Infertility is exhausting. The emotional roller coaster of hope and despair month after weary month, the physical toll of treatment and/or miscarriages, the social stress of watching your friends have children and move into the parenting life stage without you. Not to mention the spiritual struggle to trust God when He’s not giving you the good gifts He’s giving everyone else around you … it adds up to an all-consuming suffering.
How does a marriage survive something like that?
My husband and I got married in our mid-30s and soon found ourselves walking the unexpected path of infertility. We tried to get pregnant for four years before the doctor finally told us we should move on to adoption. That one sentence sums up our journey, but it doesn’t even begin to cover the fire of emotional anguish we walked through.
Even though about 12% of married couples have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy, society doesn’t talk much about infertility. For a variety of reasons, many of us hide in shame as our own stories of infertility unfold. My husband and I learned a lot in that season, and a lot of it had to do with our marriage.
Helping your marriage survive infertility
Suffering can drive a wedge in your marriage or it can strengthen it. Although our infertility journey was brutal, we can honestly say it strengthened our relationship. Here are seven tips we learned along the way.
1. Refuse to lose the romance.
I’ve talked to multiple people who say one of the hardest things about infertility is losing the spontaneity in their sex life. Instead of going with the flow when the mood hits, they find themselves dragging each other to the bedroom to “do the deed” when the fertility app says it’s time.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Life will inevitably have times when “feeling it” gets few and far between. This is your training ground for continuing to build your marriage in the healthy, “naked and unashamed” practice (see Genesis 2:25) that sex fosters when you don’t feel like being vulnerable.
So light your candles, put on the music, slip on your lingerie, do whatever it takes to create (as Sebastian so fabulously calls it in The Little Mermaid) “da mood.” Then thank God for this space to be naked and unashamed with your spouse, with baby-making as the “excuse” instead of the real reason.
2. Be intentional to do fun things together.
The weight of the wait is real and heavy. Sometimes you need to escape the burden. When you feel overwhelmed, go on a fun date night (or day or weekend). It doesn’t have to cost a lot. Just be sure you do it, even in the midst of doctor appointments, treatments, and making hard decisions.
The only rule is you can’t talk the whole time about the logistics of the infertility process. You can talk about your emotions, and you can talk about everything else in life! This is where you remind yourselves that there is more to you both, individually and in your marriage, than just your ability to produce offspring. Take time to dream about other ways God might make you fruitful together, to celebrate other blessings in your life, and to pray for other loved ones who may also be in the midst of hard circumstances.
3. Remember you’re on the same team.
Resist playing the blame game—you’re in this together. It’s typically one person or the other whose body is uncooperative (unless it’s just completely unexplained, which happens with up to 30% of couples). And when it’s something so guttural on the line as having children, it can be easy to blame yourself or the other person. It’s a natural tendency; we come by it honestly from our parents, Adam and Eve.
But fight against it! When you took your wedding vows, you probably did not say “til death do us part” with a caveat: “as long as you give me children.” Even if part of what attracted you to this person was that he/she would be such a great parent, that’s not the entirety of why you chose them. Choose now to be on the same team.
If you’re going through treatment, go to as many doctor appointments together as you possibly can. No matter what direction you take, infertility requires some hard choices. Many options on the table will have financial and ethical considerations. Be open with each other about why you do or do not want to pursue certain options. If you need help coming together on a decision, ask a trusted mentor for help processing the options. Communicate, then aim to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21, NIV).
4. Have emotional, as well as logistical, conversations about infertility.
Your marriage can be deepened and strengthened as you share vulnerably about how you feel in this process. But beware: you will not feel the same things at the same time! Everyone responds differently to emotions, and something this deep to your personhood can feel isolating if your spouse is not at the same stage as you. Take a deep breath and give grace for your spouse’s emotions (or seeming lack of emotion). Grief hits different people at different times. In fact, it’s fairly typical that, with infertility, grief hits the husband later than the wife.
But also be aware of additional hormonal emotions if you pursue treatment. They are a physical reality, and they can be intense. Husbands, whether emotion is hormone-related or not, it’s good to just hold your wife and let her cry when she needs to cry. You don’t have to fix it—in fact, you can’t. But you can ask the Lord to meet you in your grief, and you can choose to communicate your own sadness to your spouse as she grieves. Rather than being afraid of tears, embrace them. Grieving is healthy. There is great comfort and deep bonding that happens when you give grief space for expression.
5. Discipline your mind.
Don’t allow yourself to get bogged down trying to figure out all the answers to all the possible forks in the road ahead. It can easily consume you. Instead, focus on listing the excellencies of your spouse. (This fantastic advice was given to me by our seminary Ethics professor when we reached out to him at a particularly scary time in the infertility process. It has served me well.)
6. Don’t go it alone.
Be in community with other people who are praying for you and cheering you on. Get together with other couples who are a little further along in the process. Allow trusted mentors, pastors, and/or family members into your world.
You’ll need to process some things separately from your spouse, which means you each need to have a few mature people who can walk with you in the process—people your spouse also trusts and who are advocates for your marriage. It will help tremendously if at least one of those people has experienced infertility themselves.
This is part of the role of community—to walk together through suffering. You need people to pray with and for you, to help you keep perspective on the bigger picture of life in Christ, and to have faith for you when your faith feels weak or gone. It can be hard to give updates month after month, but your mature and trusted community wants to walk with you in it. And they will also grow from walking with you in this suffering.
7. Pray together and pray specifically.
Not only are you on the same team, but you are on God’s team. Put the longings of your hearts before Him together. For example, with an IUI treatment, my husband and I prayed specifically for fertilization and implantation. For a long time, we’ve been praying together for healthy children who will grow to love and serve God.
Pray for wisdom about treatment or adoption options, for the ability to love each other more in the midst of suffering, and for God to open the womb. Ask God to build your family, to comfort you in grief, and to build your endurance, character, and hope as you wait on Him (Romans 5:1-5).
We didn’t do all these things perfectly; we stumbled toward them and gave lots of grace to each other. And we still have to practice them, and it’s still hard to do sometimes.
If it becomes evident you cannot have biological children, ask God how HE wants to make your marriage fruitful. What will it look like for you, together, to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28)? It may be adoption, it may be some kind of ministry in your church or community, or it might be both. Regardless, you can trust that God does want to make your lives and marriage fruitful, and the ways He will do that will be beautiful once you see them unfold before you.
Copyright © 2021 by Becca Hermes. All rights reserved.
Becca Hermes serves with Cru City. She has a Master of Arts from Reformed Theological Seminary and has been working in ministry for almost 20 years. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, Nagib, and their beautiful, spunky baby girl.