The best support for a woman who is going through an IVF cycle is her husband. The IVF journey is exciting and exhausting at the same time. The process is more physically demanding for a woman than for a man. When a woman lacks a supportive husband, it is almost impossible for her to sustain her energy and enthusiasm during the extremely draining IVF process. What can a husband do to make the process easier for his wife? What does a wife expect from her husband when undergoing an IVF cycle?
1) Infertility is ‘ours’ , not ‘yours’ or ‘mine’
IVF is a costly process and the outcome of an IVF cycle is highly uncertain too. This creates a lot of mental stress for couples who are undergoing the process. For a man this can be extremely frustrating and humiliating. He feels that the situation is out of his control and the financial strain can make him panic about the future. Suddenly, routine life comes to a full stop and everything seems to be revolving around creating a baby. In such a situation, most men feel powerless. They do not know how to express their helplessness and may resort to anger. When in anger, you may spill words which are out of your control and can emotionally scar your wife. If your wife is having problems with her fertility, and if you tell her during your angry moment that it is because of her inability to conceive a child that you are suffering emotionally and financially, then it can create lots of heartache for your wife. This kind of blaming will make her feel more guilty and unloved. This can in turn cause enormous damage to your relationship. You should remember that she is already bearing the entire physical brunt of the IVF process and her infertility is not her fault. Infertility and IVF treatment are testing times for your relationship. If you keep in mind that infertility is not an individual’s problem, you tend to support each other better. You are each other’s better-half’s and being the best-half (a thoughtful, supportive, understanding husband) will help your spouse to go through this IVF journey with minimal heart-ache , which in turn will help you too to cope with this journey better.
2) Get involved in the process
A man’s role in the IVF process is much less arduous when compared with the woman’s. In fact, the entire IVF process revolves around the woman. From the beginning of ovarian stimulation to embryo transfer; a woman has to take many injections; have many vaginal ultrasound scans and blood tests; and then go to the OT for egg collection and embryo transfer. All these processes can be very exciting - and physically and emotionally stressful too. Many men think that their only job is to act as a ‘sperm donor’. While their wife is busy taking all the prescribed medicines and travelling to the clinic frequently for undergoing vaginal ultrasound scans, most men are totally clueless as to what is going on. They prefer to keep themselves detached. It’s not that they are unkind – it’s just that this is the commonest coping mechanism men deploy. This will make his wife feel lonely and abandoned in the process. She may jump to the erroneous conclusion that her husband does not care about her – or about the deep desire she has for a baby! Actually, baby-making is exciting when both the partners’ involve themselves completely - let it be in the privacy of your bed room, or in an IVF clinic. The best support a man can provide to his wife when undergoing IVF is to dive deeply in the process. As a husband you can do many simple things which will make the IVF process less stressful for your wife. You can remember the medicine schedule; ask your wife whether she took them at the proper time and in a proper dosage, you can give her the injections yourself, accompany her to the clinic, be with her during the vaginal ultrasounds and hold her hand during the embryo transfer. All this will help to make the IVF baby-making process come alive for you too. Being involved will also help you to appreciate the pains your wife is undergoing for the sake of the much yearned baby. In this way, you will also be able to empathize with her, and your emotional connection will be much deeper.
3) Communication is the key to coping better!
I agree that it is not easy for a man to be as expressive as a woman, but communication is very important for a good relationship and couples who have good communication skills fare far better in times of crisis. IVF process is draining and most wives are clueless about what their husbands are going through emotionally! I myself used to wonder what is going on in my husband’s mind. Even if I coax him to be a bit more expressive it just doesn’t seem to work – and he feels I am nagging him. As a result, I worry for myself and for him too! If he shares what he is going through with me, I can extend my emotional support to him - and as a result I get better emotional protection too! The coping mechanism for stress is very different for a woman and for a man. This greatly adds to the chaos. As a woman, when I talk about my fears and insecurities about my IVF journey , and when my husband listens patiently , I feel instantly better , because I can see he cares for me. This is all I want – I understand the outcome is not in my hands or his, but unburdening myself helps me cope better with my anxieties. But my husband’s view is different. He feels that instead of talking about the problem (which is stressful according to him!), it’s better to just forget about it and immerse yourself in some kind of entertainment. He wants to distract himself with something else which will give him happiness. If this is the scenario in your situation too then it is very important to strike a balance between your needs and your wife’s. Just sit with her like a friend and discuss the IVF journey – or let her just vent. Remember she does not expect solutions – just a kind ear and a shoulder to cry on! Even if your wife’s concerns appear to be unreasonable, take time to listen to them patiently and try to clear her fears and doubts. When an IVF cycle fails, the best help you can provide your wife is to talk about it! (Many men avoid talking about it altogether, because they find this too painful!) Tell her that an IVF failure is not her fault and even though it is difficult for you too, the pain of it will not last long. Assure her that you love her as always and infertility cannot come in between you. Try sharing with her your worries too. Sharing your emotional insecurities with your wife will assist her in understanding you better and offer you her support. This will give her immense satisfaction because women love to act as ‘emotional caretakers’!
4) Express your love and affection
The best time to show your spouse that you care is during the difficult moments of your life. Many men empathize with their wife because of the pains they need to endure during an IVF cycle. But they do not know how to express what they feel. There are many cute little ways to show that you love and care. A bunch of roses or a cute little card with some nice words, a genuine compliment or a surprise dinner can bring back her smile and happiness during stressful IVF times. Taking part in the daily house hold chores will also make her sense that you really care! It will make her feel loved and appreciated. It will also erase her fears and worries concerning your emotional well-being. Your kind actions will tell her that you are emotionally OK and you are able to cope well and take care of her too!
5) Let us learn together
The IVF process will be less stressful if you are well-informed about it. You might be busy with your work, but even then it is wise to spend some time with your wife so that both of you can learn about the process. Learning will be easier and fun when it is done together. Please do not discourage your wife from understanding the intricacies of the process. Learning is not obsessing! Acquiring knowledge about the IVF process will give your wife the satisfaction that everything is going on well with the cycle. Even if troubles arise during the IVF cycle, she will be able to cope emotionally better when she is knowledgeable. The same applies to you too. Only when you both understand what is going on during an IVF cycle can the two of you have a rational discussion with your doctor and get involved in the process. Otherwise you will be left with a feeling that you are not in charge of the situation, and will feel betrayed and miserable when the treatment fails!
6) Please do not allow your parents to interfere!
This will be the sincere wish of many women undergoing IVF, including me. Does it mean that we see our in-laws as an unwanted intervention in our life? Definitely not! The comfort level of a woman with her in-laws is very different from the comfort level she shares with her own parents. Any husband will understand this if he compares the comfort level he shares between his own in-laws and his parents. IVF is an emotionally challenging process and unsympathetic in-laws can add a ton of stress to the already difficult IVF treatment. Many do not understand the process scientifically. It is hard to explain this to them and clear their unreasonable doubts and fears. Because of the concern and fear they have, they make a lot of well-meaning suggestions, as to what to eat and what not to; and what precautions to take during the IVF process. This might force us to behave in ways which we are not actually comfortable with. For example, my mom gets very tensed and fearful after my embryo transfer. She will say ‘Manju, walk slowly, sleep with your legs straight, do not climb stairs, do not lift any weight (even if it a few grams!), do not eat chicken (or certain foods!)’. Whatever she says is out of love, but the mental stress such constant pestering (especially when you know that all these things will not stop an embryo from implanting!) creates is hard to describe in words. All this talk constantly reminds me of the embryos within my womb! This makes me worry about myself - and I end up worrying about her too! I keep on thinking, what will happen if this cycle fails; how my mom will cope with it; and there is a tremendous sense of guilt, because of my belief that it is because of my defective reproductive system that she has to undergo this kind of emotional roller-coaster at this age!). I feel inadequate that I cannot give her the grand child she yearns for. On the other hand, if it is ‘MY MOM’ I have the freedom to tell her to shut up. I can either pacify her with my kind words or vent my anger. She will understand what I am going through. Is it possible to act like this with your in-laws? The stress levels during the IVF treatment and the 2ww are very high, and it nearly impossible to keep silent and be polite all the time. Another important point is, if the cycle fails my mother will not blame me but if I do not act according to my in-law’s advice and if the cycle fails, I will be blamed for the failure all the time! This will make the relationship between me and my in-laws bitter and unmendable. There are also in-laws who can act in spiteful ways which can be very hurting during the IVF journey. So please avoid telling your parents all the gory details about the IVF treatment. This will definitely help you and your wife to get along better during stressful times!
7) I am emotionally vulnerable- please realize this!
Women are ruled by their hormones-especially during an IVF cycle! Because of all the drugs she is taking , there is be a hormonal roller-coaster going on inside her body. Some hormones drop, rise high and then drop again. These kinds of rapid changes in hormone levels can contribute to increased anxiety and depression in many women. Women can experience lots of crying spells and moodiness during this time. She might get irritated for no valid reason. I have personally experienced that these are the times I am very vulnerable to a variety of negative emotions and as a result I make my husband’s condition miserable. I agree that your wife might be getting on your nerves at such times. She might behave totally irrationally and maybe emotionally uncontrollable (like a ‘raving lunatic’!). The best thing you can do during such moments is to offer her a shoulder to cry on and patiently hear her fears and concerns. Even if you are right about your viewpoint, please do not argue. Choose to be kind over being right at these times and it will avoid many further heart aches for you and your wife!
8) It is hard for your wife not to obsess- please understand this!
During the IVF treatment, especially during the 2ww, you will find that a new person has taken over your wife-a soul which is totally lost in its own thoughts, a person who wants to sit in front of the computer and search on the internet for pregnancy symptoms, forgetting the whole world, a woman who is constantly concentrating on all the small signs and signals her body might be giving and panicking about the same. She might even emotionally retract from you. I agree that it is very uncomfortable for a husband to see his wife like that. You might want her to forget about the embryo transfer and be normal as usual. You might want her to take notice of you, take care of you and get on with normal life. You might want to make the situation easier for your wife but none of your efforts to distract her from obsessing seems to work. You might feel totally helpless. You will fear that she is totally stressed out and might wonder about the negative impact of stress on embryo implantation. Please understand that there are psychological and emotional differences between men and women and your way of coping with the stresses of IVF is very different from your wife’s way of coping. So try to accept her style, and give her the space she needs. Trying to criticize her for being too emotional or sensitive will just add to her stress levels. Constantly accusing her for obsessing during the 2ww or saying that her way of dealing with the 2ww is ‘crazy’ will interfere with her way of coping and might leave her totally anxious and depressed. Allow her to obsess since this actually helps her to cope with the 2ww!
9) Don’t be overprotective
During the ‘2ww’ many husbands tend to become overprotective. They want their wives to be careful about everything they do. Some don’t even want their wife to get out of bed! Although you might think that you are being kind and caring, this kind of overprotection can make your wife uncomfortable. Your actions might remind her all the time about the embryos inside her uterus. Once the embryos are inside the uterus, nothing she does will affect the chance of implantation. If the embryo is good enough and the uterine receptivity is optimum the embryo will implant - otherwise it will not! This is the only truth, as established by medical science. So do not force her to do things with which she is not comfortable. Keeping an eye on her all the time and forcing her to rest in bed all day long (because of your insecurity!) will put unnecessary stress on her. Allowing her to do the normal day-to-day activities will help her to take time off from obsessing. It will be also helpful if you avoid unreasonable questions like-‘are you feeling anything?’, ‘do you feel pregnant?’ etc!