I knew when we got married that Keith would have no problems honoring the “in sickness” part of our vows. Just months earlier, shortly before we were officially engaged, I came down with some horrible stomach virus. I was at his house when it happened, and I spent the next 36 hours alternately shivering in bed and shivering on the bathroom floor. God bless him, he went out on Christmas night and found a store open that sold heating pads, 7-Up and saltines – all the things I desperately needed.
So I knew before we got married that Keith handled sickness pretty well. I handle it okay – when Keith got food poisoning I was very scared and almost called 9-1-1. When Keith ended up in the emergency room due to a bad reaction to some medication, I handled it well until I knew he was okay. Then I broke down.
Both of us are pretty whiny when we’re sick with minor colds and such; but we tolerate one another. We buy the requisite pudding (that he wants) and ginger ale (that I want) when the other one is under the weather. We manage to feed ourselves and cook whatever the sick one wants, too. However, we’ve been blessed with few sicknesses in our almost seven year marriage.
Imagine both of our surprises when our vow “in sickness” took a major turn.
See, Keith and I are infertile. Neither one of us has what it takes to make a baby. And infertility would count, in our eyes, as “sickness.” Our bodies are broken – there is something wrong with them. And once we discovered that, our marriage could head one of two ways: divorce or strengthening.
I’m proud to say that infertility – sickness – improved our marriage. But it was definitely difficult.
Infertility is rampant. I guarantee you know at least one couple, if not more, who are struggling with the inability to conceive. Infertility is also silent – there are no outward symptoms, except the lack of a pregnant belly. Infertility is also unspoken – very few people acknowledge that it is widespread.
Living with infertility is a challenge. It impacts all facets of your marriage: intimacy, communication, trust, and finances, to name just a few. It will stretch your marriage and show that it’s either flexible, or that it’s so rigid it will snap with the pressures.
Infertility impacts intimacy the hardest. What was once a sacred and special part of your marriage – something between just the two of you – suddenly becomes dinner conversation and the subject of much speculation of multiple physicians. You are suddenly charting body temperatures and ovulation cycles and trying to determine when and how you should try to make a baby. Romance and spontaneity go right out the window. Every encounter between you and your spouse is timed in a grand scientific experiment to create life. If the situation isn’t right, you don’t touch each other. If the situation is right, you touch each other – even if you can’t currently stand one another.
And inevitably, for many infertile couples, your experiment fails. And fails over and over and over again. And your intimacy begins to wane; after all, if you can’t procreate, what’s the point?
Then comes the impact on communication. You begin having conversations you never dreamed you’d have. Do we remain childless? How do we tell our families? Do we consider medical intervention? How much medical intervention? What if we use my egg but a stranger’s sperm? What if we use a stranger’s egg but your sperm? And you have to navigate – very carefully – through a minefield of thoughts, feelings, spiritual beliefs and emotions that you and your spouse probably differ on. You might agree, but never at the same time!
Then the trust issues creep in. Would you have married each other if you knew you couldn’t make a child? What if your spouse goes out and finds a more compatible partner that can create life? Why is your spouse so quiet all the time? Are you sure you don’t blame me? Am I sure I don’t blame you?
Weaving throughout this entire infertility process would be financial pressures as well. Infertility is expensive, and most insurance plans do not cover any aspect of it: testing, counseling, medical therapies. All of these costs come out of your pocket. You begin to discuss just how much having a child is worth, from a money perspective. Can we spend $12,000 for one treatment? What can we sacrifice in our monthly budget to help with this? What if one spouse thinks $12,000 is no big deal but the other one hyperventilates at the thought of dropping that much cash on something that isn’t guaranteed?
Throughout this entire process, your marriage is stretched and twisted and wrung out. Can your marriage withstand this process? I’m happy to report that yes, ours did. We learned to communicate better with each other. Granted, sometimes this communication took place through tears. Sometimes we communicated best through jokes and sarcasm, and sometimes over the phone (there are some conversations it’s easier to have when you are not face-to-face). We learned to tell each other how we were feeling about every aspect of infertility – even when our feelings weren’t in agreement.
We are learning to make intimacy fun, romantic and spontaneous again. We know there’s only a 2% chance that we would ever make a baby. We are working past that and have learned there are other, equally beautiful and valid ways to build a family. We are still working on our communication skills – but does any marriage have perfect communication? The bottom line is we used infertility – sickness – to build up our marriage and not let it destroy us or our partnership. It is possible – we are proof!