed to ask for my husband’s help. So he started going to the doctor’s appointments with me. It took longer to drive to/from the doctor’s office than the entire visit itself. But having him there, understanding what I was going through, was emotionally helpful and forced unity between us.
Seek Sexual Intimacy
This one is especially trying, and in fact, long after you’ve moved past the pain and grief of infertility and loss, this will prove to be difficult. There’s something about having to explain your love life in detail to a doctor and nurse—to the point where it’s no longer beautiful intimacy between a man and wife, but just science—that just wrecks this part of your marriage. It too, has to heal, and new memories must be created.
Seek Out Exercise Routines
It’s well known that regular cardiovascular exercise can help ease mild depression. Therefore, don’t be surprised if your counselor or support group suggests you take daily walks or go to the gym. Exercise will be the last thing you want to do, but I found it very helpful in dealing with my emotions. (Note: If you find yourself having persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, worthlessness, and hopelessness, please seek a medical professional or call a free hotline number for expert help.)
Bitterness, pain, and grief can drive a wedge not only between you and your spouse, but also between you and God, the Creator of life. Questions of “Why did you allow this to happen?” or “Why can’t you give me any hope?” are normal. But God can handle your angry questions and he is not surprised by your emotions.
In the Old Testament the Psalmist frequently poured out his heart and frustrated feelings to God, “Turn toward me and have mercy on me, for I am alone and oppressed! Deliver me from my distress; rescue me from my suffering! See my pain and suffering! Forgive all my sins!” (Ps. 25:16–18)
The Creator knows pain, loss, and grief. His only Son died on a cross, even though it was undeserved. He did it just because he loves you. And that love—that hesed love—will seek you out and overtake you, whether you like it or not.
After three rounds of infertility treatments we decided to call it quits, and we had nothing to show for our efforts but a depleted bank account. Heartbroken and broke, our arms remained empty and our levels of hope were sucked dry. But his love chased us down and overtook us when we least expected it.
My husband and I agree that our marriage is stronger and our love for one another deeper on the other side of our valley of infertility than it was before. I don’t say that lightly, nor was it an easy, overnight fix. The middle of that valley was rough. But God, as the expert heart surgeon, slowly and over time, put salve on our wounds and knitted us back together. Our hope deferred became hope renewed as his loving-kindness and healing won.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is like a tree of life.” (Prov. 13:12)