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How Infertility Took a Toll On My Marriage

toll of infertility on marriage

By Audrey Cade
 

From a young age I was wired with maternal instincts. My favorite toys, when I was a young girl, were my baby dolls. I remember a project in first grade when my classmates and I were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. While many of my peers selected future career goals like firefighters or doctors, I said I wanted to be a mommy! I idolized my own mother and imagined how amazing it would be to rock babies of my own to sleep, plan birthday parties for, and teach life lessons to.

 

My Infertility Story

When I met and married the man of my dreams, I had no doubt that starting a family together would be an important part of our marriage journey. We were married for four years when we decided it was time to start our family. Many of our friends were starting to have babies, so I was surrounded by pregnant bellies, baby shower invitations, and the overwhelming desire to welcome my own little one to the world.

 

As any young couple would, we assumed that a visit from the stork was inevitable after a few months of trying. Months turned into a full year with no success. I mentioned the lack of our success to conceive at a routine doctor’s appointment, which immediately prompted a round of tests for me. I was pleased to have a positive outcome from these tests, which revealed that I was healthy and appeared to be prime for pregnancy. So, what was the problem?

My husband was then asked to meet with a urologist for testing, and it was discovered that he suffered from Azoosapermia: zero (or nearly) sperm in his semen! This revelation tipped off an avalanche of questions. His urologist suspected that he may produce sperm, but it might be unable to escape because of a blockage. His recommendation was to see a colleague of his in another state who could correct the problem surgically.

 

This doctor did, indeed, perform surgery within hours of meeting my husband; but, not at all for the reasons or with the outcome we had anticipated. The surgeon who met with my husband immediately discovered that he had stage two testicular cancer. After sending him to a fertility clinic for one last deposit of semen to be frozen, the surgeon removed the affected testicle. My husband then began radiation to eradicate any remaining cancer cells in his abdomen.

 

Our hopes for having a baby were literally put on ice. We were shuffled around between fertility specialists who recommended immediately beginning in vetro fertilization (IVF) in hopes of finding one magical sperm in his frozen sample that could become the baby we wished so hard for. I began a series of injections, then I endured harvesting of my eggs for our one attempt to have a child.

 
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Part of me wondered what I could have done differently to be the wife he needed through this storm. Part of me thinks he divorced me to let me go so that I could still have a chance to have the family I always wanted. I’ll never really know.

 
 

The technician from the fertility clinic called me after my procedure to report that he struggled but found five weak sperm to inseminate my eggs with. They were injected back into me, and for days I waited in bed for the outcome. I imagined five tiny babies inside of me springing to life in my womb. Sadly, when the time came to test, we learned I was not pregnant, and we would never have a child of our own together.

 

I look back now, and I realize that too many things were happening to us at once. My husband had one assault after another hit him in the form of learning he was essentially sterile (a real ego blow for many men), to discovering he had cancer and would have to lose part of his manhood in the next breath! That, combined with treatment, was enough to endure. He fully recovered from his surgery and cancer treatment, but I don’t believe he ever recovered emotionally from the devastation of not being able to father a child. After our one shot at IVF failed, we discussed other avenues we might take to have a family (a sperm donor, adoption, and so on); but, he concluded he wasn’t interested in having a child if it wasn’t “his.”

 

I tried to be as supportive, loving, and understanding as I possibly could. My main priority was trying to help him heal from this ordeal. I could see that he was shutting down and starting to shut me out, but I couldn’t talk him into counseling or other help. I tried to show him that I was in our marriage for him, that I didn’t blame him, and I would be there for him no matter what. In the end, he told me that he no longer loved me and didn’t want to be married anymore.

 

Part of me wondered what I could have done differently to be the wife he needed through this storm. Part of me thinks he divorced me to let me go so that I could still have a chance to have the family I always wanted. I’ll never really know.

The Toll of Infertility on Marriage

What I do know is that infertility can put a tremendous strain on even the strongest of marriages. If it’s not the painful treatments, it might be the astronomical costs. If it’s not the heartbreak at the failure of another round of treatment, it might be the agony of hearing that yet another friend has become pregnant when you wonder if it will ever happen for you.

 

Some studies suggest that couples who experience infertility are three times more likely to divorce. Many couples manage to weather the storm; however, those that don’t, break up after facing a particularly harsh combination of factors that even the strongest relationships would find extremely challenging!

 

Infertility is a painful cocktail of emotions. Couples face the anguish of possibly saying goodbye to having a family both as a couple and as individuals. Individuals may blame themselves for letting down their partner and destroying their shared dream or even blame their spouse for the situation.

 

Financial difficulties are often a contributing factor to marital problems, and infertility treatments can provide plenty of fuel for conflict, at an average cost of $12,000 for IVF (with a 10-20% rate of success for women under 35). Time is of the essence, the costs keep mounting, and the pressure for success can become unbearable!

 

Macey found her way into the club of 200,000 annual US cases of infertility after years of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). She tried many procedures to improve her odds of pregnancy, but she and her husband finally decided to try to adopt a child from her native Philippines. Their first attempt to adopt a baby girl fell through after getting caught up in government red tape. The couple had named their daughter-to-be and lovingly decorated her nursery when news came through that she would not be coming home.

Although Macey and her husband made one more attempt to adopt a second baby, their marriage was already in shambles by the time her family hosted a beautiful baby shower for her. Macey believes that so much of their focus was placed onto growing their family that their bond as husband and wife became broken. The extremely stressful situation they found themselves in while completing home studies, mountains of paperwork, and spending their life savings ended up driving a wedge between the two instead of pulling them closer.

 
Carrie, who also resorted to adoption after PCOS and many failed attempts at IVF admits that although she and her husband did not end up divorced, their marriage was put to the test because of the stress and roller coaster of emotions they endured during their infertility journey.
 

”I can see now that I was crazy from all the hormones I was on. I was often mean, and I put a lot of pressure on Dan” Carrie acknowledged. “It was like going through a death. I imagined what a child, our child, would be like. I dreamed of growing a baby in my belly and experiencing every step of motherhood. I felt like I failed myself and Dan when I couldn’t have a baby. I had to mourn. We had to mourn, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done!”

 

April 21-27 is National Infertility Awareness Week

 

Many hearts have been broken through infertility and divorce. In many cases, infertility has been a cause of divorce. The pain is real, but there is hope for healing and overcoming the devastation of infertility in marriage!

 

For the couples now enduring infertility:

Take time to focus on yourselves as a couple and make sure to keep the marriage bond strong. The marriage existed first, and in most ways the marriage needs to remain first. Infertility is overwhelming, but it’s necessary to find ways to stay connected and leaning on one another for support.

 

Don’t get caught up in blame. No one plans to be infertile, and most of us have very little control over becoming so. Instead of focusing on who is to blame for the circumstances, focus instead on solutions and the path that is the healthiest for you, as a couple.

 

Keep communication and minds open. No doubt, your minds are racing with a steady diet of information being shared by doctors and plenty of questions. Keep the doors of communication open between you and your spouse to work through the flood of emotions, concerns, and possibilities being presented. Sharing will help alleviate the stress and pressure of the situation and keep you on the same page.

For those overcoming divorce and infertility:

Know that you’re not alone. Infertility, and often divorce, may make us feel like we’re outcasts, and we may tend to want to hide on the sidelines to avoid scrutiny from others or exposure to situations that may bring up hurtful feelings (e.g. being around families, babies, and happy couples). Isolation can actually do more harm to the healing process, so find a source of support and talk about it! Turn to a friend, family member, support group, or counselor to share how you’re feeling and process through the grief.

 

Don’t bear the burden of blame. It’s natural to want to feel like we’re a disappointment or even a burden to others when things don’t go as planned. It’s important to realize that infertility is not a sign of being less, a let-down, and certainly not unlovable. Life may take us down a different path than originally expected, but that doesn’t mean that our path can’t be gratifying and meaningful, even if it is unexpected. Infertility is an invitation to explore the depths of the soul and discover the beautiful purpose intended for your life!

 

How to Best Support A Friend Enduring Divorce and Infertility:

Be sensitive to the triggers. Your friend is happy for you when your marriage succeeds and when you have a new bundle of joy to announce, but it still hurts. Just understand that the gifts that you have may serve as reminders of what she can’t have. Don’t hide your bounty from her, but also take care not to rub it in her face. Let her participate in activities that may trigger her grief at her pace. If it’s too much, she’ll pull back.

 

Don’t leave her in the dark. A divorced friend who has endured infertility may feel like an outcast. It’s not only painful to be divorced or without wanted children, but she may also feel like a fifth wheel in gatherings of other families and couples. Make her feel welcome, make time for her with and without all the hub bub, and offer a loving ear to talk to and shoulder to cry on.

 

1 in 8 couples is affected by infertility, meaning that there’s a decent chance we will know or even be the ones struggling to have a child. Every marriage faces its share of challenges. Sometimes those challenges bring couples closer together, and other times the stress and emotions cause irreparable damage.

 

It’s very important to find a source of comfort and support to work through infertility and divorce and to exercise plenty of self-care! There is not just one or right path to follow, so being educated about all options and keeping an open mind and heart will help you reach a place of healing.

 

 
About the Author

Audrey Cade is the author of Divorce Matters: help for hurting hearts and why divorce is sometimes the best decision (on Amazon) and the matriarch of a blended family of eight. She is an experienced “divorce warrior” in the areas of co-parenting, step parenting, parental alienation, and re-marriage, and enjoys sharing these experiences with others who are also committed to raising happy and healthy kids. Audrey’s professional experience is as a case manager social worker with the developmentally disabled, families with young children, and homeless populations. She holds degrees in Early Childhood Education, Human Service & Management, and a Master’s in Psychology. She enjoys family outings, a variety of arts and crafts, cooking, gardening, and writing. She is a featured blogger for Divorced Moms, has worked regularly appearing on Divorce Force, and articles appearing in Step Mom Magazine, The Good Men Project, and others.

 

In honor of national infertility awareness week, Audrey Cade shares her story of infertility and the toll it took on her marriage.
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