Help for the husband of an IVF patient?
November 28, 2012 8:38 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are trying to get pregnant. We've resorted to IVF (in vitro fertilization). But meanwhile, my wife is going to pieces, "terrified" that she might never have a natural child. Anyone been through this? Any advice?

That's the word she keeps using: "terrified." It makes her stay up all night, it makes her cry at the sight of a pregnant woman, it makes her avoid seeing friends and family. She says the worst part of it is that she will blame herself for waiting so long (she's 37). I try to tell her that the chances of IVF succeeding at her age are very good, but she can't stop fixating on the not-insignificant chance it will not work out.

Has anyone been where she, or I, have been? Is there anything you could suggest that might make this very difficult situation more bearable (for her, I'm not worried about me)?
posted by Anonymousness to Human Relations (28 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
We are not there yet, but is she seeing a therapist, or could she? I don’t know the exact stats on IVF success, but at 37, she should realistically be dealing with the possibility that you’re not going to have genetic children. If it happens, great, but she should have professional help dealing with the other possibilities if it’s already keeping her up at night.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:40 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: She is seeing a therapist, yes.
posted by Anonymousness at 8:41 AM on November 28, 2012

There are absolutely fertility support groups she can join, in person or online. My mom went to one out on long island (ny) in the 70s and 80s.

Also therapy.
posted by elizardbits at 8:41 AM on November 28, 2012

Tell her to have hope and think positive thoughts. My wife had surgery to find out and possibly fix the cause of her infertility. The surgeon found a lot of idiopathic scarring and said my wife would never be able to get pregnant naturally. Then a couple of years later at the age of 40 my wife got pregnant, naturally, and had a normal pregnancy and child. Good things can happen.
posted by Dansaman at 8:45 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

We have been through this exact thing and it was a long an painful slog for both of us. Here is some bad news, I'm afraid, for us it got worse with the treatment hormones and repeated miscarriages.

We had a happy ending but there was a lot of time thinking about what decision was really right for us and our family and really trying to accept the idea that our vision of our family might not be the reality. And in fact, after a year or so we changed our minds about what we wanted to do.

I do not think there is any way for your wife to just feel better. IVF may not, in fact, work and I think she is processing a loss. The goal is acceptance of the world the way it really is and knowing that both you and she and your family are all OK with or without a baby which is the result of your sperm and her eggs.

I have a tender spot in my heart for anyone with fertility issues so feel free to MeMail me.
posted by shothotbot at 8:47 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe also remind her that stress can hurt fertility - she may not want to stop blaming herself for her choices, but if you point out that her blaming herself for her choices could hurt her chances of having a baby, it might kind of force her to start caring for herself and taking things easier.
posted by corb at 8:50 AM on November 28, 2012

It took us 5 years to have our first child who was the product of IVF number 3. I didn't feel terrified about not having a natural child as much as I was despondent. I had terrible reactions to pregnant ladies so much that I essentially walled myself off from the world.

I ended up pursuing multiple avenues to process all of these feelings. I saw a therapist who specialized in infertility. I started blogging and I tried to look objectionally at what was going on.

In the end, I regret all of the time I spent being miserable. The friendships I avoided because my friends who were pregnant haven:t really recovered.

Please try to convince your wife to seek therapy-infertility is very isolating and it sounds like she is having a very hard time coping.
posted by Leezie at 8:51 AM on November 28, 2012

Best answer: Found it - it's Resolve.
posted by elizardbits at 8:53 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Take a look at a blog about fertility/infertility written by my friend, Lisa Rosenthal; .

There is contact information there. I think Lisa will be able to help.
posted by Hobgoblin at 9:01 AM on November 28, 2012

I have never been where you are, although some family have. It can take a few years, as other commenters have said. Unfortunately, your wife's age does put an upper limit on this time span.

To the extent that encouraging words are needed, the upside is that the current state of IVF is rather remarkable today. If you were living just a decade or two ago, there would likely be no chance of fertility. There has never been a better time to be in this situation, although we cannot really say that there is ever a "good time" for this.

It is normal to be anxious about one's fertility. However, the sleepless nights, crying at the sight of pregnant women, and social withdrawal are signs that something unhealthy is going on. She may be preemptively grieving that she is infertile. You said that she is already in therapy, so I would continue that course. The one thing I would add is that it is possible that her anxiety is now so severe that medication may be helpful. I do not know if the "therapy" is conducted by a psychiatrist or not, but if not, she may wish to be referred to a psychiatrist who can prescribe any needed medication.

At some point, I wonder if it might be appropriate for there to be a therapy session with the both of you. You figure into this if for no other reason that she is probably very worried about your thoughts of her and this situation.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:03 AM on November 28, 2012

Best answer: This will depend so much on how your wife copes with stress/guilt/disappointment. I have 1 child, but I've been dealing with secondary infertility for about 3 years now and it SUCKS. You're tooling around at work minding your business and someone will comment on a pregnant coworker, or anything and BAM.

It's tricky to deal with because it is so muli-layered. There's the grief aspect, but also the guilt aspect (for me it's because I'm large, for your wife the age thing), then there's the layer of secondary guilt (why do I need a natural child, surely this is selfish and I should be happy to adopt) and the fear of sharing this grief/guilt and having other people not get it.

Therapy can be good, but I would recommend trying to find a group to go too as well. The real truth is that this isn't going to be a quick fix.

I personally found it very helpful when my husband allowed me to see that he was also frustrated and disappointed. For a long time he was trying to be stoic and strong, but what that translated to for me was that he didn't care as much as I did, and that he must not really want another child.

I'm sorry you guys are having trouble. I hope your IVF is successful.
posted by dadici at 9:11 AM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Here is a book, Inconceivable, which helped my wife.
posted by shothotbot at 9:21 AM on November 28, 2012

Best of everything to you and your wife, I hope all works out for you both. FWIW my sister-in-law was a few years older than your wife is now when she began undergoing IVF treatments (after TTC naturally unsuccessfully for a few years; she and my brother-in-law were in their mid-30s when they got married)...I won't kid you, it was a lengthy and expensive process. I believe it was their third round that was the successful one. Their triplets turned 16 this past June.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:41 AM on November 28, 2012

Best answer: Maybe also remind her that stress can hurt fertility

trust me, she knows. Every minute of every day.

I had moderate trouble getting pregnant and terrible trouble staying pregnant. (G6P2, in the lingo.) I was both terrified and despondent, for sure, though I did not end up needing IVF to have a baby. The thing that helped me the most was finding an online community of women who had a similar outlook on the whole process as I did; I wasn't particularly helped by the Baby Dust / Your Angel Is Waiting / Pregnant Until Proven Otherwise / Relentless Jesus-Based Optimism crowd, but there are a lot of really dark-humored, snarky infertility communities out there. Start with Julie at A Little Pregnant if this would be her cup of tea. (Spoilers: Julie does have children, but man it was not an easy road for her.)

Probably the single best thing YOU can do for her is just meet her where she is, emotionally. I had days of sunny positivity, and I had days of horrible black sobbing. I had days of "Oh well, fertility is a black box, no sense in stressing about it!" and I had days of frantically googling "two miscarriages low progesterone non-doubling beta outcomes" with a carton of ice cream at my elbow and a bottle of emergency vodka in the freezer in case I started bleeding out again. My husband never questioned either the nature or the strength of my emotional responses to the process, and that was the best thing about my struggles to have a baby, was that I knew he wasn't judging me.
posted by KathrynT at 9:43 AM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Mental Health Therapy is a lot like other kinds of therapy, Physical, Radiation, Chemo, Etc.

Dosage can be adjusted.

There is a big difference between once a month and twice a week.
posted by French Fry at 9:52 AM on November 28, 2012

Best answer: Maybe also remind her that stress can hurt fertility - she may not want to stop blaming herself for her choices, but if you point out that her blaming herself for her choices could hurt her chances of having a baby, it might kind of force her to start caring for herself and taking things easier.

I'm going to have to respectfully absolutely disagree with this.

#1 every person going through infertility who has talked about it with anyone has heard the cliche "just relax and it will happen." You know what? You cannot go through infertility without being stressed, and people telling you that you need to "just relax" only makes it more stressful! Don't make it seem like you can magically not feel something that is a natural feeling when going through this experience.

#2 Telling her "it could hurt your chances of having a baby if you are blaming yourself/stressing about it" is only going to make her feel more guilty if it doesn't work. Telling someone that blaming themselves is going to make them a failure is not a recipe for success here.

I'd do the opposite of this. I'd tell her "you know what, what you're feeling is NORMAL. There's no one going through IVF who thinks it's relaxing and that it's a cake walk. Going through IVF is an incredibly stressful process for everyone, and yet a lot of people still get pregnant doing it. And a lot of people don't. But the fact that you're feeling stressed is not going to change the outcome here, so please know that I support you and that I understand the feelings you're having, and that whether the IVF works or not - it won't be because you or I did anything 'wrong'. Feeling scared and hopeless and hopeful and stressed all at the same time is natural here. We'll get through this."

And talk fully through what your plan will be for either outcome, if you can - this helps because even though an unsuccessful IVF is always going to be crushingly sad, it helps if you don't also have no idea what the next step is. Even if you're not sure about the next step in infertility treatment, maybe if this doesn't work you'll go on that wine tasting trip you've always wanted to go on, which you couldn't do if she was pregnant. You'll go out to the sushi restaurant and have a huge boat of tuna rolls with tuna on top. You'll spend a romantic evening in the hot tub or you'll run a marathon. Not sure about your wife but I know for me, I wanted there to be something I could look forward to no matter what happened.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:18 AM on November 28, 2012 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Do not tell her that stress can hurt fertility. It's offensive and it just makes not having a baby more her fault.

Not being able to be with family or kids and crying over pregnant women is totally normal and par for the course. It's totally normal before you get to IVF, and totally normal during IVF because the hormones can really fuck you up.

Terrified is a legit thing to feel. We live in a culture that expends a fuckton of energy telling women that being a mother is what it's all about. And indeed, only 19% of women do not have kids. It's actually quite hard for a number of women to imagine a future that isn't "get married, get pregnant, be a mother." It may help her to explore with you what will happen if IVF fails, to consider all the ways you might build your family, and to consider not building it at all. Some of us really, really want to know What Will Happen Next.

Infertility is one of the most stressful things a couple can go through. Do not underestimate its ability to do a serious number on your marriage. You may want to consider joint therapy, more therapy, and some support groups. I like the TTC boards on the private forums at ADL. They are populated by MeFi-like women who know a shit-ton about infertility protocols and are blissfully free of baby dust. The comfort of the company of other women in the same boat can be a sanity saver.

Also: acupuncture. It makes a very small statistical difference in IVF success rates, but at 30K a pop for IVF, it's probably worth it and may help her feel like she has a little more control and some choices.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:55 AM on November 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

Telling a woman undergoing fertility issues to "think positive" or that "stress makes it worse" is evil, misogynistic, and condescending. Unless you're actually shouting it down the well she's lived in all her life, she's well aware both of those facts and also that she's entirely to blame for her infertility.

Ask what help she a) wants b) from you. See if she wants help putting together a plan for when she can't sleep, for example - does she need to turn the TV on? Wake you up to talk? Turn the lights on? Talk about it as much outside of the moment as you can, so that if she needs shorthand or a signal or a pre-planned way of handling these especially bad moments, you're not trying to work it out in the moment.

Also, you need to talk to her doctors with her about this, if she's okay with that. Not only does she need to see you taking this seriously, but you also need to be the one with the pen and pad making notes, being an advocate, asking questions, and taking advantage of your lower anxiety to make sure she's not missing an opportunity to get more help than she is right now.

I personally have never had the urge to have children. I have had friends whose fertility problems devastated them in a way that maybe - maybe! - being sentenced to prison would devastate me. I've seen people suffer PTSD-type symptoms during and for years after treatment. I've seen marriages end over it.

Even if you don't see this in the same dire way she does, I think it is to your advantage to just accept that she does feel that way and that she IS actually terrified. Work with it from that perspective. Your wife is terrified. How seriously do you want that to be treated? Therapy weekly or more? Support groups? Medication compatible with treatment and early pregnancy?

The scariest post-partum depressions I've seen were after infertility, as well. Like, hopitalization-grade near psychosis from refusing to sleep or even really look away from the baby. So, it's worth treating this as a very serious period in your wife's life that isn't going to magically go away one way or the other.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:02 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Lyn, you give some good advice there, but it is important to point out that she may not be entirely or at all to 'blame' for her infertility. The OP did not say what, if any underlying problem is going on here. Many couples experience male factor infertility or unexplained infertility.

I think it's most productive to try to avoid the discussion of 'blame' entirely. If a woman has limited ovarian reserve in her late 40s, does that mean she is "entirely to blame" because she's trying to have children later in life? If she has endometriosis or polycystic ovaries, whose fault is that? There are other ways of looking at the situation - like, "this is the hand we've been dealt - how are we going to play it?"
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:24 AM on November 28, 2012

I have not gone through fertility, but every month when my cycle approaches I blame myself in a small way for waiting so long. I am 41 and having had one miscarriage, I understand how a woman can blame themselves for our body not responding. I suggest letting her know you are supportive of the process of getting pregnant, but you love her whether she conceives or not. Try to listen to how she feels and let her express herself.
posted by i_wear_boots at 11:41 AM on November 28, 2012

treehorn+bunny while I think that's the appropriate attitude in a clinical setting, it's a little pat and glossy-over for real life intimate human relations IMHO.

My husband's junk performs flawlessly, so pretending that the fact that neither he nor I have biological offspring is down to anyone but me is a little ridiculous. When the person being treated who "fails to conceive" and has "failed cycles" has distinctly girl parts, that charade is a little hard to pull off at home. We can't have kids, and regardless of the reasons or back-story, in the reality of today that is down to my non-working parts. I am actually much more at peace knowing that both my husband and I acknowledge that and he likes hanging out with infertile me more than he likes very short people and itty bitty baby socks, but of course, other people's mileage may vary.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:08 PM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

treehorn+bunny, that was sarcasm. Infertility is not caused by failing to be sweet and cheerful enough.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:49 PM on November 28, 2012

Couples' therapy as soon as you can arrange it. She should continue with her individual therapy, but you need to figure out how best to help her, and she may not be able to help guide you.

Memail me if you want to chat. Wifey and I went through about five years of trying, culminating in 3 rounds of IVF and one set of twins. I'm finally at a point where I can say that it would have been worth it even without the kids, but it was a long road to walk.
posted by disconnect at 1:37 PM on November 28, 2012

Best answer: And consider that you're as much a patient as she. You don't have to endure any procedures, you don't really have to be there at all. But go with her as often as you can, even if it's just sitting in the waiting room for a routine blood draw. Ask if you can be in the room when they're transferring the embryos. Take one pic of the embryos; I still have the pics of the two failed cycles, and I treasure those just as much as every single baby picture.
posted by disconnect at 1:42 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes. Twice. Our first child was born when my wife was 37, and she actually saw a specialist for several months as we were trying to conceive. It was a while ago, so I can't quite remember what it was like, but I know she was worried. I simply did as I was told, and tried to support as best I could, understanding that the emotional issues at play were fundamentally about self-identity. There would be nothing that I could say that would help, really. Sometimes it's best to say nothing at all.

Conceiving our second child was more difficult. It took 7 years. It was not a great time in my life, as we had relocated back to Canada, and I was earning less than before, in a more expensive city. So of course I said the wrong things, which had consequences.

But ultimately I supported my wife's need and we had our second child, who is fine and healthy. The challenges my wife and I went through were pretty extreme, but I think they have subsided deep into the background.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:17 PM on November 28, 2012

Agreed with everyone who says to avoid, at all costs, telling her to "relax," not stress out, etc. My ex-husband and I went through years of infertility treatments, and nothing made me want to punch someone in the face like telling me I should just "stop stressing about it." Unfortunately, people who haven't been through the process seem to think that this is a good message, so one tends to hear it a lot, even from well-meaning friends.

Sorry, my tubes are basically sealed shut (of their own accord), so I can relax myself into a fucking coma and it wouldn't help.

Ahem. It's been years, but clearly this is still a sore point.

I also agree that coping ability varies a lot, especially when you're talking about an extended period of time. Some days, I could take it all in stride; others, I was morose at the thought that everyone else I knew seemed to get pregnant at the drop of a hat, and even most of the people I knew who had some difficulty at first eventually managed to conceive. All my husband could do throughout that roller coaster was try to be supportive... and even then, I felt guilty knowing that I was the only thing standing between him and fatherhood. (I kind of still feel guilty about that, actually.)

Infertility does indeed suck.

Unfortunately, after 5 unsuccessful IVFs, we finally threw in the towel, so I'm not exactly an inspirational example. On the other hand, we started trying to conceive when I was 29, and didn't give up until I was 36, so age wasn't really much of an issue. My only problem was plumbing, so in theory I was close to an ideal candidate. The lesson here is, there's no point beating yourself up over guilt, because even when everything seems perfect, you can't control or predict the outcome. If your wife is something of a control freak--serious planner, for instance--she might have an even harder time dealing with the whole shebang.

If she's anything like me, what she's going through is really a grieving process, having to give up her (probably) life-long dream-slash-assumption that one day she'd decide when it was the right time to have a child, followed by a beautiful and simple conception, stress-free pregnancy, happy and healthy baby, etc. The outcome may or may not be the same, and I truly hope it is, but the process clearly won't be. For many people, adjusting to this new reality is quite difficult. Imagine that she's dealing with a major loss, regardless of what may happen eventually, and treat her accordingly.

Best of luck to you both.
posted by Superplin at 9:13 PM on November 28, 2012

Maybe also remind her that stress can hurt fertility

Yup, that's honestly a bunch of (medical) bullshit. Adding to the chorus!
posted by kellybird at 11:38 PM on November 28, 2012

Mrs. zooropa here. I'm currently pregnant with our first after 4 rounds of IUI + injectables. On our last, and only successful cycle, the one thing that really seemed to help me generally keep my shit together a little bit better was meditation. I used the IVF/IUI Mind Body Program from circle+bloom. A friend who has gone through several IVF cycles recommended it to me, and while I was a skeptic at first (I don't usually buy into the woo), I enjoyed it.

Between the drug protocol, crazy hormones, and every other day appointments with the doctor I had very little control over the process. I think the meditation helped me deal with that a little better than I had in previous cycles. Best of luck to you both.
posted by zooropa at 6:55 AM on November 29, 2012

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