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My husband and I have been trying to get pregnant for over a year and after running some routine tests, because of my age (I’m 36) our doctor referred us to a fertility specialist. The problem is my husband is not open to pursuing other options, such as IVF or adoption, to help us create our family. We both want children, but he believes that if we can’t do this on our own, perhaps it just isn’t meant to be, while I feel we should try whatever options are available to help us become parents. How do my husband and I negotiate this dilemma?

Written by our mental health expert, Dr. Karen Kranz. 

First, it is not uncommon for spouses to disagree about a number of significant and difficult choices during their marriage (e.g., finances, in-laws, sex). How to proceed in bringing children into your family when there are fertility problems is one of those very challenging issues. Generally speaking, with any issue about which spouses become polarized, each person in the couple needs to be able to hear their partner’s thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and feelings about the issue. Many people cannot listen to their partner, particularly when the issue in question is emotionally loaded (as in the case of having or not having children), because the stance their partner is taking is threatening to what they want. Instead they try and force their partner to agree with them and by so doing, they do not allow their partner to actually have a voice in the decision. Being able to listen without arguing your case, to calm your anxiety despite disagreeing, and to stay connected and open to your partner’s perspective, is foundational to working through differences.

Second, let’s look at where you and your husband are at with regards to pursuing fertility treatments or adoption. You said that you went though some routine tests and given your age, your doctor is recommending a fertility specialist. The specialist may not start by recommending IVF. Instead, she or he may suggest you try fertility medications and/or intra-uterine inseminations (IUI’s) before moving on to IVF. Is your husband opposed to all forms of medical intervention in order to get pregnant, or just the more expensive and high tech treatments like IVF? Many people who have little knowledge of fertility treatments are opposed to them at the outset. However, as people learn more about fertility testing and treatments, and when confronted with the reality of permanent childlessness, their sense of what they are open to often shifts.

Third, let’s examine the concerns particular to fertility treatments. You say you feel “we should try every option available.” I invite you to reflect on what you mean. It appears that for you, bringing children into your life in any manner possible including adoption is your priority. Perhaps you feel you could never have a full life without the experience of raising children. Maybe being a mother has been a driving force for you all your life and not being a mother would be an unbearable loss. Or maybe not raising children would result in you questioning your identity as a woman. It is important to honestly ask yourself what is driving you to pursue every option available to become a mother?

Your husband, on the other hand, feels “if we can’t do it without interventions it is not meant to be.” I have heard many people make similar declarations. Again, I would invite your husband to reflect on what this statement means to him. Perhaps fertility treatments like IVF sound too much like creating designer babies. Maybe he has a spiritual faith (i.e., a sign from the universe) that suggests things should unfold naturally or not at all. Perhaps he has always doubted his ability to be a good parent and the fertility challenges you are experiencing confirm what he has always feared. Or like many men, maybe he’s afraid of having to go through a semen analysis, and is concerned that it might turn out to be his sperm that are the reason you are unable to get pregnant. Perhaps he’s worried about letting you down.

I suggest you and husband have some very necessary and honest discussions, perhaps with the help of a counsellor. These talks will require each of you to be able to endure some very intense moments. You need to be able to share why you feel so compelled to have a child. Your husband needs the space to talk about why he can set aside his desire to have a child when obstacles present themselves.

Couples need to learn how to hold two realities – that of self and other. Ultimately marriage is about making space for another person in your life. It is about making difficult decisions by taking into consideration and caring about yourself, your partner, and the relationship. Remember, you are both in this together and working through difficult challenges, can help bring you even closer together. 

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