When it comes to family planning, it’s a sad fact that the male role is sometimes downplayed. This is even more true when the journey takes a turn for the difficult and a couple embark on IVF treatments. You may turn up to the appointments, hold her hand and read all the pamphlets she gives you. But then what? The gruelling ultrasounds and injections all go on inside her body, and not yours. Surely there’s not much more you can do to help?
Not so! In fact, a woman undergoing fertility treatment requires immense support and understanding - and you are in the best possible position to give her that while she manages the physical and emotional strains of trying to conceive. Here’s a look at what your partner may experience as well as concrete ways you can step in and lighten her burden.
She feels stressed out
How much free time do you have in your schedule today? What state of mind would you be in if you had to make room for an extra hour or two of doctor’s appointments, painful medical procedures and the hassle of travelling to and from the hospital or clinic? Scheduling IVF treatments can take its toll, and by its nature the process is prolonged since it occurs over many cycles.
Things you can do:
- As much as possible, try to reduce her stress in other areas of life. Pick up niggling chores or errands she may not have time or energy for. Would she be happier with someone to take her to the clinic? On egg retrieval days or particularly stressful points in her cycle, can you take charge of dinner or other household tasks?
- Be a calming force in your partner’s life. While her world is topsy turvy (inside and out!) you can be her anchor. Think of the relaxing activities she’d enjoy. Can you surprise her with a small gift, a movie night at home or even an impromptu foot rub?
- Make sure that you’re maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Encourage a regular sleep schedule, eat well and carve out time each day for a walk in nature, meditation, or quality time together.
She feels vulnerable
Undergoing IVF is no picnic. Your partner’s been poked, prodded and injected. She’s likely felt very exposed during examinations. Over and above the mental stress of opting for this kind of treatment, she may be dealing with real, physical pain, too. All of this spells a moment in your partner’s life where she feels exceptionally vulnerable and sensitive.
Things you can do:
- Tread very carefully around the issue of sex. The hormonal effects of the treatment may include bloating, fatigue, soreness, nausea and increased emotional sensitivity, so your partner likely won’t feel in the mood. Allow her to initiate if she likes, but hold off on adding any pressure during this time. It will pass.
- Keep an eye on her physical comfort. Be understanding if she feels tired or grumpy, and remind her that she’s beautiful on those days she feels unattractive.
- Let your partner know that you love and appreciate her no matter what. Her stress may stem from feeling rushed or inadequate. How can you show her that you love her perfectly, just as she is, right now?
She feels volatile
Hormones are powerful things. For example, instead of a single egg in production per cycle as usual, she may suddenly have up to twenty eggs at once ...and all the estrogen that comes with it! Flooding the body with such heavy doses of hormones can be overwhelming to say the least. Your partner may burst into tears for no reason, get angry and then wonder why she did, or wake up one morning weighing 10 lbs. more than the night before.
Things you can do:
- The very worst you can do for a woman who is struggling with disrupted hormones is to negate her experience. While she’s battling mood swings, you need to be calm and consistent. It may be challenging, but try not to lose your cool, guilt her for her emotions or get angry yourself. Imagine that you’re temporarily taking on some of the extra emotional load she’s been given. Offer her stability and understanding and any mood swings will pass more quickly.
- Avoid making any other important life decisions at this time.
- Make sure there’s time in every day to stop, and listen to how she’s feeling. She might not need you to problem solve, but only to listen to what she’s going through.
Your partner may physically have to undergo the treatments, but ultimately you are a team and working towards the same end. Because she may be a little overwhelmed, it may fall to you to be extra empathetic. Understand her perspective. Stay alert, help out when you can, or better yet, try to anticipate her needs and step in to take charge of what she may not be able to manage right now.
Nobody said it would be easy, but remembering to work together certainly makes it easier! Ultimately, you are her partner. Not a helper, a sidekick or a spectator on the journey she’s on, but a fellow traveller. Work together and even the trials of fertility treatments can ultimately strengthen your relationship.