"We Can't Get Pregnant and It's Driving Us Apart"
The Counselor's Turn
"Infertility, which affects some 6 million Americans, is a major life crisis that puts enormous stress on a marriage," said the counselor. "In the best-case scenario, it can make a couple stronger, because they discover they can support each other through a traumatic experience. But often, it drives them apart, as it did with Carolyn and Barry.
"Infertility can trigger overwhelming feelings of loss, which each partner must be allowed to grieve in his or her own way. A couple's sex life also suffers. The pressure to perform and have timed intercourse takes the romance out of lovemaking. And many couples have collateral damage, becoming estranged from friends and family who make inappropriate remarks or ask intrusive questions.
"Carolyn and Barry had experienced all of these emotions. Moreover, their relationship had been further strained by Barry's unhappiness working for Carolyn's father and living in the city. Still, they remained deeply in love, so I was hopeful their marriage could be repaired. My three-part goal was to help them see the solid relationship beneath the infertility issue, guide them to make a decision, and help them stay emotionally strong if they decided to pursue either of their options.
"First, each needed to understand the other's coping style. Barry's silence didn't mean he was insensitive to Carolyn's feelings; it meant the situation was too painful for him to discuss. And Carolyn's anxiety wasn't intended to drive Barry crazy; it was linked to the uncertainty of whether she'd ever be a mother. As Barry became more tolerant of her need to vent, she stopped pounding the subject. Since Carolyn felt uncomfortable talking with her mother, I encouraged her to seek support from friends. As she reached out, she relied less on her husband. Barry, in turn, stayed home more and cut back on the drinking.
"Since both egg donation and adoption are stressful and time-consuming, I agreed with Carolyn that they couldn't delay their decision much longer. Their medical center sponsored forums on egg donation, which I encouraged them to attend. Inspired by what they heard, Carolyn and Barry decided they'd come too far to give up on their dream of parenthood. As Barry said in one session, 'I don't care about genetics. Being a parent is about caring for your child.' Carolyn agreed: 'The baby will have the genetic link to Barry, but I will be the mother.'"