The Fertile Partner
Let’s talk about the unsung heroes of the fertility journey: the fertile partners. Those people that could reproduce without assistance. Those people who pass all the tests and have stellar reproductive systems. Those people who could be holding a baby if they were partnered with someone else. If you think about it, they have one of the most incredible roles in the fertility journey, and they certainly do not get enough credit for it.
My husband, Chuck, is one of those people. As far as I know, no one in his family has struggled to conceive. His reproductive genetics are solid. On top of that, his sperm passed every test the fertility center threw at it. In my darkest moments, I even wondered if he should have married someone else, simply because we were struggling to conceive and he would be an amazing father.
I have PCOS and a family history of infertility. We are one of those couples where the “issue” is definitely one-sided. So on top of all the insanity of fertility treatments and longing for a baby was the guilt associated with knowing I was the reason we weren’t conceiving. But, you know what? He never gave up on me; he never gave up on our dream of a child. And, when I look back and really think about it, that is truly amazing.
I cannot imagine what it is like to be in the shoes of someone whose partner cannot conceive. The devotion, patience, compassion, and understanding that role takes is huge. When I think back on our struggle, I always remember my emotional struggles and my tears. But then, right next to me, is Chuck with comforting hugs or encouraging words. He gave me countless shots, dragged himself out of bed for early appointments, watched ultrasounds, answered the two-week wait phone calls, and listened so many times as the nurses told us that we needed to change our approach. He never complained, never got frustrated, and always supported our journey, despite the fact that he may not have been on it if he was with someone else.
You know what else I remember? His joy. His absolute joy when we found out we were pregnant. His anxiety and stress while trying to keep me hopeful when our first son’s heartbeat didn’t show up right away. His reassurance as every obstacle hit us. We got through them all together. And that is what is really special about the fertile partner: he/she stands by your side and helps you through it all. No matter what the fertility journey throws at you—the person who needs the help—the fertile partner moves right along with you and does whatever needs to be done to support you. Truly, that is the greatest gift someone struggling with infertility can have.
To get some further perspective into the fertile partner, I informally interviewed two people who have been in that role. The most interesting thing about their responses is the emphasis on the value of togetherness and support. Let me reflect on that for a second, and then I’ll share their responses.
No matter what part of the fertility journey you’re on, having a strong support system is absolutely clutch to help you weather everything from hope to devastation, from anesthesia to embryo transfer, from shot to blood draw. The importance of the fertile partner in that aspect has always been clear to me; what I never truly thought about is the importance of both partners in terms of being each other’s rock. So often, the focus is on the infertile person or the person going through the brunt of the procedures and the support that she/he needs, but, the truth is, that the support that person gives is also crucial to keeping hope alive. The fertile partner is not just a participant in treatments, he/she is the other half of the team needed to make a baby, even if that baby is being made in an unconventional way.
Infertility is not something that you want to experience alone. Even if you are pursuing a single parenthood, finding someone to lean on can be key. Whether you’re going through treatments because you’re infertile, your partner is infertile or science is necessary to conceive for whatever reason, a strong supporter is essential. No matter the outcome, you’ll find that the journey has changed you, and, hopefully, made your relationship even stronger.
On to the interviews. I’d like to extend a heartfelt thanks to my two volunteers. I hope that you find their responses as enlightening as I did.
Question 1: Can you describe your emotions when you learned that you and your partner would need to use fertility treatments?
F: I was devasted and confused when I found out the only way for us to have children was IVF. Devastated and confused. I knew there was a chance after chemotherapy and radiation that he may not have any sperm—but I was so hopeful and optimistic. I had to mourn the fact that we could never just have sex and have a baby “like everybody else” for a long time. Honestly, I think I am still mourning that, even after having two amazing children via IVF.
M: Mostly nervous, but also hopeful that we would reach an easy solution, start our family, and put the infertility stuff behind us.
Question 2: What was the toughest part of going through fertility treatments?
F: The hardest part is that nothing was a guarantee…that we could follow the instructions, do everything we are supposed to do, yet at the end of it all, we might not get pregnant. It’s devastating, and it happened to us several times. The second hardest part is knowing when you are physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared to try again.
M: The toughest part was the feeling of hopelessness. It felt like it didn’t matter what changes we made or how hard we tried. Success was completely out of our control.
Question 3: What was the most effective thing you said/did to support your partner?
F: The most effective thing was to let one another vent…just to let it all out—everything from tears to yelling to laughing. You’ve just got to be there for each other, even in [the] frustrating moments and the dark moments. And to celebrate each small victory, like one shot down, three to go. Or our first [positive] pregnancy test. Let’s celebrate that, knowing full well that the next could be just the opposite.
M: Most likely, using humor to lighten up tense situations and providing encouragement that [pregnancy] would eventually happen for us.
Question 4: What was the most effective coping/balancing mechanism you found for the emotional rollercoaster of fertility treatments?
F: Oh man. It is a rollercoaster. The first time was rough. I had such high expectations and I didn’t know what I was in for. When [IVF] didn’t work, I went into a pretty dark depression for several weeks. The second time, the process was really hard on our relationship, on my body, on our entire life—but it worked. Even having done [IVF] one time before, I still didn’t have any positive way of coping with the stress. And that’s okay. The same went for all our frozen embryo transfers—I was an emotional rollercoaster filled with hope only to feel bitter disappointment.
[Even though my third IVF was also successful], I can still honestly say that I didn’t have any answers then either. What I can say is that I changed my mindset at some point during our time at CNY; I thought of IVF and the entire process as strictly scientific. [If] you plant 100 seeds, not all of them grow. The same thing applies to fertility. It’s just science. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, just like planting a seed. It’s no one’s fault.
M: I had to start mentally preparing for the next step before the current step was over, so I didn’t feel caught off guard when something failed and we had to try something new.
Question 5: What is one thing your partner said/did that made a difference for you during your fertility journey?
F: My husband prepared all of the medications/needles and kept track of all that. When I used the oil-based progesterone, he gave me those shots. It made it easier that I didn’t have to worry about preparing shot after shot, night after night.
M: She tried to stay positive. She helped us picture life as a family of three instead of two.
Question 6: What message would you want to give other fertile partners?
F: Learn about IVF or whatever the fertility treatment is before you do it. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Advocate for yourselves and know that there will be dark days. Be prepared for that. Be there for other and be understanding. This isn’t easy, but it is worth it.
M: Don’t be easily discouraged. Keep [your] options open, keep hope alive, and lean on each other to get through the toughest moments.