Should therapy before fertility treatment be mandatory?
Every so often I come upon rich material that just doesn't fit the theme of my commissioned story. I feel guilty that it doesn't get out into the wider world. Recently, I was interviewing a man about his family's struggle to have children. In the course of telling his story, he emphasized how much he wished he'd had counselling at the very beginning.
Fertility treatment is for some people very straightforward. But for others, it throws at you new and challenging questions right when you're least equipped to cope. Below, some of what he shared.
Not looking at baby strollers
You get so excited when you have that viable pregnancy. It's just a little bit longer than the last one. You start getting really excited.
Then you lose the pregnancy. And you lose another.
Then what happens is that being pregnant is no longer exciting. It's the most scary thing you've ever experienced. That's when I wanted to stop. That's when I was begging her to stop.
For me, it was after our fourth pregnancy. We were halfway through.
Our journey was a six-year process. We had eight pregnancies and eight losses.
We got pregnant naturally the first time. That first pregnancy made it to eight or nine weeks — just when you're starting to get excited and tell family. We lost that pregnancy. We were having difficulties getting pregnant again, so we started IVF. She was 39 when we started. We did it six times in about four years.
During the second pregnancy, the embryo went up into her fallopian tube. She was whisked off to emergency right away, because it could kill her. You think you're going in for just a routine check-up, to see if your numbers are progressing, to see if it stuck, to see if everything looks good. Then all of a sudden, Oh no, it's not in your uterus. Get an ambulance.
When they went in to remove it, they touched her tube and it exploded. And then she was down to one tube.
After the fourth pregnancy, I just felt fearful. It was not exciting anymore. This process is not supposed to feel like this. You are supposed to be happy. The pee stick's in the red — you're pregnant! But you're biting your nails. You're just Come on, come on!' You're scared.
You're not looking at baby strollers or what colour you're going to paint the room. You're just, Is it going to stay or is it going to be another loss? You're fearing the loss that is about to happen. You don't want to experience loss again.
I started telling my wife, I don't want to do this anymore. I can't handle it. But she kept powering through. She just kept pushing and pushing and pushing, and she didn't even know why.
So then I shut down emotionally. I was still there — I went to appointments when I could — but I wasn't able to be there in the same capacity. I did what every typical male does and shut down. I was depressed. You're just walking through life, you're not living life.
She ended up feeling lost and alone, like she was doing it herself — which, now that I look back on it, was true.
I was a bit of a pushover. I told her I was done but we didn't really talk about it. I want to try again. Okay. All right. Let's do it again. But, hon... At this point she's 41. We need to figure out how many more times we can do this. We said we were going to stop at 40. Now we're at 41.
At 42, we were still going.
But they're still getting eggs from me.
I remember hearing the heartbeat on the very last pregnancy we had. It was a natural pregnancy. You heard the thump, thump, thump. But then they looked at us, and we knew it wasn't in the right place.
Three of our pregnancies were ectopic.
And they were sitting there going, Nobody gets three ectopic.
In all of our pregnancies, we never made it past ten weeks. We have no child. My wife has no tubes. My wife is no longer with me. We separated. I love her to death and I want her to heal from this.
But she is stuck on the pregnancies. Even now. Did I try hard enough? Did I try too much? Did I push hard enough? Did I push too much?
What would have helped me is going to couples therapy at the beginning. I wish I had been forced into it at the beginning of the process. It should be mandatory. That would have solved a lot — if we had been forced to talk and have those conversations. Because not everybody does. It's really uncomfortable. I don't think a lot of couples are prepared for the mental battle that is about to happen.
You're too afraid to hurt the other person's feelings. You're just trying to cope with your own. You end up internalizing and drifting apart. Instead of being a unit, we became just one person and another person.
That's why I said you should have to go to counselling. This is major. This is beyond anything that you ever thought you'd have to deal with in your life.
Edited and condensed.
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