"My Infertility Is Ruining Our Marriage"
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"My Infertility Is Ruining Our Marriage"

Listen in as one real-life couple works through a major crisis in their relationship with the help of a marriage therapist.
The Couple

Didi: 37, sales rep
Mark: 35, landscape designer
Married: 3 years
Kids: none

The Counselor

Carole Moretz, Allentown, Pennsylvania

The Background

After trying to get pregnant for a year, Didi checked in with her gynecologist. It turned out that she was in premature ovarian failure; her doctor recommended using donor eggs. Didi hates that idea and wants to adopt. Mark's afraid he couldn't love a child that isn't genetically his and wants to try in vitro fertilization (IVF) with his sperm and a donor's eggs. They can't even discuss this issue without fighting.

Didi's Turn

I feel so cheated that I can't have a baby. My mom and my sister both got pregnant easily. But when I tell Mark that I feel like a failure, he doesn't even respond. It hurts so much when he says, "Let's just get an egg donor. It's no big deal." It's a huge deal for me, and I'm not comfortable with it at all. Plus, I'll feel like a double failure if we use donor eggs and it doesn't work or I miscarry. I don't get why Mark wants to put me through this.

When Mark and I try to debate IVF versus adoption he totally loses it, starts yelling and name-calling, and we end up fighting about how he's out of control. I can't be in the same room with him when he gets like that.

Mark says I'm insensitive because I don't want to try to bear his biological child. I think that he's insensitive to expect me to carry a baby that doesn't share my genes. And he won't even consider adoption. He says that he thinks he won't love an adopted child the same way he'd love his own flesh and blood. That's ridiculous! I know he'd bond with the baby once we became a family. And I know he'd be an awesome father. Though frankly, based on our fights, his temper is starting to worry me.

Last week I did some research on both egg donors and adoption. Since I'm East Indian and Mark is white, I'd want an Indian egg donor to ensure that the baby would look like both Mark and me. The fertility clinics I contacted told me that Indian egg donors are rare, and if we found one, the fee would be somewhere around $15,000. Then the IVF procedure is another $12,000. So, for around $27,000, we might have a pregnancy -- IVF doesn't always work. Adoption costs about $20,000, which is still a ton, but there's a 99 percent chance that we'd get matched with a baby. Both options are out of our price range. So if going into debt is the only way we can become parents, why not pick the almost-sure thing?

But even with all that information, Mark said he wants to "roll the dice with IVF." I think his priorities are messed up -- he's more concerned about passing on his genes than he is about raising a child.

I'm worn out from fighting and tired of crying all the time. It feels as though having a baby, or not having one, is all I think about anymore. I don't know how we'll come to a decision that will make both of us happy. Despite our problems, I love Mark and I hope counseling can help us figure this out and move forward.

Mark's Turn

If I had my way, we'd stop talking about this for a few months so we could both cool down. Arguing isn't getting us anywhere. Yeah, I have a temper, but our disagreements used to blow over in a day. The stakes are so high now that I start yelling and Didi runs out of the room in tears.

I know finding out she's infertile was hard for Didi, and it hurts me, too. But I don't talk about feelings because she's already so focused on the negative and I don't want to make it worse. She's gone from being an upbeat person to being negative about everything. I hate seeing her like this.

From the start Didi's been in a rush to adopt, and the more she nags me, the more I ignore her. I appreciate that she took the time to get all the facts, but I won't let her pressure me into something I'm not comfortable with. I've heard horror stories about kids ­resenting their adoptive parents and the biological parents coming back to find them. Didi rolls her eyes about this, but I'm also afraid I won't love an adopted child as much as I'd love one that has my genes. She says I'm being ridiculous when I tell her how I feel. That's name-calling, too.

Didi has been talking about babies since we met, so I'm surprised she doesn't want to try IVF. Sure, adoption is cheaper. Yes, the odds are better. But life's short. Why not risk it? If it doesn't work, we'll know that we tried. I'm not ready to give up my chance to be a biological father just because she can't be a biological mother.

The Counselor's Turn

Infertility can strain a happy marriage, which is what happened to Didi and Mark. Most people assume they'll be able to have a biological child -- so when a couple can't conceive naturally, they often fight and grow apart as they try to come up with an alternative. And unfortunately, with both IVF and adoption, there are no easy answers.

Whenever a couple is facing a tough choice, they have to manage their emotions, communicate effectively, and work as a team so they can make the best decision. Didi needed to find some emotional balance and Mark needed to get his outbursts under control. I advised Didi to start exercising again to release stress and to plan fun things that might take her mind off the baby topic. She also needed to reframe her thinking. Instead of saying "I'll never have a baby of my own," she had to remind herself, "It's challenging, but with time and effort, I will have a baby to love."

I urged Mark to recognize when he was about to lose control and do deep-breathing exercises to calm down. He tried it for several weeks, but his outbursts continued. I sensed that he might be clinically depressed, since depression in men can manifest itself as anger. I referred him to a psychiatrist, who prescribed anti­depressants, and Mark's irritability consequently subsided almost immediately.

From there I encouraged the couple to mourn their loss. "It's okay to be upset," I explained. "Infertility is devastating." I also told them that it's normal to avoid talking about something painful in an attempt to spare yourself more pain. But I pointed out that suppressing those feelings had backfired. It kept them stuck in their grief, unable to move forward. With my encouragement, Mark and Didi started sharing their feelings and fears. I taught them to listen without interrupting or passing judgment, which would help avoid arguments. "I'm a better listener now," Mark said. "I don't get caught up in the emotion anymore. I can step back, hear what Didi's saying, and understand her viewpoint."

I suggested that they both look really carefully at the issue from both sides and then take time to play out all the best- and worst-case scenarios. If Didi didn't agree to an egg donor, she'd give up the chance to be pregnant. What would that mean to her long-term? Would she have regrets? Or feel guilty she'd denied Mark a chance to be a biological father? What would she gain or lose if she agreed to raise a child that was biologically Mark's but not hers?

As for Mark, what would he gain or lose if they did IVF with donor eggs? Did he realize that, to prepare her body for an embryo transfer, Didi would have to take medication that can have side effects? Would he resent Didi if she ­refused to try IVF? If Mark agreed to adopt, he'd give up the chance to be a biological father. What would that mean to him?

"This is the most important decision of your life," I cautioned them. "It has to be the best one for both of you. Neither of you should feel as though you were forced into agreeing to something." That said, I advised them to stay focused on their ultimate goal: becoming parents.

Over the next nine months Didi and Mark talked about their choices. Both realized they'd been asking a lot of each other -- perhaps too much. They reached a compromise: They'd try to find an Indian egg donor, but if they couldn't, they'd try to adopt. Didi found a potential donor who wanted $20,000 for her eggs and was a good match: She lived nearby and she looked a lot like Didi. They scheduled an interview, but the woman changed her mind about donating. They were crushed.

At that point Mark had a change of heart. "It doesn't make sense to go through all this expense and stress for a maybe," he said. He suggested they adopt a child from India. Didi was thrilled. She immediately found an agency and started the paperwork. They got a home equity loan and tapped their savings to cover the $25,000 adoption cost.

After a year Didi and Mark were matched with an 18-month-old Indian boy who is in foster care. Next month they will travel to India to meet Nikel and bring him home. In our final session, Mark reached for his wife's hand and said, "This was the hardest decision of my life -- but I can't wait for the three of us to be a family."

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, September 2011.

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