National Infertility Awareness Week is movement that started in 1989 to raise awareness about the disease of infertility and encourage the public to understand their reproductive health. My friend and colleague Dr. Jessica McCleese has shared part of her journey of infertility here. Last week (during the official awareness week) she once again offered invaluable insights on talking with a friend who is infertile (When Fertile Myrtle Meets Barren Bertha). She agreed to write this guest post focused on husbands helping their wives during the journey of infertility, and I believe it will bless many.
Being the girly girl that I am, I typically write for the wife or the couple. It is rare for me to write only to the husband, and in fact this may be the first time. Makes you feel pretty special, doesn’t it? Today husbands, this post is specifically for you and all about how to really help your wife during the journey of infertility.
To do so, I’m giving you the completely female look at infertility so your wife will make a little more sense right now. But, let’s be honest. Sometimes we females just don’t make sense, not even to ourselves. Your need to search out the great mysteries of the beautiful wonder you call your wife is actually quite similar to our need to search out the mysteries of God. So, the most important point in this article is to remember just that – God has designed you, your wife, and your marriage to help you understand more about Him, His undying and all consuming love, and his eternal grace that is very much alive in the present.
And now, let’s take time to really think about the issue of infertility and how your wife is being affected. For most men, “trying for a baby” simply means having sex with no protection. But, for many women, trying to get pregnant includes looking at fertility charts online, joining groups about trying to conceive (TTC), changing the diet, exercising, and making sure she seduces you while she’s ovulating. We women have a tendency to make everything a chore and work ourselves to the bone. Trying to have a baby is often no different.
At some point, the emotions start. Now, like I said before, we women don’t even fully understand ourselves. We may feel like we need a good cry just because if feels good to do so. I understand this will never fully make sense, but please trust me when I tell you that it really can feel amazing to purposely watch a sappy movie, curl up in pajamas, and cry while downing some chocolate brownie ice cream.
But other times…crying stinks. A lot!
The rough thing about infertility is that even if you are not directly thinking about it, a woman has a hard time not thinking about it while trying to have a baby. Her body is a clear reminder that she hasn’t conceived (and so is the body of her pregnant friend). There is a grief cycle that happens every month for women dealing with infertility. It starts out with this hopefulness when her cycle is over that just maybe this will be the month. Ovulation comes and she plans out her schedule to make sure there’s time for sex, and then for a couple of weeks she waits to see if she’ll get a positive on that little pee stick. Heaven forbid she’s a couple of days late or the surge of progesterone (happening after ovulation) makes her think that she is pregnant. She might not tell you, but she’s likely played out in her mind how she’ll tell you the good news. She’s pictured how excited you’ll be and how happy the two of you will be to tell all of your friends. If it’s close to a holiday she’s probably played out the holiday-themed announcements. And this can happen for a full week or more until she realizes, once again, that her period is absolute proof that she still isn’t pregnant.
Infertility can be tough for a number of reasons. First of all, our female hormones can really mess with our emotions and those hormones surge all over the place throughout the month. Add to that the fantasy of making you incredibly happy when she tells you the good news coupled with the disappointment of telling you another cycle has started and the fears that the dream of being mommy will never come to pass…it’s just a rough combination.
So, if you’ve been watching your sweet wife struggle with her emotions during this time, here’s what you can do to help.
#1: Don’t freak out when she cries.
Remember, crying is the only way we know how to express the sadness we feel. Often, men feel unsure how to handle the tears. You may feel this way too. I encourage you, if you don’t already know, ask your wife what she needs from you when she cries. And, ask before she’s in tears. It’s so hard to talk while crying your eyes out! Keep in mind, that there are definitely times when the most important thing to your wife is just that you’re there. Hold her. Kiss her. Tell her you love her. And when she sobs out, “I’m getting snot on your shirt!” simply tell her, “That’s why we have a washing machine.”
#2: It’s okay to show (what you see as) weakness.
I get it. You’re a man. You’re strong and a fixer. And believe me, your wife loves that about you. But there is a quality that women love in men that doesn’t often make sense to men. There is something so sexy and safe about a man who can let his wife see him cry a little. Let me give you an example that makes sense. Men typically pursue sex with their wives and they LOVE when their wife shows this same desire by pursuing them. Your wife adores you so much more than you can comprehend when you show her that soft vulnerable side. If you’ve walked the infertility journey for long enough to have some fears, concerns, disappointment, and doubts; let her know. Hug her while you tell her, “I’m sad too. I wish this would have been our month. I hope for this too.”
So often, the wife feels like she’s alone in this. Your job is to make sure she knows that she’s not. You (her big, strong man) understands the hurt and feels it too. She is not alone. Your vulnerability will bring her encouragement and strength like nothing else will.
#3: Remind her of her worth.
Men are naturally problem-solvers and when it comes to infertility it can feel like there’s no way to solve the problem. That is, there’s no possible way to come up with a solution as long as you see the “problem” as infertility. The truth is, that’s only part of the problem.
The real problem is that your wife is hurting on a deep level.
Remind your wife of the great worth you find in her. Tell her you treasure her, you love her, and that you want to help in any way you can. Take her out for a romantic dinner or on a date that she’d love, even if you don’t love the place y’all go. Show her through your actions that she adds life to your marriage and to you. Basically, focus on what you do have as a couple instead of what you don’t have. And, possibly most importantly, stand in faith with her. As a couple, look to God and trust Him in this process. Not because I’m promising that God will always heal infertility as long as you pray, but because there is something special about the bond of husband and wife when they pray together and stand in faith for a godly desire they both share.
Husband, I wish that I could tell you that there is an action plan you can follow that will take away the grief completely. There simply isn’t. But, you can be that strong place for your wife – even if that means showing your own vulnerability.
I pray you and your wife rest in the goodness of God and the peace that passes all understanding during this difficult time in your marriage.
Be blessed, friend!
Jessica McCleese is a wife, a coach, a licensed psychologist, and a sexual educator with specialized training in sex therapy. She’s also a Christian and works with other Christian couples that are looking to improve their marriages and their sex lives using biblically-based principles. She has a unique ability to connect with others and lead them through practical steps they can take to see improvements in their marriage. Jessica serves people internationally through her work at Better Than the Honeymoon.