Infertility is an insidious monster. It sneaks up on you, taking a bite here, a nibble there. It feeds on your life, and on your relationships. And if you aren't careful, it will devour your marriage.
For a long time, I didn't recognize the monster. But one day, I saw it—in my reflection in the dresser mirror. It stared back at me through the dullness in my eyes, the stress lines around my mouth, the droop of my cheeks. I didn't always look like that.
My gaze dropped to a photo that sat askew on the dresser. There, my husband and I grinned from the confines of the silver frame. Bryan's arms looped around my shoulders. Behind us, the ornate doors of Notre Dame rose to the top of the picture. Paris. It had been beautiful that May. And we were two young lovers walking its streets hand-in-hand. We were innocent, in love, and looking forward to a future filled with the promise of giggling children and vacations that would take us to Disneyland instead of Paris. But that was B.I.—Before Infertility—and those days were gone.
Gone too was the beautiful, sexy, loving wife my husband married. Instead, I felt like a baby-making machine that wasn't working right. As a result, our love life had become sterile and mechanical. The purpose of intimacy was no longer to share our love, but to produce a baby, no longer to enjoy each other, but to accomplish a goal. We made love based on the reading on an ovulation predictor stick, and according to the instructions given by our doctor.
On the proper day when the stick read positive, I'd call to my husband, "Today's the day," and later that evening, whether or not we felt like it, we'd do our duty, all the time with our thoughts focused on the baby we hoped to conceive. Discussions became focused on babies and procedures. Times together turned into arguments about how he wasn't supportive enough and how I was too emotional. No more romance; no more laughter or spontaneity or passion or fun.
A First Step toward Change
Every month that passed as I found out I still wasn't pregnant, the monster grew stronger. Every day it chewed up a little more of the love between Bryan and me. Somehow we'd forgotten each other in this pain-filled journey through infertility. We'd forgotten how to really see each other, to rejoice in what we loved about the other. Instead, we'd become so focused on the goal of having a baby that we'd become blind to everything else.
We needed a change. I needed a change. Somewhere inside, an attractive, fun-loving woman still hid. I just had to find a way to let her out again.
A week later, the day came when the ovulation stick again read positive. But this time, I was determined to make things different.
That night I dressed in my best, black velvet gown. I curled my hair, put on makeup, and fastened on the special sapphire earrings my husband had given me three years before. I bought a bottle of wild, new perfume and dabbed it on my wrists and ears. Then I looked in the mirror and smiled. It was a forced smile at first, but at least it was a start, a beginning to recapture the woman of fun and romance I'd once been.
The first stars started to peek from the evening sky as I set up our back patio table with candlesticks and our best china. My husband's favorite meal was bubbling in the oven, and light music drifted from the stereo in the family room when Bryan arrived home. I still remember the look of surprise on his face.
"What's the occasion?"
I lifted my chin and offered the smile I'd practiced earlier. "Because I love you, and I love us," I said. "Tonight we're celebrating each other."
That night I took the first step in slaying the monster that was destroying our marriage. I learned that I needed to stop letting infertility be the third person in our relationship. I needed to stop letting it color every other aspect of our lives. Instead we needed to create time together that had nothing to do with hoped-for children, babies, or procedures to come. We had to set aside moments to talk, laugh, and especially reminisce about our favorite memories as a couple.
Enjoying the "Regular" Times
To counter the stress of infertility and keep romance alive I had to plan times when I could feel attractive again and notice how handsome my husband is. And whenever the ovulation stick read positive, we began to plan special date nights. One month it was flowers and a favorite restaurant (complete with fancy dessert!). Another month we snuggled in front of the fireplace and toasted marshmallows over the flames. Another time we planned a private picnic with strawberries and dipping chocolate. A few times we went through old photo albums and listened to music that was popular while we were dating.
They were simple times, but important in reminding us to appreciate and listen to each other and to remember our love. And more importantly, these times took the pressure away from performance, away from the goal of making a baby, and instead gave us time to pay special attention to our relationship.
To my surprise, after a few months, we began to find it easier to enjoy each other during other, "regular" times like when we did yard work together or washed the cars or folded clothes. Soon, we found ourselves planning more trips together. With the expense of infertility treatments, we didn't have the money for vacations in Paris anymore, but we could take a walk on the beach, or see a funny movie, or take a drive to the country to watch the sunset. On Saturday afternoons, we started to enjoy walks in the park like we used to during our college days before we were married—anything to help us remember how to laugh again, to remind us why we fell in love.
Then, we found it easier to come together and be there for each other in the face of disappointments, difficult procedures, and failed outcomes of infertility. We learned to recognize the signs of when the infertility journey was becoming too much for one of us. When I started checking the calendar several times a day and reminding Bryan over and over about upcoming appointments, when he started talking about how busy he was at work, then we knew the monster was starting to nibble at us again. But slowly we began to recognize it early and keep it at bay by taking time to love each other, remember, tell funny stories from our past, and build a future based on our love, not on children we hoped would come.
These days, through the months and years, I'm finding my marriage is growing stronger, despite the stresses of infertility, and finally I'm remembering how to be the woman who once grinned into a camera in front of the cathedral of Notre Dame.
Marlo Schalesky is the author of nearly 700 articles and 8 books, including the novel, Shades of Morning, which explores the concept of regret and miscarriage. www.MarloSchalesky.com
Copyright © 2011 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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