Surviving infertility with your marriage intact

As I mentioned in my previous post, Mr. Nishkanu and I just had our 5th wedding anniversary, which coincides with the 5th anniversary of TTC. We are going to celebrate by spending next weekend at a fancy spa hotel complete with multiple massages, using a gift certificate that our in-laws gave us for Christmas and which we have been saving up for a special occasion (and I gotta say, that was a super ultra awesome gift). After getting kneaded to bits we are going to go meet the president of the country we are living in. Yep, I’m not kidding about that one, Mr. Nishkanu won a fancy prize for his work and one of the rewards is to get to shake the president’s hand. I hope that is the reward for the spouse of the winner, too, but in any case I will get to observe Mr. Nishkanu’s shaking moment in living color. All in all, an anniversary to remember.

In reflecting on the past 5 years, it is my humble opinion that a prolonged bout with the black demon of infertility will have one of two effects on a marriage: either the marriage will crumble, or the marriage will be welded into a much stronger partnership. We have been very, very, very fortunate that the latter is what happened to us. To be honest, I think it could have gone either way. Dealing with infertility, if bio kids is what you want, is dealing with a crushing disappointment which can cause a person to massively rethink their entire life path. It can also make you kind of desperate and willing to do things a wise person would not ordinarily do, and some of those unwise things can be very bad for a marriage. I think in our case, there were a couple of things that worked in our favor.

First, I married the right guy. Like any human being, Mr. Nishkanu is not perfect, but when it comes down to it, his heart is in the right place, he wants the best for me, and he would never hurt me for the sake of hurting me, no matter how mad he is at me. My mom is always going on about what a great guy Mr. Nishkanu is, which is sometimes a little annoying (because Mr. Nishkanu’s parents also go on at length about what a great guy Mr. Nishkanu is, and at some point I’d like to be the one who is so great!), but she is right, I picked a good guy and I can pat myself on the back about it even though honestly I was a little clueless about it at the time of the picking :).

Second, we both really want to have kids. Like anyone with half a brain after a few years of fruitless TTC and losses we began to think, hmm, I wonder if child-free living might be for us, since it sure sounds a lot more straightforward than what we’re doing now. And both of us could dismiss that thought in about 3 seconds. It makes it a lot easier to pull together if you both agree that pulling is the right thing to do. It doesn’t mean we always agree about the path to kids but we’re not arguing about whether we should even be on the path. We both agree about the goal and that the goal is worth all the hell to get there.

Third, we have both male and female factor. Mr. Nishkanu’s swimmers are plentiful but swim around aimlessly in circles and often have some extra heads and/or tails. My eggs are old ‘n’ stinky. On the one hand, this combination bites because if we only had one of these factors, we would probably have been knocked up well before now – if my eggs were young ‘n’ fresh IVF + ICSI would have done the trick and if Mr. Nishkanu’s swimmers were a bit prettier and goal-oriented he probably could have got some up to where they needed to be while my eggs were still relatively young and delightful. But the advantage of the double whammy diagnosis is – it’s nobody’s fault. There is nobody who has to think “gee, if it weren’t for their decision to be with me, my wonderful darling would have copious offspring by now.” Not that having only male or female factor makes it impossible to have a good infertility relationship, I’m just saying in this respect we have it relatively easy.

Nevertheless, even with all this going for us we still could have easily messed it up. I think the big turning point was a huge fight we had relatively early on in our infertility career, after maybe a year or a year and a half of trying. It was not the only disagreement we had about infertility, not even the only heated disagreement, but it was the only real fight that we had (where by ‘fight’ I mean ‘each person insists loudly on their own point of view rather than hearing the other person’). The fight was about under what conditions we would be willing to adopt a child. Mr. Nishkanu was only willing to consider a healthy infant, I thought that we should also be willing to think about older children and/or ones with physical handicaps. I felt strongly that Mr. Nishkanu was selfishly looking only to adopt a “perfect” child that would be as easy as possible and that we had a moral obligation to offer a home to a child that might otherwise have difficulty finding a family. Mr. Nishkanu said, with a sob in his voice which did not disguise its judgmental tone, that I was always taking on hugely difficult tasks and then getting totally overwhelmed trying to accomplish them, and he was scared of getting overwhelmed with me.

OK, he did not say this latter point in the most diplomatic tone possible, and neither did I particularly appreciate this critique of my personality (I got my revenge on him a few years later when he wanted to do yet more IVF cycles and I said “who is taking on difficult tasks now?” – and he had to utter the magical marital words “You Are Right.”). Nevertheless, something in the way he said it meant I finally heard him and how scared he was about the future. What I realized after that fight – and I think he did, too – was that whatever children we might one day have would be both of our children. And that meant that both of us had to be comfortable with the path they would take to us. One of us could not decide unilaterally that they would fulfill their dream in the way that they wanted to – we each had to compromise about what we wanted and find a way to fulfill our dream together, even if the other person’s idea of what was ‘right’ seemed weird or wrong.

This insight isn’t particularly infertility-related, since being able to compromise to make a way forward is an essential skill for a healthy marriage. It wasn’t necessarily a skill we were particularly good at when we got married, I am a very stubborn and headstrong individual and Mr. Nishkanu has a tendency sometimes to dismiss my point of view as “just emotional” and therefore not important. But what infertility did do for us was make it crystal-clear that we had to pull together and compromise, and it also gave us an awful lot of practice in compromising, as we had to figure out step after step what we would try next, who would take on what burden of the labor of cycling, and what we were and weren’t willing at any phase to try. At this point I feel we could tackle anything life throws at us, because we know how to do it fighting with our backs to the wall together instead of fighting each other. So, infertility: honestly? up yours! but still – in a tiny voice – thanks.

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2 Comments »

  1. peeveme said

    I just loving your blog. I loved all the technical”how to shoot up progesterone” tips and now I am loving your new direction.

    I have nothing to add. You said it all. I do feel Mr. Peeveme and I are stronger than before IF…but yes, it could have gone the other way if we had made different choices, had different situations…or maybe we just kick-ass at being married. Who knows?

    OK…your Dh gets to shake the presidents hand? I am sooo envious…and happy for him…but also envy.

  2. Lisa said

    Somehow, yet again, you’ve nailed my thoughts exactly! We are closing in this month on our 4th anniversary and, like you, we’ve been TTC the whole time as well. The challenges we’ve faced during this time are unbelievable and, yet, here we are, still together. I count us among the lucky, as well.

    Happy Anniversary to you and enjoy your weekend!!

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