By Rachel Nielson
This post is fifth of a six-part series: Confronting Infertility in Marriage
I’m so honored to have Rachel guest posting for me today. To be honest, when I very first thought about starting this blog, I knew I wanted guest posting to be a HUGE part of it and I initially wondered, “Ooh I wonder if Rachel would post on my blog??” Rachel is a little out-of-my-league blog-wise. She is an editor of the Power of Moms blog and writes there frequently (sneak peak: I’m writing an upcoming post on guilt and heavily feature her recent article here and podcast here, which is currently revolutionizing the way I motivate myself without guilt).
I first met Rachel in El Salvador- we spent a summer there together with HELP International, and I was incredibly inspired by her. I went to El Salvador for a summer of fun and snapping pictures of me and cute El Salvadorian orphans (which I of course posted on Facebook). Rachel went to El Salvador to change the freaking world. And she did. And is. While we were there, Rachel had this idea to really step up the amount of help offered at this orphanage for the handicapped we volunteered at, so then rather than saying “that would be nice,” Rachel goes and MOVES to San Salvador and LIVES at this orphanage with Ryan for the first four months of their marriage to help train everyone there to use these communication sheets for the mentally handicapped, among other things. And then set up an internship program for other couples to live and volunteer there as well. Amazing.
Ok, this is getting long and Rachel’s face is probably reddening. Point being, listen to this girl. Not only does she have great insights about infertility, but also adoption and IVF; she went through both. You MUST read all about their adoption journey here. My personal favorites were the posts by 17-year old Noah’s birth mom. I gained such an appreciation for birth moms from reading those posts. Ok, Celeste out.
I wish I could remember what the fight was about. But as is usually the case with marital tiffs that escalate into blowups, the details of how it all started are foggy to me now.
What I do remember clearly is that we were in the car on our way to a BBQ at a friend’s house—that I picked the fight and wouldn’t let it go—and that my quiet, sweet, even-tempered husband dropped me off in front of our friend’s house and drove away.
I felt sick as I watched him speed off, knowing that I had pushed him too far. I also knew that he would be back in a few minutes, but I still felt sad and alone and confused.
Those were tough years for us. We were trying to have children, and it wasn’t working. I had been doing infertility treatments for over a year, and we had been going through the adoption process for the same length of time. I’d had months of artificial inseminations, an ectopic pregnancy, and surgery. We’d been contacted by seven expectant mothers who were considering adoption, but they had all changed their minds.
My husband and I were a ball of emotions that we couldn’t really verbalize or totally understand, and it is no wonder that we lost it on each other once in a while. (Well, it was usually me who lost it, I will admit.) Fortunately, blowups like the one I described above were rare, and I think for the most part we handled this enormous trial in our marriage pretty well, but life in the midst of infertility was NOT easy.
Do not expect your spouse to heal you.No two people experience infertility the same way—even a husband and a wife in close, connected relationship. You might think that two people united by the same deep desire would have similar feelings throughout the process, but I’ve found that isn’t always true. It can be an extremely lonely feeling to realize that no one, not even your beloved spouse, really understands what you going through. But it will just make you angry if you expect your spouse to feel the same way that you do and to know just what to say to comfort you.
When we were going through the adoption process, I could think of nothing else. Every minute of every day was spent thinking about what needed to happen next in our approval process (fingerprints, references, adoption profile, home study, appointment with caseworker…) or wondering when a birth mom would contact us (it’s possible that I checked my email 45 times a day). One time I said to my husband, “Adoption is just so all-consuming. Can you think of anything else??”
He looked at me quizzically, genuinely puzzled, and said, “What is there to think about?”
I’m pretty sure I almost killed him on the spot. What is there to think about?? Oh I don’t know—how about the fact that we could welcome a new baby into our family any day and there is a ton we need to do to prepare for that??
I felt angry and sad. I felt cheated. I felt like, if I were pregnant and my belly were growing bigger, he would have a visual reminder every day of what I was going through to bring a baby into our family. As it was, I felt like I was doing all the work (the fertility treatments, the adoption paperwork, the corresponding with birth moms), and he wasn’t even grateful for me or thinking about our future baby!
Obviously, this was not the case. I have an amazing husband who did so much to support me during those difficult years (more on that in a minute), but I think my expectations of what he would say to support me and relate with me were too high. (My husband isn’t much of a talker to begin with, and he certainly isn’t a mind-reader.)
Once I realized to just talk to him about what I was feeling, with no expectation that he would say or do the “right” thing in response, I was much happier. I’m sure I stomped away pouting and angry when he asked, “What is there to think about?” regarding adoption; in retrospect, I should’ve taken a deep breath to calm my boiling blood and then told him what I was thinking and worrying about. He would’ve listened. He might not have had the perfect response, but he could’ve brainstormed a few ideas with me of how to lighten my load. And when I was done talking to him about it, I could’ve called my sisters to rehash it all, or said a prayer and asked God for clarity, or gotten a massage to relax…which leads into my next point.
Know yourself and what you need.
In order to feel peace throughout your infertility experience, you are going to have to seek comfort through a lot of different methods, people, and strategies. It’s not just a matter of having good communication with your spouse and having his/her support.
For me, my greatest source of peace was prayer. Though I sometimes felt angry with God when fertility treatments and adoptions weren’t working out, I felt like He understood my anger and was grieving with me. I also spent lots of time with close girlfriends who loved me and knew about my struggle—sometimes we talked about it, sometimes we just did something mindless and fun. Because writing is cathartic for me, I also devoted time to journaling, blogging, and even writing letters to the baby that I hoped would join our family in the near future.
Think about what could be helpful for you during this struggle and try to make it happen.
I wish I would’ve decided that I deserved to have more time to process, feel, and release the grief and anxiety that I was feeling, even if that meant spending money on a trip to see my sisters, or saying “no” when people asked me to take on extra responsibilities at church, or watching a movie with my husband instead of grading papers late into the night (I was a high school English teacher at the time). I probably would’ve been a much saner and happier person and wife if I had taken better care of myself during those years.
A few years after our infertility experience, I went to counseling for an eating disorder. This may seem like a random side note in a post on a marriage blog, but I don’t think it is. What I learned in counseling about making time for “self-care” and dealing with stress in healthy ways would have helped immensely during the years that I struggled with infertility. If you would like to listen to a 45-minute recap of some of the most important things that I learned in counseling, listen to this podcast, which I recorded for the website Power of Moms. I hope it will give you some ideas of how to better care for yourself (which will inevitably affect the quality of your marriage) as you are going through life, with all of its ups and downs.
Consciously serve your spouse in every way possible.
I’ve already said that you can’t expect your spouse to comfort you in perfect ways as you struggle through infertility (or any trial, really). But I would add that being extra sensitive and thoughtful during hard times will always be much-needed and much-appreciated.
Do you know your spouse’s love language? If not, you could skim this book or even just take a few minutes to think about what means the most to him/her: Does he/she seem to value quality time with you, acts of service, gifts, words of affirmation, or physical touch? Honestly, who doesn’t love all of those things—it might be worth just brainstorming one thing you could do for your spouse in each of those categories.
I remember sobbing my eyes out in our bed one evening when I found out that an expectant mother who had been considering us to adopt her baby had changed her mind. My husband held me and stroked my hair until I fell asleep, and then he got up and cleaned the entire apartment. I woke up to a scrubbed kitchen and folded laundry. It meant the world.
I think my husband realized that he couldn’t fix my heartache about not being a mother, and he didn’t have the perfect words to say to make me feel better; but one thing he could do: he could clean the apartment from top to bottom. Bless that man.
No genuine act of kindness is too small when you are going through infertility as a couple. And I’ve found that when I get outside of my own sorrow and give to someone else whom I love, it lifts my spirits as well.
If you would like some ideas of thoughtful, fun gestures of love that you could do for your spouse during a difficult trial (or really any time), check out this huge list of ideas that I compiled last year for Valentines Day.
And as a segue into our next point, let me mention that in spite of all of these awesome acts of love from your spouse, you are ultimately going to have to remember one thing:
That’s a poetic bolded heading, isn’t it? But let’s just acknowledge the truth: Infertility is hard. It is hellishly hard. You are not going to deal with it perfectly every day. You are going to have good days and bad days; you are going to have good moments within days and horrible moments within days. Sometimes you are going to remember to be gracious and thoughtful to your spouse, and sometimes you are going to bite his/her head off on the way to a summer BBQ and have a major fight.
It’s okay. Forgive yourself. Forgive each other. Just keep holding on. Don’t give up, and don’t give up on each other.
He squeezed my hand, and it was over.
I am so lucky to have him, and I am so glad that we didn’t let the stress of infertility drive us apart.
It’s still hard for me to believe sometimes, but we now have two amazing children: our son who came to us through the miracle of adoption, and our daughter who came to us through the miracle of IVF. We are beyond blessed, and our kids were worth every moment of the struggle that it took to get them here.
If you are in the midst of the fire of infertility, I hope this advice will be helpful to you. I really want to encourage you to just keep surviving and doing your best to make it through every day, every negative pregnancy test, every fertility treatment, and every adoption contact. A scripture that I thought of often during our struggle was Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may endure the night, but joy comes in the morning.” No matter how long your “night” lasts—be it months or years—I promise you, joy will return. Just keep holding on!