I didn’t see the Disney/Pixar movie Up until it had already become a hit. But, at the recommendation of a family member, we finally rented a copy to see it for ourselves. We were just barely newlyweds, and watching the characters, Carl & Ellie, fall in love, get married, and then struggle to have children (all over the course of a few minutes) left me in a state of total shock. I think I stopped breathing. I think my heart didn’t beat for just a moment. I didn’t cry or even noticeably react; I couldn’t focus on anything other than the fear that I was watching our future story. And, although the resolution to Carl & Ellie’s struggle is oversimplified (it is still Disney after all), the bit of pain they manage to portray is terribly real. I’ve never watched the movie again.
There seems to be a misconception that infertility is just a vaguely sad situation that some unlucky couples deal with, but I can tell you that the impact of infertility weaves its way into every aspect of your life, especially your marriage. In fact, couples who go through fertility treatments are three time more likely to divorce than others. Kyle and I have had to fight for our marriage through circumstances that most young couples never encounter. In the five years since our wedding day, we have spent more than half of our marriage trying to get pregnant and have dealt with infertility since we were 24 years old. We have learned a lot through these experiences, but we have lost a lot as well.
Here are just a few ways our marriage has been impacted by infertility:
Grief: There is nothing I can say that could possibly convey the depths of the grief we’ve experienced. By far it has been the biggest issue we have had to adjust to, and it is one that is never-ending. We are still affected by our grief on a daily basis. It has torn through our lives and left everything behind in pieces.
Even though we are facing the same issue together, we have often struggled to connect over it. We are different people, and as such, we deal with grief differently. I was the first one to feel like something was wrong, but Kyle wasn’t ready to take action right away. He preferred to keep hoping that things would work out without interference. In response, I felt like I had to hide my feelings from him since he didn’t seem to understand my concerns. As time went on, he hesitated to share his pain with me because he felt like he had to continue his role as “the strong one.” At times our grief has manifested itself in ugly ways and we’ve become less than the best versions of ourselves. Sometimes we have been so blinded by our own pain that we’ve struggled to be there for the other person.
Overtime we’ve had to learn to reach out to each other even when we don’t feel fully able to help the other person. It has also been important that we strive to always use our words and actions to make things easier on the other person, not harder. We know that sometimes there is nothing we can say to each other to make a situation better, but we try to remind each other daily that we are in this together.
Stress: Studies have shown that the level of stress resulting from infertility is comparable to that of dealing with serious diseases such as cancer or HIV (referenced here). Living under that kind of stress for years on end has been exhausting, and unfortunately, we don’t always handle it the right way. Since we tend to take our stress out on those closest to us, we’ve ended up as targets for each other more than once over the last few years. In that time we’ve learned that we need to give each other more grace, that we have to be more gentle and understanding with each other, and that it’s important to maintain a united approach to difficult things, even if something falls more heavily on just one of us.
Guilt: Kyle is very careful to talk about our fertility issues as belonging to both of us and not just me, but inside I struggle with the feeling of guilt that he is childless because of my issues. It’s hard not to feel responsible for bringing this kind of pain into his life, and some days I feel selfish for marrying someone who wanted kids when I knew that I might not be able to have them. At times I wonder what his life would have been like if he’d married someone else. I imagine him able to become a father without the difficulty of infertility and picture him in a happier, more carefree life. It’s the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night and eats away at me. Not being able to make myself a mother is difficult, but being the reason my husband can’t be a father is absolutely brutal.
Isolation: As the years have passed, we’ve felt like we have increasingly less in common with our peers. Most couples our age are buying & fixing up starter homes, beginning or adding to their families, or focusing on their careers. They’re living their lives and working toward a future. In contrast, our lives are on hold. Friends with kids get to join a different world and tend to spend more time with other couples that have kids. Somehow we just kind of stopped fitting in somewhere along the way. We don’t know any other couples going through IVF, and we definitely don’t know anyone who has been through the surrogacy process. It doesn’t mean that we don’t value the great friendships that we have, but once in a while it would be nice if we didn’t feel like the odd ones out.
Below is the clip I referenced from the movie Up, as found on youtube. (Trigger warning for infertility, miscarriage, loss, etc.)