How To Talk About Infertility With Your Partner
Fertility, unfortunately, isn't something that a lot of young people openly talk about. But for some, it's all-too familiar. The causes of infertility can range from genetic factors to conditions like endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), but regardless of diagnosis, it can be hard to know, as a young person, that you may not be able to bear children. And being scared of discussing your infertility with an intimate partner runs the risk of compounding these fears and potentially making the situation much more daunting for you.
One of the many fears young people facing infertility have is that they will disappoint their partner. But changing the way we frame the infertility narrative might be able to help those fears.
"Perhaps re-framing the conversation into a 'fertility talk' might be a great first step for some," Dr. Alan B. Copperman, Medical Director at Progyny, tells Bustle. Going in with the view that this has to be a sad conversation can be harmful. "The 'infertility talk' does not just need to be for those in serious, committed relationships, but there should not be pressure to discuss infertility when starting a relationship or when you’re not ready to do so. Everyone has a different comfort level with this topic and while openness and understanding is important in relationships, it shouldn’t feel as though this conversation is a make or break situation," Dr. Copperman says.
The key is knowing what steps to take to have a healthy, open, and honest conversation with your loved one when you're ready. Here are eight important things to keep in mind when having the infertility discussion with your partner, according to experts.
1. Keep Your Mind On The Facts
The facts of fertility are crucial. And they're also often totally misunderstood, so be sure to clue your partner in to any information they may be confused about regarding infertility.
"Most men and women still do not know the facts of fertility," Dr. Georgia Witkin, Head of Patient Services Development at Progyny and clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. For instance they may not know that age plays a role in the possibility of infertility, in addition to genetics and preexisting conditions.
It's also important to remember that there are varying degrees of infertility and all kinds of treatment options, like In-vitro Fertilization (IVF). If you have a condition that affects fertility, knowing your stats is crucial so that the conversation is neither fatalistic nor unrealistic.
2. Remember The Conversation Has Two Sides
Even if you believe you're the only partner with fertility concerns (and you might not be), remember that you're still not alone. If you frame your discussion in terms of "we," you will feel like a team, Dr. Witkin says. This will help you remember and understand that you and your partner are going through this together.
A tricky part of this equation is that it's not all about them rejecting you; you, too, might get signals about the future of your relationship through this conversation. If a committed partner doesn't respond well, that's a red flag. And if you're exploring intimacy in a non-exclusive or budding relationship, then this might test the waters. "The talk is a great way to see how empathetic and devoted a partner is [or] can be," Dr. Witkin says.
This conversation is about finding balance with the other person. "In this circumstance, the goal is often to just vet your partner to ensure that they might be willing to take the infertility journey together if you encounter difficulties," Dr. Rashmi Kudesia of Houston IVF, a CCRM Network Clinic, tells Bustle. "Watch how they talk about and value their own family, or how they react when other challenges arise, and consider using your insights as an entry point into talking about fertility."
A large part of the conversation is knowing that you don't hold the responsibility of this relationship alone. Your partner is in it with you — whatever that may mean.
3. Protect Yourself From Secrets
Hiding that you're infertile can cause extra problems in your relationship. Not telling the truth about your body and your feelings might drag you and your partner down.
"Keeping secrets and making assumptions can at times sabotage even a strong relationship," Dr. Copperman says. In this, and all conversations, Dr. Copperman recommends openness and honesty. Even if infertility isn't an issue to your partner, if you keep it from them long enough, that in and of itself can become an issue.
"The sooner you have this discussion with your partner, the better you will probably feel, because you will no longer be keeping a big secret from them," Heidi McBain, MA, licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), tells Bustle. Of course, it's up to you to decide when the right time is, but it's likely best to open up about the subject once it's weighing on you.
"Self-blame, guilt, and shame play a large role in those struggling with infertility," Dr. Copperman says. "Couples ultimately overcome the challenges of infertility better as a team than as individuals." Being truthful, open, and honest with the person you love can help protect you from these feelings. So why not ask for the help and support you may need?
4. Keep Safe Sex In Mind
A diagnosis of infertility doesn't mean you can abandon safe sex. This is a vital part of the conversation you will have with your partner so that you continue to have a healthy and satisfying sex life.
Be honest and clear with your partner about the chances of pregnancy with your diagnosis, and make sure you always use protection to decrease the chances of STIs. "Despite a diagnosis of infertility, it is still important to practice safe sex if you are not actively trying to conceive and to prevent transmission of STD’s," Dr. Copperman says. Protection should always be a part of the conversation.
5. Reinforce The Good Things About The Relationship
Particularly since this conversation can open you and your partner up to intense feelings of vulnerability, it's important that you let your partner know how loved they are and how supported you feel.
"Remember that this can be a very sensitive topic," Dr. Copperman says. "Being supportive and avoiding placing blame on one another is important when discussing infertility. Reinforcing the positive aspects of your relationship can help to reduce stress."
Whether or not the ability to conceive was a major issue for you and your partner, it's still crucial at moments like these to remember what makes your relationship so good so you can continue to approach your relationship as a team.
6. Keep In Mind Your Options
Fertility treatment can be a dizzying topic, surrounded by some crazy mythology. But there are often options for you and your partner to consider, and they are vital to keep in mind so that this conversation does not feel too fatalistic if you are considering children later on.
This is a great moment, experts suggest, to have an open conversation about your ideas around families and family planning. "Your approach and feelings about pharmaceutical approaches, fertility treatments, and so on could be totally different. Be prepared to share, but also to listen!" Dr. Kudesia says. You will not know if you and your partner are on the same page until you discuss these things openly.
7. Be Open To Professional Help
Whether it's for the emotional aspects, or the medical options, it's vital that you and your partner keep an open mind about professional help.
"I’d recommend that couples not be judgmental, that they seek professional help, and that they keep an open dialog with one another," Dr. Copperman says. Whether this means inviting your partner to your next OB/GYN appointment, or considering counseling, this is just another route towards honesty and caring.
McBain agrees that it's crucial couples aren't afraid to bring in emotional support. "Couples counseling can be a safe place for [couples] to talk about the infertility and how their hopes and dreams for the future may look very different now," McBain says. Having the support of a professional does not mean a failure of your relationship; it means that you've succeeded in being honest and proactive.
8. Know It Doesn't Have To Go Perfectly The First Time
If the first conversation with your partner doesn't go well, don't give up. This conversation is difficult and scary. You don't have to get it right on the first try.
"Know that the first attempt at having this discussion may not end as you want it to, and that is OK! Talking about infertility, and dealing with it, are difficult challenges," Dr. Kudesia says. This topic of conversation doesn't need to overwhelm your relationship by being all you talk about. Once you're ready, you can go back to it.
"[When you try again,] pick the setting that you think will work best based on your dynamic, and be forthright but not aggressive about your message or how you might approach infertility," Dr. Kudesia says. "If you have a specific message you need to convey, perhaps say it aloud in practice a few times so you don’t feel anxious or emotional the first time you speak those words aloud." Know that each time you discuss the topic, you'll learn more about yourself and your partner.
Having the infertility talk can seem like a scary cloud over your relationship if you've received a diagnosis. But clear, fact-based communication can make all the difference.