Context: My husband and I have tried for seven years of our adult lives to have babies. We fulfilled our dream of becoming parents six years ago, but have spent the past five years trying to give him a sibling. We have not succeeded and are walking away as a family of three.
On this journey, I realize that so much of it has been about me. What I’m feeling, how I’m doing, where and when I’m struggling, etc. On one hand, it should be. Women often bear the burden of fertility treatments, having to be the ones in the clinic often, having invasive procedures done to them, but on the other hand, when you’re in a partnership and you’re trying to achieve pregnancy together, you shouldn’t neglect your partner’s needs.
I have. I have often neglected my husband in this process, focusing on how difficult it is for me instead of us together. And now, at the end of our journey, when it comes time for reflection, I realize I haven’t been the partner I’ve wanted to be. So I’m making up for it. I’m starting by asking him some important questions. Here’s what we’ve been talking about lately.
On Father’s Day
Me – Father’s Day is coming up. What do you want to do?
Husband – Spend the day together, the three of us.
Me – Sounds like a plan. How do you feel about it, now that we’re not going to try for more kids anymore?
Husband – Sad, but also okay. When I think about not having more kids, it’s obviously sad, but it doesn’t have to do with Father’s Day in particular.
Me – With Mother’s Day, I always feel bittersweet. Like, I’m so grateful for our kiddo but I’m still so sad that our family feels incomplete, and also like I failed the three of us.
Husband – Yeah, I prefer to focus on what we have. I’m an only child so Father’s Day was always small for me. And I’m excellent at compartmentalizing. I just put that sadness away in a box and deal with it when I have time.
Me – When do you open the box to deal with it?
Husband – I don’t. That’s probably not good.
On Stopping Fertility Treatments
Me – I’m struggling with this whole ‘we’re done trying’ thing sometimes. There are other options on the table and it’s hard to decide not to pursue them.
Husband – Yah, every now and then I think ‘Did we really try everything? Did we miss something? Could we have done better?’ But that’s kind of a waste of my time.
Me – I still feel so guilty though. Like, we wouldn’t be going through all of this if my body didn’t suck, if it just worked properly. Do you ever look at me and think ‘Man, she sucks…’
Husband – Yah but that has nothing to do with fertility.
Me – Seriously. Do you blame me at all?
Husband – A “Did Not Finish” is better than a “Did Not Start.” I saw what you put yourself through – the needles, the hormones… My nickname for you is literally “My Chemical Imbalance.” You did so much. We did so much. If we hadn’t tried so hard, then maybe I would look at this all differently, but we ran the race. We ran as fast as we could, but we just didn’t place. At the end of the day, there are things that are in your control and there are things that are not. You can’t blame yourself for the things that are not.
Me – You’re so logical it’s frustrating.
Husband – I know.
On Having an “Only Child”
Me – Do you feel like we can have a full life, just the three of us?
Husband – I think we can. I’m not as sad for us as I am for [our son]. I lived his life. I was an only child, I got lonely, I wished for siblings. Having been an only child, and as a Dad, I want to protect him from all of the crappy things that life brings. And the crappiest thing for me was when I lost my Dad. And when that happens to [our son], I can’t protect him from it.
Me – Because you won’t be there.
Husband – Exactly. So I want to cushion that blow for him now, to give him siblings so that he isn’t alone when that happens. And it sucks that we won’t be able to do that. It sucks that he will have to experience that without a brother or a sister to lean on.
On What’s Fair
Me – It drives me nuts when you’re watching a TV show and someone has fertility issues and then they surprise get pregnant. Doesn’t that make you want to throw something at the TV?
Husband – No, I like our TV.
Me – Would you want to throw an invisible rock at the TV?
Husband – Yah. It just feels like there isn’t an accurate reflection of infertility on TV. Everyone gets that happy ending but that’s not what it looks for a lot of people.
Me – Yah a lot of people don’t achieve that goal. And no one covers that part of it.
Husband – Right, well you learn it as a kid… if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. But infertility doesn’t work like that.
Me – Yah, there’s no correlation between how hard you work or how much effort you put forth, and success.
Husband – And we see that all the time. So many people around us have gotten the happy ending we’ve worked so hard for. They just think about having a baby and then they have one. And then they have another one with a perfect two-year age gap. It’s just not fair, but I guess this process isn’t about fairness. It just is what it is.
Me – You seem so composed. Like, even when you’re sad. Is this what all men are like?
Husband – It may just be me. I just compartmentalize it and don’t have to deal with it unless it hits me unexpectedly.
Me – When it does hit you, do you feel supported? Like, do you talk to your friends about it?
Husband – No. They know what’s going on, but we don’t talk about our feelings. We just have more beer.
Me – So I’m all you have for support then?
Husband – Not really even. Like, I don’t want to burden you because you’re already dealing with so much. It’s not fair to put more weight on a donkey that’s already carrying a lot up a hill.
Me – I’m sorry. Did you just call me a donkey?
Husband – Yes, but a useful one that carries lots of stuff. A strong, sturdy, capable donkey.
Me – Thanks?
Husband – No problem!
By Vidya Ledsham