By: Dara Roth Edney, MSW, RSW
Whether you are part of a couple struggling to have a baby, or on your own using a donor without success, it can be devastating and isolating. Infertility and reproductive loss take a toll, with people feeling the impact of these experiences personally and in their most intimate relationships. Single people and those who are part of a couple may experience different challenges during this time of Covid-19. This blog post will focus on the challenges of being part of a couple while experiencing infertility during a pandemic.
As part of a couple, you likely have already felt a significant impact of trying to conceive/experiencing reproductive losses. Some common areas impacted include:
- Months or years of trying to conceive and/or of recurrent losses can take a toll on even the strongest of libidos and the most connected couples. This can be true for heterosexual couples whose sexual activity might be based on cycle timing and not desire, and for heterosexual and LGBTQ+ couples undergoing invasive and impersonal treatments;
- While a couple experiences infertility together, they also experience it differently. Problems can arise when there are disagreements between how and when individuals in a couple want to share information, and who they want to tell. Attending social and family events can be fraught and upsetting when questions are asked, and answers are painful or uncertain. Boundaries between privacy and secrecy can be challenging to navigate, resulting in some people feeling more isolated, while others feel overexposed and more vulnerable;
- Infertility treatment can be very costly, and this is a common stressor with couples, especially if there are disagreements about how to proceed;
- Some couples disagree on when clinic intervention is needed, which treatment option to pursue, when to try something new, when to take a break, and even when to stop treatment altogether.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are in a uniquely stressful time. It is absolutely true that there are significant challenges and anxieties inherent in receiving treatment now.
It is also true that within this time may be opportunities for greater connection and balance – for yourself and in your relationship with your partner.
- With both of you home together and few if any other visitors, it is a perfect time to focus on nurturing the relationship with the person with who you want to have a baby. Watch funny movies together, listen to audiobooks cuddled up in bed, play card/board games, dive into a home DIY project, and explore silly and romantic ways of connecting.
- The requirement for social distancing and guidelines against socializing with anyone outside of immediate households provides a rare opportunity to avoid emotionally painful family and social events. You do not need an excuse to skip that baby shower, a night with friends who will talk about their kids all evening, or find a way to escape awkward and painful questions about your own family plans. Together with your partner, you can now take the time to decide who to tell what to, and when you want to disclose what information, knowing that the pressure to answer questions about family building has eased for the time being;
- For many, this pandemic has presented additional financial challenges due to lost work or reduced pay. It is also a time when people are not spending money on costly things (e.g. restaurant meals, new clothes, trips, social activities). Many are putting mortgages on hold and negotiating lower credit card payments, etc. Now may be a good time to revaluate your financial plan as it pertains to your fertility treatments and possibly, even set additional funds aside;
- People keep using the word “uncertainty” to talk about the significant stress caused by the pandemic. Of course, it is true that there is no certainty around when life will begin to feel “back to normal.” However, life, albeit likely different in many ways, will begin to slowly settle into a “new normal.” Having a concrete plan of action can be a very helpful way to increase feelings of control and agency. And while infertility and global pandemics do not easily fit into firm timelines, general next step plans can be made, while recognizing the need for flexibility. When such plans are developed together with your partner, it can be a useful way of reconnecting and reminding yourselves of the ways in which you do agree, and of the things you both want for the family and life you envision.
This is an incredibly unnerving time for everyone, and it is understandable if emotions such as anger and frustration are coming out towards your partner when feelings of helplessness and distress are so high. Try and remember that people are doing their very best in an unprecedented, anxiety-provoking time; and that includes you. When your dreams of having a baby may be delayed, or have additional new stressors, and you are sharing a space with a partner without being able to leave, or if you do leave as part of an essential service and this adds to your stress, please remember to be as kind to yourself and as gentle with your own emotions as you strive to be with your partner.
Struggling to have a baby can add tension and stress to any relationship, and it can also offer opportunities for growth and strengthening. Both things can be inherently true.
It may not be easy to feel this way right now, but it is important to remember that this situation is a moment in time that will pass, as all things do. This pandemic is temporary and so is the devastating experience of trying to have a baby. So while you do not know when your infertility will be resolved or if you will have another loss, you can be assured that at some point in the future, you will no longer be in this painful place of trying to build your family. You are stronger than you feel on your lowest days and so is your relationship.
Below are some tips for keeping the peace and improving connection with your partner, in these challenging times:
- Take care of yourself. Feel your feelings, journal, practice mindfulness/meditation, move your body, access fresh air if possible, and connect with loved ones virtually. As you feel better, so will your relationship;
- Give your partner the benefit of the doubt when words or actions frustrate you;
- Do not step into disagreements when you can step back;
- Be generous with compliments and hold back on criticisms;
- Notice and acknowledge strengths. Practice appreciation and gratitude;
- Let the small things go;
- Adjust your expectations. Recognize that there is no roadmap for how we should be managing right now, so check in with your own inner voice, and then talk to your partner about what each of you needs at the moment, and overall in this time;
- Give yourself and your partner emotional room, and when possible physical space. Be creative in finding ways to carve out time to be alone each day to gather your thoughts, so you can come back together more clear on your own needs and wants;
- Be intentional about the time you do spend together. While you may be home together all day, try to separate out the time you have to be in the same space and the time you choose to be in the same space, by making clear delineations between activities you happen to do together and those that you choose to do together. Be creative in designing at-home date nights;
- Pick a helpful cause you can focus on together – in your community (i.e. helping out an elderly neighbour), or in your city (i.e. making masks to donate, or even ordering-in from local restaurants to support small businesses);
- Physical distancing is essential with those outside of your home, but when you are fortunate enough to be isolating with another person, remember the calming and reassuring impact of a loving touch, hug, hand squeeze, and cuddle.
While you and your partner may be skilled at maintaining a strong connection in this highly stressful time, you may also decide that you could benefit from additional support, individually or as a couple. Counselling can help with improved communication, difficult decision-making and strategies for stress reduction and management.
Remember, while there may not be in-person appointments available at the moment, your doctor and other healthcare professionals continue to be there for you virtually. For medical support, please reach out to your TRIO contact and for emotional support, contact Dara directly at email@example.com