How to Talk to Your Partner About IVF
If you're starting to consider in vitro fertilization (IVF), you might be curious about how to discuss the subject with your partner. Here is everything you need to know about talking to your partner about IVF, from when is the right time to start having this discussion to making sure IVF is right for you.
How long do couples typically try before considering IVF?
A couple usually takes about eight to 12 months of trying before they conceive naturally. It's important to note that unlike what we were taught in high school, our chances of pregnancy per cycle are typically about 12 percent, said Sue Ellen Carpenter, M.D., an OB-GYN and the founder of Bloom Fertility in Atlanta.
It's generally advised couples younger than 35 seek medical help with conceiving if they are unable to achieve pregnancy after a year of trying with unprotected intercourse. If you are older than 35 and unable to get pregnant after six months of trying, you should see your doctor about fertility options. If you are older than 40, you should speak with a fertility specialist if you want to conceive, suggested Rosaria Romano, a physician assistant at New Hope Fertility in New York City.
When should you start talking to your partner about IVF?
While it can take up to a year of trying to conceive, this does not mean you have to wait a year to talk to your partner about IVF, especially if you are over the age of 35 or know you could have difficulty conceiving.
"It is important to start the conversation as early as possible so your partner can be the support that is needed," Romano stressed.
"For women over age 35, there is a 'Catch-22' in all this: It is natural for it to take longer to conceive, but you don't have time to wait," Carpenter said. "Women get all our eggs before we are born and use them up at varying rates, so fertility drops quickly as we age. In contrast, men make new sperm every 90 days, so [they] have a much longer fertile runway. Women over 35 should consult a knowledgeable physician after six months of trying."
"Communicating about fertility treatment takes practice," advised Linda Kondilis, Ph.D., a psychologist and owner of Orama Wellness in Atlanta. "It can be an emotionally vulnerable time…[you should talk about IVF] as soon as it comes to your mind and/or is recommended by your doctor. It does not benefit anyone to hold in thoughts and feelings."
How do you know if IVF is right for you?
If your menstrual cycle is irregular (fewer than 10 cycles a year), you should talk to a reproductive endocrinologist or your general OB-GYN right away about testing and treatment, as you could be exhausting yourself trying to conceive when you may not be ovulating, Carpenter advised.
If you have a history of pelvic infection, pelvic surgery, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), endometriosis, fibroids or tubal pregnancy, you should seek IVF consultation early in the process to make sure your fallopian tubes are open and your uterine cavity shape is healthy, Carpenter said.
Couples who have blocked fallopian tubes that can't be repaired, a very low sperm count, an ovulatory disorder unresponsive to medication alone, are carrying genetic abnormalities where their embryos should be screened, or have failed with simpler treatments likely need IVF, Carpenter added.
"For [LGBTQIA+] families who will need third-party reproduction and IVF, I suggest discussing this with their doctor, meeting with a therapist who focuses on third-party reproduction and a legal professional," Kondilis advised.
"It is important to discuss options with your provider when seeking fertility treatment," Romano advised.
You also want to ask yourself if you can commit to the medical process of IVF, which is a physical, emotional and financial decision. Sometimes talking about it out loud can help you feel confident about your decision, Kondilis suggested.
You and your partner should also consider the following aspects of IVF treatment:
Your partner may need fertility testing
If you are a female trying to conceive with a male partner, your partner also needs a fertility evaluation. The origins of infertility are 40 percent male, 40 percent female and 20 percent unexplained, Carpenter said.
"It is important to be honest and open with your partner [and] forthright about the process, testing involved, timelines, costs and ultimate goals," Romano pointed out.
There is a biological clock
Women do have a biological clock, and it is a relatively short amount of time. If getting pregnant is important to you, you need to seek consultation sooner rather than later.
"A reproductive specialist should save you time, money and emotional distress by helping you find a diagnosis and make the treatment decisions that are right for your family," Carpenter said.
You are on the same team
"You and your partner are a team and should approach the conversation that way. Healthy couples do not expect to land in this predicament. Yet infertility affects at least 1 in 4 couples over their reproductive life span. You are in this together. It's no one's fault," Carpenter said. "Be in each other's corner, always. Sometimes you are the one who needs support, sometimes you need to support your partner. Infertility affects everything about your lives: your life plan, your financial plans, your focus on your career, your use of recreational time, your relationship with each other and with friends and family who mean well but may not understand your challenges."
Avoid the blame game
"I see [blame] show up both directly and indirectly [around IVF]," Kondilis explained. "There is so much anger around needing IVF to build a family. This anger can turn into blame and is likely to get expressed to the person you feel safe around: your partner."
While you should avoid the blame game (which includes blaming yourself), you should be realistic and honest about how important IVF is to you and how you need your partner's support, Carpenter said.
Avoid minimizing each other's feelings
"A lot of partners feel so uncomfortable when their partner is sharing their deepest and darkest feelings," Kondilis said. "When they cannot contain the discomfort, they often invalidate their partner's feelings: 'You shouldn't be so upset, don't worry so much.' To make it worse, they might jump to problem-solving when their partner just wants to be seen and heard. I always recommend couples join in on each other's pain. No one must pretend they are not impacted by this hardship."
Process the grieving involved with IVF together
When you start to discuss IVF, you and your partner might start to grieve the care-free relationship you once had, which IVF often takes away.
"Everyone grieves differently, so many couples struggle with how to grieve with each other. Talk about how each other needs to grieve, [which] can change day to day or over time," Kondilis explained.
A lot of research has found couples undergoing IVF can struggle with intimacy, even after the treatment.
"Couples can work on this by expanding their views about what intimacy looks like in their relationship. They can begin to identify and explore intimacy outside of sex. The first step is to talk about intimacy," Kondilis said.
Acknowledge potential financial stress
A major issue with IVF is the financial stress that often comes with it, Carpenter said.
"Just like grief, no two people have the same relationship with money," Kondilis said. "They need to talk about their relationship with money and how IVF treatment is impacting it. This will help when and if the couple is up against financial decision-making through IVF."
"IVF can be expensive and many couples feel the financial burden on their relationship," Romano added. "It is important to discuss these costs upfront and formulate a plan and budget together. Feeling as though you are on the same page and supported is paramount when navigating the IVF journey."
Remember that you and your partner are in it together. IVF doesn't have to disrupt your connection to each other.
"Practice having tough conversations," Kondilis said. "If you get stuck, reach out to a fertility counselor for guidance."