These struggles are why it’s even more important to be there for her during fertility treatments and IVF cycles
It’s always important for men to understand what their wife or girlfriend is experiencing during pregnancy. From changes in hormones and behavioral swings to outright discomfort and pain, women need extra understanding and empathy as they carry the burden of childbearing for all of us.
Women needing reproductive assistance may have an even more difficult time before they are pregnant. For women embarking on in vitro fertilization (IVF), the temporary adjustments to life can be frustrating and even downright irritating at times, making it all the more important for guys to understand all of the struggles IVF presents.
Men often join their wives or girlfriends for their first appointment with a fertility doctor. They listen and smile, nodding on cue. Then… they often disappear until the day of the egg retrieval. What he misses is the incredible strain on the schedule of the woman an IVF cycle creates. She may visit the doctor every day, requiring compromises at work, planning around traffic issues and other scheduling conflicts. Stress, stress and more stress.
Those regular visits to the doctor multiple times per week each also include frequent blood draws, vaginal ultrasounds, and being half-naked with the doctor for each examination. Even away from the doctor’s office, she has to self-administer daily hormone injections to the abdomen. Infertility treatment can become emotionally and physically exhausting for even the most energetic and committed woman.
Consider what she’s going through. Those hormone injections she’s taking are used to stimulate the development of all the eggs that have been recruited for the month. Rather than having a single egg, i.e. hormone factory, in production, she now has 10 to 20 little factories in operation. That’s a large increase in estrogen over the next few weeks. Increased estrogen can cause fluid retention, bloating, tiredness, mild nausea, and feelings of emotional sensitivity. She can even gain weight rapidly, up to 10 pounds in just a few days. That, of course, can add tremendously to the stress of the cycle.
One complication of the treatment is called “ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome.” This occurs when there are too many follicles and too much estrogen. The ovaries enlarge three to four times normal size, and the body can accumulate several gallons of fluid in the abdomen. Think of how you would feel if someone took an air hose to your testicles and abdomen and inflated them to extreme degrees. Not so fun, right?
Sexually she is off-limits because her enlarged ovaries are extremely tender. The worst thing you can do in this vulnerable time is pressure her about sex or make her feel guilty. Instead, support her with overt acts of love, partnership and romance.
As she marches through all of these steps, she can be left with a nagging feeling of inefficacy. All her life she envisioned the conception of her child as the result of making love – beautiful sex with her partner. Instead, conception involves lots of clinical probing and prodding. The sometimes painful monotony of IVF reality can really get to her in a powerfully emotional way. That makes it all the more important that her partner is exactly that – a partner.
That’s where you come in. Just like you would support her during pregnancy, be there for her mentally, emotionally and physically during her IVF cycle. Take it as seriously as a pregnancy. Like I said at the beginning, I rarely see male partners at office visits after the first consultation. Show her you are a team by making the sacrifice to join her for the occasional doctor check-up. Assist with her daily hormone injections. Tell her how beautiful she looks when she complains of feeling bloated and fat. Be a partner with her on every step towards making your baby.
Of course, the end result is worth the struggle. Couples with difficulty getting pregnant are always reminded of the value of the journey when their beautiful child is born. It’s up to every guy to understand that journey for the woman and make it as wonderful as possible.