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Love Letters

Love Letters: Trying to Make a Baby is Hurting the Marriage

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Q:

Dear Meredith,

I'm married to the absolute greatest man I've ever met. We have careers, great friends, and supportive and loving families. I know you know there's a "but" coming, so I may as well leap right into it: We've been struggling with infertility. It's been an exhausting, agonizing, and soul-destroying two-year journey so far, and if it continues much longer, I'm afraid our marriage won't survive it.

Ever since I was a tiny girl playing with dolls, I have always known I wanted to be a mom. And it might sound corny, but back when "Glenn" and I were first falling in love, I often imagined that our future children would would have his sparkling eyes or his generous nature. So when he asked me to grow old with him, I believed that the rest of our lives would include children and grandchildren. I think we both had that dream, and with each passing month, it feels more unlikely we'll get to realize it.

Glenn and I have had an amazing physical relationship since the very beginning, so we both greeted our decision to "start trying" with giddy enthusiasm and the next eight months were pure bliss. That's precisely how long it took for either of us to realize how long we'd been trying and to ponder why I hadn't yet gotten pregnant.

By the time our long-awaited specialist appointment finally arrived, I feared what we would learn. Glenn was tested first and "passed with flying colors,” according to the doc. Since then, I've had countless blood tests, urine tests, super embarrassing and invasive "other" tests, and we're no closer to knowing what’s wrong. Unexplained infertility, I was told. Most frustrating "diagnosis" ever, but treatment began and we were hopeful. In addition to the many prescribed fertility drugs (with their horrible side effects), I've been advised to make good lifestyle decisions. Fearing I'd been exercising too intensely, I've cut out running entirely. I haven't had coffee in over a year and its been nearly that long since I've enjoyed an alcoholic drink. But the worst impact of all has been on our sex life. Nothing kills the passion quite like a strict sex schedule. For me, it's grown monotonous and our bedroom has become a place filled with disappointment and sadness. 

Almost two months ago we finally got our first bit of joy with a positive pregnancy test -- only to have all that hope eroded with an early loss a few weeks later. Glenn thinks it's a good indication that sperm and egg can meet and wants to begin trying right away. I feel emotionally and physically exhausted and I don't know where to turn. I finally attended an infertility support group, but the other attendees are about a decade older, and one of them actually expressed displeasure at my being there because of my age. I know biologically I have time, but I don't know how much longer we can continue having our hopes crushed every month.

Although Glenn has been endlessly supportive, part of me is beginning to resent the unequal burden of the fertility treatments. And I can't help but wonder if he's begun to resent my uncooperative body. The test proved the only thing standing between him and fatherhood is his selection of spouse and I'm sure that fact has crossed his mind. Does he regret choosing me? If we can't figure this out, will he leave me for someone fertile? What can we do to bring the joy back? Do marriages really survive this?

– Babyless in Boston

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A: Marriages survive this. Absolutely. They survive trouble with conception, they survive weird phases after childbirth where hormones are off and no one wants to have sex, they survive menopause and erectile disfunction and hot flashes and everything in between. When people talk about marriage being a constant challenge, this is what they mean. Our bodies go through a lot in life. When we get married, we sign up to deal with it together.

You're smart to look for help during this process, but please know that support groups can be a crapshoot. You never know who's going to be sitting next to you, and sometimes the chemistry is just off. I'd ask your doctor about alternatives for support. It might be one-on-one therapy, or perhaps there's an age-specific group that makes more sense for you. And ask about trying a different kind of exercise. Your brain needs that release, and it's good for your libido. Maybe you can replace running with yoga?

As you work on finding the right source for professional help, do some things with Glenn that you wouldn't be able to do if you had kids right now. Take a fancy trip. See a midnight movie. Have really loud sex in the living room. And maybe have a glass of wine now and then. You have to be able to enjoy your life right now. Marriage is so much more than sharing the experience of having children.

Also, don't be afraid to talk to Glenn about your fears. If you’re worried that he regrets choosing you as a partner, tell him that you're feeling insecure. Let him explain why he married you, and really listen to what he has to say.

Readers? Is this normal? Has it happened to you? Support groups? How do you have a happy marriage when you’re so focused on having a kid?

– Meredith