"My Infertility Is Ruining Our Marriage"
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.