Struggling with infertile partner.
February 21, 2015 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Please point me to resources that realistically discuss someone's desire to leave an infertile partner.

I'm ashamed to be asking this question, but these feelings are there whether I like it or not and I need to work through them. I'm looking for things I could read about people who genuinely struggle with a partner's infertility and whether to stay with that partner.

Right now we're going through getting diagnosed. We don't have a final diagnosis but as far as anyone can tell it's them and not me. I'm aware that these issues are not always clear-cut, so despite appearances it could be me or both of us. But that doesn't change the appearance that all is well with me and not my partner. I'm ashamed to say that this has kicked off lots of very unhealthy feelings about leaving an otherwise-good marriage. I love my spouse so these feelings are tearing me up. I am seeking therapy - I have been in therapy before and believe it can be helpful, so reading things on my own is not a replacement for therapy. I will also consider couple counseling in the future. But I don't want to sit around getting increasingly agitated while I seek a therapist.

I'm reading up about treatments, and about adoption, and my partner and I are communicating about everything except the flight response I'm feeling. I'm sure I'll have AskMe questions about those topics in the future. But right now I'm seeing everything through the lense of a strong desire not to stick around, which is terrible and I'm trying to get past that desire. Unfortunately there's no one in my life I can discuss this with so I'm feeling very alone and obsessing a bit. I may eventually need to discuss this with my partner but not until I know whether this is a short-term panic reaction or something longer-term. Hopefully I can come to grips with it and make it a short-term feeling.

In the meantime while I seek therapy, my outlook is getting really myopic since I can't discuss this with anyone (parents would be ashamed, we share all the same friends and I'm uncomfortable telling them something this damaging, etc). Googling around for resources that discuss recognizing, understanding, and processing these emotions in the face of infertility has only turned up platitudes: "I love them too much," "they are more to me than their ability to reproduce." These platitudes are nice but at the moment they are doing nothing for me, just making me feel more alone and ashamed for feeling the way I do. I could really use an honest perspective on someone struggling with the same thing I am. Reading about others' honest experiences has helped with other issues I've faced, so hopefully it will help with this too. Nonfiction such as someone sharing their experience is preferred, but if there's a really good story that deals with this I would be willing to take a look. It doesn't matter whether the result is the person staying or leaving, as long as they are taking an honest look at how they are feeling.

Thanks for your help and compassion.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Message me privately if you like. My husband and I were collectively infertile. It was probably primarily a problem with my system but medically not entirely clear cut. He didn't want to adopt initially but changed his mind. Which I'm grateful for (he is, too) because I always expected to be a single mom. It never occurred to me I might end up married but without children. And I might very well have left him if he had refused to adopt. I'm lucky, it didn't get that far.

Please don't feel ashamed if you can help it. That you recognise your flight response and are also taking steps to process the situation are wonderful things. You are not being mindless. You are in turbulent emotional waters struggling to breathe. That happens, and that does not make you a bad person. And it doesn't make you a bad person if it should it turn out that your partner cannot help you have something that you really, really want and you eventually decide to leave your partner as a result.

Luckily, there is no emergency. Your brain is telling you there is an emergency. Your brain is telling you that you are drowning and you have to get out of the water now. But that's a lie. So do breathing exercises or physical exercise or watch a funny video or--if you can--do something loving and bonding with your partner because you can seek your partner's loving company and support without announcing, in hurtful detail, why you need it.

Leaving is always an option. Always, always, always. So there's no need to do anything drastic. You can acknowledge your desire to flee without acting on it. Challenging but possible. Congrats on seeking therapy. Resolve (a national infertility association) offers a variety of resources for those of us who wrestle with this issue. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:49 AM on February 21, 2015 [22 favorites]

I never found any real information about this outside of random forum posts. Which is weird, because in general we plan a future with an idea of what life with our spouse will look like, and it is natural to question every aspect of that picture when it becomes clear it isn't going to pan out that way, especially in the face of something as daunting as infertility.

I think it's also worth considering if you think you have what it takes to go through the roller-coaster of TTC through infertility. It is exceedingly hard on a marriage. Adoption is no walk in the park, either. Marriages routinely fail under the stress of both.

2nding Bella Donna's very good suggestion of Resolve, which also has forums. You won't be the first or the last person to feel what you're feeling.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:53 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I know you say that you're uncomfortable telling your friends something this damaging, but if a close friend told me this (even if I were also friends with their partner), I would totally understand, and I would want to support them any way I could. Or, if it's any help at all, know that there are strangers on the internet who don't judge you for these feelings. Take care.
posted by unknowncommand at 12:09 PM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

my wife and i went through two miscarriages before we had a successful pregnancy. she had declared the third pregnancy to be her last try so we were looking down the 'what if we don't have kids' path.

i coped with it by imagining what our life would be like if we didn't have kids. i focused on the things that i'm passionate about that i'd be able to focus my energy and extra money towards without kids. just imagining an alternate trajectory for our lives together where we supported and shared each others passions made it clear that we would be alright without kids- just different.
posted by noloveforned at 12:10 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

"What would you rather have: fifty happy years without children, or fifty miserable years with them?"

Pondering this question from their therapist helped some friends of mine work through their infertility issues. Granted, their case was slightly different because she as the infertile partner didn't want to 'trap' him into a marriage when he really, really wanted kids, but. It might be useful to you and your partner.
posted by Tamanna at 12:24 PM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

3rding Resolve. And this may seem odd an odd rec but discussions about how to cope with similar situations may also be found on the forums that deal with "when one wants children and the other doesn't/can't" - do I stay or go when everything else is good? How do I deal with the grief of never having children with this specific person if I stay? If I go, will I ever trust that I could/would have children with anyone else? And if this is socio-cultural driven, there may be additional online resources for dealing with the perceived stigma of being childless.
Best wishes in finding peace with this.
posted by beaning at 12:25 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Of all places, reddit has great forums on pregnancy and infertility that discuss feelings frankly and without finesse. Here is an infertility sub-reddit with links to other subs. Or search for "divorce" within that sub-reddit and you'll find people's posts on the relationship stresses infertility can cause.

My heart goes out to you, it sounds like you are just processing the news so give it time to feel out. Remember there are also donor eggs / sperm available in addition to adoption, perhaps your partner would be open to this as well.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:27 PM on February 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

First of all, I'm so sorry you and your partner are going through this. Infertility and TTC through it are incredibly stressful to begin with. They are long term issues that take a long time to diagnose and then make choices about and then work through. It's exhausting and you can start to feel like your life revolves around this negative thing you're trying to solve, and you and your partner never get a break from thinking about it, literally for years sometimes. So maybe it will help you to really acknowledge how huge this entire experience is--its unsurprising to me that you're having these feelings of wanting to flee.

It's good that you're looking for a therapist to talk to. In the meantime, like others above, I encourage you to find infertility forums you feel comfortable with and read through many threads, not just the ones that relate directly to this issue you are asking about here. You will get a broader picture of the collective toll all the stress of infertility can take on you and your marriage and how normal it is to have these feelings. I'm not saying you will necessarily end up acting on them; it can just be a relief to know it's normal to feel this way.

Participating in infertility and pregnancy loss forums--even reading them and not commenting at first--has been very helpful to my mental health. There is something about talking to or listening to people who have gone through exactly what you are experiencing--it is helpful in a different way than talking to your partner, supportive friends, or a therapist (all of which are important things to do too). Good luck and I hope you can find some peace with yourself.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:39 PM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think it's human nature to want to bolt when the going gets tough. And it's perfectly okay to be disappointed if things you've planned on, and wanted your whole life don't happen.

There's a small piece called Welcome to Holland, by Emily Perl Kingsley. It's about the disappointment of having given birth to a special needs child and in a small way, it addresses what you're feeling.

What you are keenly feeling is disappointment, and in some of us, when we're disappointed we want to quickly get to a place where we don't feel that. I am validating your feelings because they are real and true and they don't make you a horrible person.

You are also mourning a loss, and you may be transitioning through different stages of grief and it's manifesting by an intense desire to bolt.

It begs the question. Do you want to find another partner who IS fertile? Or do you just want out of the situation? That's rather a huge distinction.

Check out Unsung Lulabies; Understanding and Coping with Infertility. This may have some insights for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:32 PM on February 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

It seems that you didn't want to share which sex is infertile in this relationship. It's easy to imagine that you are the woman just because women have a time-line on their fertility and men don't.

If you are the male in this situation, what Bella Donna said above about you always having the option to leave in the future to start your family is correct. Unfortunately this is not the case if you are female and your husband is the one that is infertile. Depending on your age you may very well need to make up your mind sooner than later.

You CAN have children of your own even if your partner is infertile. If you are female all it takes is a sperm donor and will only cost you a few hundred dollars at the most. (depending on where you live, and how you choose to go about the process) If you are male, then it will be much more expensive as you will need a surrogate to carry the child and possibly an egg donor as well if your wife's eggs are not able to be harvested.

Where I used to live there was an infertility support group and I believe this is an issue that they would've discussed at length. I would look up support groups near where you live. If you have trouble finding any, you can email local fertility clinics and they would likely have information on groups and forums like this.
posted by rancher at 4:00 PM on February 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

Rancher, it would depend on the cause of the female infertility - needing a surrogate and donor eggs is the absolute worst case scenario. Many women conceive with clomid, or with IVF, or with IVF using donor eggs. There is ICSI for male infertility to avoid donor sperm.

Infertility is a strain on any relationship, absolutely, but thinking about surrogacy is jumping the gun - the problem might be fixable.

OP, most infertility clinics have counsellors. Can you speak to them? They are confidential, and will have heard this all before so will not be shocked or appalled.
posted by tinkletown at 5:24 PM on February 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

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