When I got married, one of my vows was “to accept children lovingly” into my life. I saw that on paper and cringed. I was 26 and I didn’t want kids. I thought kids trapped you, wrecked your body, sucked your bank account, turned your life into one full of mom-jeans and sensible flats, tripping over Tonka trucks and Legos and other endlessly messy toys strewn about. When I repeated that vow on my wedding day six years ago, a voice inside me screamed, “Eeek! No, I don’t! No, I don’t!”
A year later my niece arrived and she only reinforced my beliefs about children. She was exhausting to babysit. She never stopped crying. She didn’t sleep anywhere but in your bed. She played with loud toys that she left everywhere. I didn’t see the joy in parenting. That and I felt completely incompetent as a woman around her, unable to read her cues or understand her needs. I never really babysat anyone before – a hazard of being among the youngest in the extended family – so I didn’t even really know how to change a diaper.
Meanwhile, my husband started saying weird things, like, “Wouldn’t it be fun to have four squirts?” He was loving my niece and I was jealous he was so good with her (he being the oldest had a lot of experience raising kids). But mostly we had these conversations playfully, to the point where we’d start categorizing activities as “things we couldn’t do with squirts.” And every year we were married, he came down on his number of squirts. And every year, I started moving more in his direction, particularly as both of our careers stabilized (though nothing is really stable in this economy). Kids didn’t seem like a sentence anymore. And I reached a point in my life when I found myself asking, “There’s got to be something more.” I sensed a gap in my life that I knew would not be filled by experiences or things. And that’s when we started trying to conceive.
That was three years ago, three years into our marriage and seven years into our relationship. My husband and I are now wrapping our minds around the fact we’ve been together for ten years… but we’re also watching friends’ and families’ marriages fall apart. And falling apart in part because of the baby question.
The average U.S. first marriage lasts 8 years, and the second lasts 10 years. So our friends who married in their early to mid-20s are starting to divorce. In two of the most recent cases I know about, babies and infertility are chief among the sticking points. In one couple, the wife’s sisters and mother have all been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and have experienced heart-wrenching and life-threatening complications in the last two years. No doubt the fear of having your opportunity to have children kicks your biological clock into high gear… but her husband didn’t reciprocate the feeling. Another couple discovered some minor complications while trying to conceive, and as a result the husband wants to talk about their options for growing their family and the wife doesn’t want to deal with it. Both couples are now separated, and guess what? They were both married for eight years.
When I tell people this story they ask, “Wouldn’t they have talked about kids before getting married?” Sure, that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to talk about your finances and spending habits, your expectations for living together, your hesitations about each others’ families, your values, your ideas about having a family (or not). But even if you did that, sometimes circumstances change your mind. You lose your job, you travel abroad, your family moves away, you develop an allergy to cats, you find out you’re an infertilite. And sometimes a couple can recover from that fundamental change and sometimes they can’t.
Being an infertilite alone is hard work enough. When you are with a partner, it will challenge the foundation of your relationship. You will have many long tearful conversations. You will both feel pulled in so many different directions, and sometimes those directions are polar opposites. You both deal with the stigma and with the difficult conversations with the outside world. Focus on the love you share for each other to help you dig in. Be honest. Listen unconditionally. Withhold your judgment. Get a professional to help you communicate if that’s what you need. We’ve all been there. You are not alone.