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Every couple takes for granted that they will be able someday to have children. For some, the problem of infertility is a slow-growing realization. For others, it comes as a shock after some months of attempting pregnancy and then going for testing. In either case, the emotions associated with it run deep.

On the one hand, there is the question of whether there will ever be a child who will look back at you with his mother’s or father’s eyes, one that will have her grandmother’s chin and her uncle’s devilish smile. On the other hand, there is the feeling of being in some way, inadequate. One looks at teenagers blithely muddling through pregnancies that are unplanned and undesired and wonders, “What is wrong with me?” “Why don’t I deserve a child of my own?”

For most couples, both husband and wife have these feelings at times. When they are both struggling with these feelings, they can become disheartened, they can wonder what life would have been like with another mate, and they can wonder if it’s a cosmic comment on the rightness of their match.

Even more worrisome, however, is if one of them is going through these feelings and the other is at the same time optimistic or just unconcerned.

Couples who want to successfully survive infertility need to tune into each other, discuss things openly, be ready to listen to each other even when their thoughts are running in different directions.

Here are the major stumbling blocks to successful coping:

1. Not paying attention to your spouse

Even though he/she isn’t feeling the way you are about the problem or the treatments, his/her feelings are legitimate. You need to listen, understand, and not try to talk him/her out of his/her feelings. They are real. The more you try to shut them down, the stronger they will get, the more he/she will focus on them. Talking about how one feels often helps one to clarify things, and all the spouse needs to do is listen.

2. Over-sharing

You and your spouse need to decide who to tell and how much to say. If one of you is uncomfortable with others knowing or with a specific person knowing about the problem, you need to respect his/her sensitivities. Sometimes siblings, parents, and friends can be warm, helpful, and supportive. Some will keep your confidences and only be there to support you. Others will discuss your private business with others, and if that would upset you or your spouse, then you need to decide who should be told and how much. Once an agreement is made, keep to it. Don’t expect that you can tell someone not to tell your spouse, and it will remain hidden. Secrets from spouses are a very bad idea. Going through infertility is very stressful, keeping secrets from your spouse may be the death of a marriage.

3. Feeling unappreciated

Infertility can be a blow to one’s self-esteem. That seems to magnify other negative feelings. Here’s a secret: more than 99% of all people feel unappreciated. No one can ever value you as much as you think you should be valued. If you are working, your spouse can never understand just how difficult and complicated your work situation is, and if you are at home, your spouse can never appreciate how much work just maintaining a home can take. When feeling unappreciated begins to become a recurring theme in interactions with a spouse, you are headed on a negative course. Why? Your spouse, chances are, also feels unappreciated. How can he/she worship you when you are not ready to worship him/her? You need to level the field, understand that real self-esteem comes not from what others recognize in you, but what you recognize in yourself. I call it “becoming your own mother.” That entails looking at what you do and being able to say to yourself, “I put in a lot of effort” “I worked hard.” “I accomplished a lot today.” If you can care for yourself emotionally in that way, you will not have to drain your spouse for that kind of reassurance.

4. Focusing on infertility

The relationship that you and your spouse share should be the most important relationship in your life. This should hold whether or not you have children. The marital relationship is the primary relationship that provides security and love in a family. The focus of attention needs to remain in that relationship. Yes, you are working hard to achieve parenthood, but you are still a couple, and you still need that relationship to nurture both of you. Sex should remain fun. It shouldn’t hold within it the disappointment of infertility. It should be something that you enjoy, and that brings you close. Walks, candlelit dinners, flowers, and warm embraces help build the relationship. Laughing together helps you maintain a happy life. Any future child will feel the security a good marriage provides. It is a priceless gift.

If you use your infertility as a springboard for personal growth and for increasing your understanding and affection as a couple, you will be using the time you are waiting for a very good advantage. You will be a stronger, healthier couple, and you will be building the nest that someday will hold your little fledgling safely and securely.

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