They say it takes two to tango and trying for a baby with your partner is a pretty involved activity. You’re both as essential as each other. However, whether it takes you six months or six years to conceive it may feel like there’s a great onus on the person who will be carrying the baby to bear the brunt of responsibility. They might be the one to book appointments, track ovulation, and take supplements but it doesn’t have to be a solo mission.
Here’s how to involve your partner in your fertility journey. Infertility can put a massive strain on your relationship and remembering what brought you together in the first place may be the thing to hold you together throughout.
Trying to conceive can be tough, mentally
When you see happy couples bouncing their newborn babies in cafes or posting perfect family shots on Instagram it’s fairly easy to forget that trying to get pregnant can be a long and stressful process. Depending on variables such as your age, reproductive health, and how often you have sex, around 84 out of every 100 couples get pregnant within the first year of trying if they’re having regular sex and don’t use contraception. Regular sex is defined as every two to three days throughout the month. However, it doesn’t happen this way for everyone.
When you start out on your fertility journey sex can be exciting. Taking pregnancy tests can be a hopeful, shared activity, but slowly this can become stressful if you’re not getting the result you want. Studies have highlighted that women with infertility report elevated levels of anxiety and depression, so it is clear that infertility causes stress. It’s estimated that one in eight couples have trouble getting or remaining pregnant. However, many report feeling isolated and alone as they don’t share their stories or struggle with loved ones. This can have a massive toll on your mental health and recognising that your fertility journey can and should be shared with your partner may alleviate some of the worries or guilt you’re carrying.
“Every woman views the upcoming end of a menstrual cycle with anxiety. ‘Am I pregnant? Am I not pregnant?’ So don't be surprised to see your very calm partner anxious. Many couples try to time intercourse with ovulation to maximize fertility, but sex on demand can be problematic for both partners,” says Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, MD, Yale School of Medicine and representative of ANNOVERA.
You’re on your fertility journey as a team
If you’re trying to conceive you may choose to take medication or supplements to help the process. “If the woman is taking medications to stimulate ovulation she may need to be running back and forth to the fertility center to do tests like ultrasounds,” says Dr Minkin, “this may put pressure on her, as well as her partner. And these medications can make you moody so cut your partner some slack.”
The reality is, if you’re trying for a baby with your partner then you should be in it together from the very start. The responsibility for conception doesn’t fall with one partner and, as no two couples are the same, you’re in a unique position to support each other every step of the way. Rather than rooting out who may be to blame for your fertility problems, stand together as a team. “For couples dealing with infertility: the journey may well be long and seemingly complicated, but the odds are that most couples starting will end up with success so hang in there,” says Dr. Minkin.
Share details about testing & medication
A really practical way of involving your partner in your fertility journey is making them as involved in the medical process as you are, short of taking medical shots. If you’re monitoring your ovulation cycle, make sure they’re present when you check. If you want to take a pregnancy test, buy it and do it together. If you’re going through fertility treatment and taking medication then educate yourselves on the ins-and-outs of the process together. Build up an understanding of the medication you’re taking at the same time and teach your partner how to administer the drugs that you need.
This won’t just help your partner feel involved but will ensure that the person carrying the baby feels totally supported. “I would encourage both partners to be understanding of the stresses the other is feeling. Indeed, women do bear the brunt of medical interventions so we strongly encourage men to understand the stressors that women are feeling,” says Dr. Minkin.
It’s estimated that between 1991 and 2016 there have been 1.1 million IVF treatment cycles in the UK. There’s been more than eight million babies born via IVF around the globe since the first, four decades ago. Many couples go through fertility treatment and it’s important to understand it as something a couple goes through as a duo and a team.
Book appointments together
COVID-19 poses unique issues for couples. While normally both parents would be invited to any appointments, partners have been asked to stay away from the hospital. However, that is changing. With COVID-19 in mind Dr. Minkin says, “there are a number of other stressors out there. For couples just entering the fertility process, they may be wondering ‘Is now the right time to be dealing with the added stressors of fertility evaluation and to start treatments?’ Reassuringly, what we have seen at the moment is that although COVID-19 can be a very nasty disease, pregnant women do not seem to be affected more adversely than others and that the baby does not seem to be at risk.”
Clinics and hospitals are slowly opening their doors for both parents. So, when you’re booking your appointments make sure it’s at a time when both of you can attend. By booking and turning up together, you’ll be able to share any precious moments, get information from the doctor, and support each other.
Pick up tasks around the house
Life doesn’t stop when you’re trying to conceive or are pregnant. Being there for each other emotionally is so important but making sure you’re practically supporting each other will make your life so much easier. Trying for a baby can take a toll on your body. Fertility treatment may leave you feeling anxious or depressed. You may experience nausea, vomiting, headaches, cramps, and breast tenderness. If your partner understands what you’re going through and why then it’ll be easier for them to be empathetic. Asking them to pick up the bulk of household responsibilities on days when you’re struggling will give you a sense that you’re in it together. Similarly, if you’re taking supplements, ensure your partner knows which ones, why you’re taking them, and where to get more should you need some.
Communicate your worries openly
No matter how open you are with your partner about the help that you need or the medicine you’re taking, you may both be carrying around anxiety and guilt while trying to conceive which can trigger arguments. When it’s what you’re focusing all of your time and energy on, not getting pregnant is incredibly frustrating and can boil over into blame games and fear that the other person will leave if it never happens.
Instead of being defensive try and be a listening ear for your partner. Often they won’t want you to fix their problem, they just want to be heard. A number of studies have found that depression is much more common in infertile couples. Couples struggling to have children were also found to be more anxious compared to the general population. During your fertility journey, you may deal with feelings of disappointment, loss, grief, and anger among many others and just because your partner doesn’t react in the same way to you doesn’t mean their feelings are any less valid.
Infertility counselling may help
Trying for a baby can feel like a deeply personal thing. However, reaching out to a professional to mediate conversations between you and a loved one, work through any hurt you have, and uncover struggles that you’re carrying, may improve the mental health of both of you. Infertility counselling is described as a support network which can help you talk through your fertility journey and options. Therapy is still a loaded word for some people but if you’re feeling so low and preoccupied with conceiving that it’s hard to live your life, day-to-day, then you may benefit from seeing a counsellor.
By looking at your fertility journey, with all of the medical appointments and procedures you have, as a joint endeavour that equally affects both partners, it’ll be far easier for everyone to feel involved. They say sharing is caring so treat your supplements as their supplements, your medication as their medication, and your side effects as something that affects them too. It’s far easier to release some of the pressure of conception onto your partner when they fully understand what you’re going through.
When you begin your fertility journey you start as a pair. The longer it goes on it can become increasingly difficult for both of you so speaking to each other and reaching out to a fertility counsellor, should you want to, will help you remain a team.
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