I write a lot about how infertility affects the woman who is physically going through the fertility treatments herself, because, duh. But I’ve never written about some of the way it can affect the relationship with her partner. Infertility can wreak havoc on a relationship. It definitely tests the “in good times and in bad” deal of marriage, to say the least.
My husband and I definitely navigated through some rough terrain. Luckily, with communication and a ton of patience, we came out of it closer than when we began. My husband is my absolute best friend.
We’ve said and done some fucked up things during this process, but the health of our relationship has always been top priority. Well… except that one time while coming down from progesterone. Besides that time, and maaaybe a handful of others, the well-being of our relationship is usually priority number one.
There’s just one kind of important department of our relationship that infertility really sunk its venomous teeth into–our sex life.
Like I’ve said before, my husband and I weren’t even in the same building when we “conceived.” And we weren’t alone when I had babies put in me. My husband watched as another man placed a catheter through my cervix and injected our embryos into my uterus. I know, I should be an erotica author cuz that is hot.
It’s no secret that there is very little physical contact with your partner when it comes to IVF. It doesn’t start out that way, but eventually you’re having sex to mate or not having sex at all. So once it’s all said and done, how do you go back to having sex as a part of being intimate?
The first time Michael and I were introduced to “timed intercourse” was exciting. We got to have a lot of sex at certain times of the day for days on end. It was awesome.
Until it wasn’t.
The novelty quickly wore off. Sex was no longer a way of connecting or of desire, but a robotic way of desperately trying to conceive. What used to be a way to get completely lost in the moment had become an obligation and source of stress.
And let’s talk about the pressure on the man’s side. If I got a smiley face on my ovulation test, drop your pants because it’s go-time. And don’t fuck it up. You better get it up, and you better get it done. No pressure though, honey.
Friends and family start weighing on your sex life, which is never awkward. My favorite consistent advice was, “Just relax. Go on vacation and just have sex, and don’t think about it. It worked from my friend’s sister’s neighbor.”
Okay, first of all, Karen, fuck off.
Second of all, we tried that. I took a shit ton of Clomid, did a trigger shot, and we got on a plane to Florida. We arrived with the goal of “relaxing and having vacation sex while pretending like we’re not on hormones, fiercely trying to get pregnant.” Things took a turn when we discovered we had an adjoining room with my in-laws. You can go ahead and use your imagination for how “stress-free” that “vacation sex” was.
In the midst of timed intercourse, there are periods of time when sex isn’t allowed. This is usually when they’re testing you to see who’s more “at fault.” Men have it a little easier on this one. I can’t remember the exact amount of days, but it’s days they’re unable to be intimate. Women it’s like years; 30 days here, six weeks there. We lose track of how long it’s been since we’ve actually had sex with our partners.
Once we graduated to IUI’s, the sex became more and more scarce. We had to hold off so that the best of the best sperm were on deck and ready to hit a home run. And, frankly, at that point I had zero drive to have sex unless it could potentially get me pregnant. It felt like a total waste if I wasn’t ovulating or we weren’t doing it as back up to the IUI.
Don’t get me started on the “off” cycles after a failed attempt to conceive. The last thing you want to do is get it on while mourning the loss of yet another failed cycle. And I can speak for my husband when I say he was in the same boat with me on this one.
In the midst of our intimacy slowly becoming completely destroyed, my body no longer belonged to me. I felt like a fucking lab rat. I had half of Allegheny County in my vagina, all desperately trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me. And none of it was comfortable.
Skip ahead to the major leagues of infertility; IVF. IVF literally requires you and your partner to have zero physical contact with each other whatsoever.
“My husband just looks at me and I get pregnant!”
Cool, Karen. My husband didn’t even have to look at me to get me pregnant. And also, fuck off again.
Testing for IVF is intense. Hormones are intense. The physical and emotional toll are intense. The only thing that is not intense is your desire to get naked and bone. Plus you can’t have sex before or after IVF, so you just have to sit tight and wait it out.
Then once we were finally pregnant, I was too fucking scared to do anything that could potentially affect my pregnancy. What if I had sex and my husband’s penis knocked the baby loose? I couldn’t live with myself. In all seriousness, I walked around so lightly and carefully, because I was genuinely terrified that something bad would happen, so basically any physical activity was off the table.
Then with both pregnancies, once I was through the scary first trimester, the doctors discovered I had low-lying placenta. What’s the rule when you have low-lying placenta? You guessed it–no sex. So at this point, both pregnancies, we’re 26-27 weeks in before we can even think about knockin’ boots. And that’s the last thing I wanted to do.
Then there’s the six-week period after having a baby, when you’re clearly unable nor would ever dream of having sex. And if your body is anything like mine, and likes to hold onto placenta like it’s the winning lottery ticket, then it’s closer to 10 weeks postpartum before you’re even thinking of getting it on.
Okay, then after you get the green light from the doctor because you’re physically healed, your sex drive comes right back and you go at it like rabbits. Hahahaha, what a sick joke. If you’re one of those humans who bounces right back and feels like her body is hers again, then kudos to you. I’m sincerely jealous. That is just simply not my reality. And I’m pretty sure it’s not the reality of a lot of couples who trek through infertility.
My body no longer felt like mine. I was a stretched-out, over-injected, pathetic excuse for who I used to be. How could I ever be in the mood to be naked in front of my husband? I couldn’t. I thought that repairing my body physically would change how I felt. So I had diastasis recti repair surgery and a full tummy tuck. Once I looked the way I did prior to this process, then I’d feel confident and sexy. Spoiler alert: it didn’t change the fact that I still felt like a laboratory animal.
When a “mommy makeover” didn’t do the trick, I knew it was time to stop ignoring the elephant in the bedroom. I had to admit that I had zero sex drive, clammed up when my husband even put his hand on my shoulder, and that I was on this hamster wheel of avoiding sex because I felt like shit about myself.
Oh, and I should mention that I’m extremely attracted to my husband. The absence of banging was never an issue prior to our IVF journey. I had just completely shut down and disconnected from my body for so long that I didn’t know how to find my way back.
Once I was able to admit it and face how far down this rabbit hole of self-hate I had gone, then it was time to hear how it was affecting my husband. It wasn’t easy to listen to, but it was 100% vital for us to begin to get our mojo back.
I don’t have some magic advice to wrap up this essay, because everyone is different and each relationship is unique. What’s working for my husband and myself may not be right for you. All I can say is that being completely transparent and honest with one another is imperative.
Besides, you’ve survived fertility hormones without murdering each other. Clearly you have the strength to take on the next challenge and come out on top… or bottom, whatever you’re into.