When a couple experiences the cross of infertility, intense feelings of grief, shame, fear, guilt, and anger can envelop both husband and wife as they grapple with this radical change in their dreams and expectations for their married life. How can a couple move through these emotions and navigate infertility in a way that can strengthen their marriage and avoid isolation, blame, and resentment?
So often, we want to bypass our pain, move on quickly to “fix” the infertility, focus on treatments to overcome this obstacle as soon as possible, and avoid feeling and processing these intense feelings. Yet, as many of us who bear the cross of infertility know, you can only outrun the pain of this cross for so long before you are forced to face the pain both individually and as a couple.
My husband and I lost our honeymoon baby early in the pregnancy and have since experienced infertility for the last six years. Over these six years, we have navigated the grief of our miscarriage, years of NaPro Technology-led fertility treatments, two surgeries, a failed adoption of twins, and multiple family and friends’ pregnancies and baby showers. Each of these challenges in our infertility journey has forced us not only to learn to bring our heartbreak and uncertainty to God and believe in His loving plan for us in the face of suffering, but also to learn how to open up to and lean on each other in the darkest moments. Rather than this suffering tearing us apart, our marriage has grown in love and strength.
How do we open up and grow in vulnerability with our spouse even amidst feelings of shame, fear, or anger? Writer and speaker Brené Brown shared: “Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s about the willingness to show up and be seen when you can’t control the outcome. It is actually our greatest measure of courage.” As humans, do we not long to be fully seen and known? Mysteriously, infertility can lead us to that place of being fully seen and known by God and by our spouse if we are willing to be courageously vulnerable before them.
As my husband and I have grappled with the challenges of infertility these six years, we have learned:
- While this is a cross that you, as husband and wife, bear together, you each grieve it differently as a man and a woman. It’s important to reach out to trusted family or friends who can provide emotional support to each of you in the ways that you need. Infertility can feel very isolating, especially for men as there are far fewer infertility resources to support men. Vulnerability doesn’t mean venting or oversharing your infertility journey with everyone, but it’s critical for your own emotional health and your marriage’s health to allow your community to shoulder this cross with you. In our case, our parents, siblings who have experienced infertility and miscarriage, and select friends have helped us shoulder this cross with hope. Your openness about infertility can encourage friends and family members to feel safe enough to share their infertility journey, which can bring healing and a sense of feeling understood and loved.
- While vulnerability with your spouse about your emotions, grief, and pain can be healthy and draw you together, it’s important to gauge your spouse’s emotional temperature and not to emotionally “dump on” your spouse. Be aware of your spouse’s emotional state before an open conversation about infertility. If there is something you want to share, try asking your spouse when they would feel open to have that conversation so that you both are in a good, loving place.
- In a mysterious way, infertility can shape each of you into better versions of yourselves and build in you a stronger marriage and a deeper love and trust in God’s plan. Each step of your infertility journey can challenge you to choose each other even in your brokenness, affirming the goodness of your spouse, the sacredness of your marriage, and the belief that God is for your marriage even when your suffering doesn’t make sense. It has taken us years to come to this place and we will always be in progress in this area. As we were asked to lay down certain hopes, dreams, and expectations at the foot of Christ in this journey, we had to confront some of our deepest fears and insecurities that infertility brought up in us. By vulnerably allowing ourselves to be seen and known in these hurting places, we could affirm our choice of each other and our joy in and love for each other as we are (a husband and wife called to fully live a faithful and fruitful marriage), not for what we once hoped we would be (fruitful biologically or adoptively as parents of multiple children).
- Your spouse is not your therapist nor the person who can be the answer to your pain, fears, and insecurities. Seeking out a therapist for yourself or for both of you can be a great source of blessing and healing. Most importantly, we have learned to bring our hearts and our sufferings to God, to His mother, and to His saints. Pour out your heart to the God who has known you, seen you in your best and your worst moments, and loves you as you are. Give him your anger, your feelings of hopelessness and fear, your hopes and dreams. God can handle your anger and He will love you through it. Remember God is often holding us closest when we are in our darkest places of suffering.
- Confide your marriage and the strengthening of your marriage to a specific saint. In the last year especially, we have found turning to Our Lady of La Leche and to St. Joseph in prayer for our marriage and our infertility challenges has been a great source of hope, peace, and strength.
Choosing to be vulnerable in your hurting places with your spouse can be scary. In marriage, with time and experience, trust builds, and the challenges of infertility can exponentially increase this growth of deeper trust in your spouse. Where there is deepening trust, there is the space to open yourself vulnerably to your spouse, letting them see you, know you, and love you in the deepest and hardest places. Entrust yourselves to God and let Him give you the grace to grow in hope, joy, and love in your marriage as you carry this cross.
Lenore and her husband Bobby were married in 2017 and are parents to one lost to miscarriage. They live in a small town in Ohio with their Australian shepherd, Augie.