When you and your partner are trying to conceive, you may feel like you’re dealing with many psychological and emotional minefields, be they financial concerns or probing questions from well-intentioned but nosy acquaintances. In particular, what happens when you and your significant other conflict over your next step to add to your family? Though it’s easy to think that you may be the only ones experiencing this friction, experts say partners often disagree about their baby timeline.
“It’s not uncommon to see couples where one is more involved and motivated to get started [on trying for a baby] than the other—whether it’s male-female or same-sex couples,” says Dr. Brooke Hodes-Wertz, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone’s Fertility Center. She notes that it’s also normal for either part of the couple to feel resentment or as if her partner does not understand her as she works her way through the process.
The process of fertility treatments is also one that takes a tremendous amount of organization, time, and money while also being rife with uncertainty. “All of that takes up a lot of mental space,” Hodes-Wertz says.
It’s little wonder, then, that couples may be at different points in the journey at any given time. Here’s how to handle disagreements about your path to parenthood in three scenarios.
When You Disagree About Trying for a Baby
Experts agree that when you and your better half are at odds on whether it’s the right time to start a family, get educated.
“It’s not a bad idea if a couple finds themselves in a situation where one is ready and the other isn’t, to meet with a fertility specialist and just go over what fertility is generally, for people at different ages…You can do some baseline lab work,” says Hodes-Wertz.
She tries to help couples understand: “Do they have a good ovarian reserve for their age, below average, above average? [I] give them some general markers, [such as] if there’s an issue they may have when they try to conceive.” (For women trying to assess their fertility, doctors generally do a vaginal ultrasound that allows them to see how many small follicles there are in the ovaries, and two blood tests that look at egg quality and number.)
For women who want some peace of mind, egg freezing is an option that has increased in popularity over the last three to four years, according to Hodes-Wertz. “It helps women preserve that fertility for where they are at that moment and they don’t have to make any decisions right then and there about getting pregnant,” she says. “It helps to empower women and to kind of secure their future. You don’t need the partner to do anything…they don’t need to sign consent forms, they don’t need to be involved at all if they don’t want to. It’s a great option for women that find themselves with a partner whom is not ready to try to get pregnant.”
A man’s fertility is far less subject to decline, which means he may not feel as much biological pressure to get moving on the family front, according to Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine. “The biological clock for a man is basically irrelevant,” she says. “For a guy who is in good shape, is overall healthy, his fertility is going to be maintained. For the woman, it is much more of an issue.”
Minkin does point out that sperm freezing is an option with a high success rate for men who aren’t ready to conceive but want to preserve their fertility while dealing with an illness—for example, men who are about to go through chemotherapy but want to have a baby later in life.
There’s nothing more important than being really honest with each other.The conversations surrounding whether to start a family can be emotionally loaded and require a certain level of openness, says Dr. Ariadna Cymet Lanski, a clinical psychologist specializing in reproductive health issues at the Fertility Centers of Illinois.
“There’s nothing more important than being really honest with each other,” Cymet Lanski says. “For a couple, if what is getting in the way is that the relationship is not [going well], it can be really easy to try to avoid conflict, to try to avoid difficult conversations—that in and of themselves will make it worse. The best way to start to deal with it—as hard as it is—is to have true, open, honest conversations.”
She adds that it’s a good idea to reflect internally on why each of you may or may not be ready for a child, and attempt to work through those emotions and mind sets. “[The next] step, is to be able to communicate that, and sift through that information together,” Cymet Lanski says. “Be open, be empathic.”
When You Disagree About Starting Fertility Treatments
If one partner wants to begin fertility treatments and the other doesn’t, information gathering is once again crucial, experts say.
“Meeting a physician doesn’t bind you to do treatment,” says Cymet Lanski. “I find that sometimes after hearing that very tangible information, it’s a lot easier for couples to either get on the same page or to start making decisions that feel a little bit better because they’re more informed.”
Minkin echoes that sentiment: “I think the key is to really understand the biology.” She notes that many times couples may be ill-informed about the realities of conceiving, and may take examples of celebrities delivering children well into their 40s and 50s as confirmation that they can wait with no repercussions. “That’s just not realistic,” she says.
For heterosexual couples who want children and in which the woman is under 35, Minkin advises—just enjoying yourselves. “Just have sex, have fun, go have a good time and don’t set alarm clocks,” she says. “Don’t put pressure on yourselves too early.” If after a year, you haven’t conceived, then take the next step to see your doctor. If you’re over 35 and haven’t conceived after six months, then make an appointment.
Minkin points out that for those whom are initially squeamish about going to see a doctor, there are at-home fertility tests on the market that are pretty accurate, including those that measure follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels or sperm count. However, she urges people not to panic with a less than desirable result; it should serve as a nudge to go see a medical professional.
On the emotional side of things, it’s important to recognize how stressful this process can be and not to snipe at your partner for going at a different pace.
“The thing that gets difficult for fertility is that it really has an expiration date,” Cymet Lanski says. “You cannot, particularly as a woman and depending on your age, just sit around and wait for the other person to catch up. At some point, you either get on the same page in somewhat of a timely manner or things will get even more difficult. That, in and of itself, adds another layer of stress in a situation that can already be stressful.”
She suggests trying to avoid discussions when emotions are running high—say, if friends just announced their pregnancy while your better half put off talking about going to a fertility specialist due to an upcoming promotion.
“Find a calm time to talk about this,” Cymet Lanski says. “Be honest, be clear about what your thoughts are, what your feelings are [and] how to make sense of this. Ask questions to understand the other partners’ point of view. ‘Why are you not ready? What do you think will happen if you do this? What are your concerns?’” She adds that it’s important to not interrupt or lob accusations back and forth—particularly about a person being selfish or not caring about having a child—during your conversations.
When You Disagree About Continuing with Fertility Treatments
Medical professionals acknowledge that the emotional toll that going through an IVF or IUI cycle is extremely high—and going to a counselor may help couples sort out those differences.
“Especially when people are in the midst of fertility treatments…psychological and emotional burnout is the number one reason people stop IVF…more so than even cost,” says Hodes-Wertz. “I think it’s important to meet with a counselor and explore what exactly is going on. Does this couple have different goals? Different timelines?”
When it comes to contending with the difficulty of an unsuccessful IVF round or a miscarriage, it’s important to be there for each other, says Lanski. “Set some time apart when you come home and just be with each other,” she says. “Ask: ‘Hey, how was your day today? I know you’ve been worrying a lot about this. How [are you]?’”
Most importantly, she emphasizes that you should never assume how your partner may feel about the situation—her or his thoughts may surprise you.
“As a couple in pain, it can be easy to fall back into assuming that we know how the other person is thinking and feeling, and the reality is that we don’t,” she says. “I would be careful that we really not assume that we know what is going on with the other person. Ask, clarify, talk openly and honestly. “
No matter where you find yourself in your quest to build your family, make sure that you have enough information to make your decisions, and be honest, kind, and respectful of where your partner is in the process. Never forget that you’re on the same team and in this together!
Kelsey Butler is a reporter and editor based in New Jersey. She has written for health and lifestyle publications including Women's Health and Brides. In her spare time, you can find her on the bocce court, collecting souvenir pennies, binging “Law & Order: SVU” episodes and hiking with her dog, Sonny.
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