Guest post by Dr. Gretchen Kubacky, Psy.D.
If you have PCOS and you’ve been unable to get pregnant or stay pregnant, you may have already added infertility to the list of “everything that’s wrong with my body.” Infertility often feels like a huge failure, crushing to your sense of femininity, and perhaps even like a threat to your relationship.
A 2014 Danish study (Trille, K., et al) of 47,500 women showed that 27% of women dealing with infertility were no longer in their relationship after five years. But wanting a child shouldn’t mean losing your partner. There are many ways to ensure that your relationship remains intact, and even grows stronger as a result of dealing with infertility.
- Know that infertility is not your fault. Overall, infertility is about equally divided between male, female, and unknown (or both halves of a couple) factors. Infertility is absolutely more common in women with PCOS, but you did not choose to have infertility.
- Aim to come out stronger as a couple. Have you ever heard “what you focus on grows?” If you set a goal to embrace the process of dealing with infertility with strength and grace, together, you will most likely actually become more resilient, and come out the other side stronger for life, whether you have a baby or not.
- Decide upfront about time and costs. Like it or not, infertility is almost always expensive. And money is one of the most common things that couples argue about, regardless of fertility issues. Deciding upfront how much time, and how much of your shared financial resources you are willing to commit to paying for procedures will help you balance your priorities. Infertility can take years or even decades to resolve. The longer you try, especially with more expensive procedures like IVF, the bigger the toll on your relationship. You can reevaluate these dates and dollars periodically, and renegotiate what feels healthy and appropriate to both of you at that time.
- Have your feelings together – all the feelings! Infertility is a complicated condition that elicits all sorts of feelings. And it’s true that men and women deal with those feelings differently. Shame, anger, rage, depression, embarrassment, moodiness, regret, irritability, sadness, fear, grief, and impatience are just some of the many feelings that may come up. If you keep your feelings to yourself, rather than sharing them with your partner, you are losing out on the opportunity for both support and relational deepening. You might find that your partner is having the exact same feelings, and that can be a growth point for you.
- Keep sex a priority. Romance and the private experience of love and sexuality are often separated from the process of reproduction when you are dealing with infertility. Sex helps to keep people feeling in love and strengthens relationships. Prolonged infertility tends to reduce sex to a well-timed obligation, and this is something you must fight in order to keep your relationship healthy. Establishing a date night that has nothing to do with your presumed most fertile period may be helpful to keep your sexual relationship feeling normal.
- Continue pursuing your other dreams. While infertility may feel like a full-time job, it shouldn’t be the focus of your entire life. It’s important to keep working toward career, financial, and educational goals, achievements in hobbies, etc. Some of your goals should be individual goals, and some of them should be goals as a couple, like perfecting your French cooking skills, mastering the tango, or completing epic crossword puzzles. Feeling stuck? Take a hobby finding quiz for inspiration.
- Meditate Mindfully. One of the most powerful things you can both do while dealing with infertility is to practice mindfulness meditation. The founder of the well-researched Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, Jon Kabat-Zinn, defines it this way: “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.” The easiest way to get started is to download a free app, like the Insight app, and start with a five-minute guided meditation. Working your way up to 20 minutes a day is ideal, but any meditation will reduce your feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Get external support, together or alone. Even if you follow all of these tips, you might still find yourself struggling with deepening feelings of anxiety or depression. Or perhaps your marriage is struggling in spite of all that you’re doing to support it. Do the research to find a supportive counselor, join an online infertility support group, or go to a RESOLVE You’ve already invested a lot in your marriage, and you deserve to have all of the support you need to get through this tough time.
With luck, planning, focus, and support, you may well be able to achieve the family you’ve been dreaming of, in spite of infertility. Regardless of how infertility plays out, you can end up with a stronger, healthier, more resilient relationship.
About the author: Gretchen Kubacky, Psy.D. is a health psychologist with a private practice in Los Angeles, California. Dr. Gretchen, who is known as “The PCOS Psychologist,” is the founder of PCOS Wellness, which provides support for women, teens, families, and couples with PCOS-related emotional health issues. She is also a frequent speaker and author on mental health topics, and a member of the PCOS Challenge Health Advisory Board.
Kabat‐Zinn, J. (2003), Mindfulness‐Based Interventions in Context: Past, Present, and Future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10: 144-156. doi:10.1093/clipsy.bpg016
Peterson, B.D., Newton, C.R., Rosen, K.H., Skaggs, G.E.; Gender differences in how men and women who are referred for IVF cope with infertility stress, Human Reproduction, Volume 21, Issue 9, 1 September 2006, Pages 2443–2449, https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/del145
Trille, K., Albieri, V., Jensen, A., Kjaer, S.K., Johansen, C., Dalton S.O. First published: 29 January 2014. Divorce or end of cohabitation among Danish women evaluated for fertility problems. https://doi.org/10.1111/aogs.12317
Schreiner, I. and Malcolm, J.P. Published online: 01 February 2012. The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation: Changes in Emotional States of Depression, Anxiety, and Stress. https://doi.org/10.1375/bech.25.3.156.