Trying to conceive for an extended period of time is brutal. It can change a couple, leading to all sorts of strong and unexpected emotions including envy, anger and lust (or, more accurately, lack of it, but with plenty of sex).
I have seen strangers, friends, acquaintances overcome their infertility. My own journey with TTC (on infertility message boards, that’s shorthand for “trying to conceive”) is still going on. It began in 2011, just a few months after our 1 year anniversary. As two healthy adults with steady jobs and a decent nest egg, my husband and I were fully prepared for me to be pregnant after a few tries. But as the months passed, we watched as seemingly everyone around us was announcing their pregnancies, showing off baby bumps and giving birth, while I was still pointlessly peeing on sticks and meeting with a fertility specialist.
But this story isn’t about the blood tests or semen analyses or egg reserves. It’s about the feelings that many couples experience when their attempts to conceive take longer than expected. These feelings may not make us proud, but they make us human. I call it the seven cardinal sins of infertility.
Envy. Whether you’ve been trying to conceive for a few months or a few years, envy is an emotion you’ve probably experienced more than you care to admit. Thanks to our tendency to overshare, most couples of child-bearing age are all too familiar with the constant barrage of Facebook pregnancy announcements, bump updates and newborn portraits. The jealousy and guilty feelings that such news provoke are enough to make anyone want to deactivate her account.
Greed. If envy is wanting something you don’t have, greed is wanting more of something you do have — and TTC couples are always hungry for more information. I have found that it’s dangerously easy to fall into a nightly rabbit hole of Web forums and scientific studies and articles focused on infertility. We greedily cling to stats and figures that give us hope during a time when it feels like that’s all we’ve got. And it can be exhausting.
Wrath. Infertility can make you feel extra sensitive. And that can result in a bit of rage when someone — a partner or an unsuspecting friend, perhaps — says the wrong thing. It could be anything from the well-meaning “Just relax and it will happen!” to the flippant “Maybe you were just meant to adopt” and the oh-so-hilarious “Are you sure you’re doing it correctly?” I’ve managed to keep from snapping at insensitive comments — I know they aren’t intended the way they feel to me — but that doesn’t mean I’m not carrying around a grudge or two.
Gluttony. Every couple trying to conceive spends two weeks of every month waiting. This wait between ovulation and the start of the woman’s period (or, if she’s lucky, a positive pregnancy test) can be torturous — especially if she has given up caffeine, alcohol and other vices just in case she has finally become pregnant. That’s half of every month abstaining from fun and fantasizing about a baby that could be developing, only to have all hopes shattered at those first few drops of blood. And, if you’re like many, that monthly devastation is often mollified by a few days of overindulgence. So go ahead and drink that bottle of champagne and slurp a few dozen sushi rolls (my own favorite let-down treat). Can your pregnant friends do that?
Lust. Lust and sex go hand in hand — unless you’re trying to make a baby and it’s just not happening. In that case, sex tends to be more associated with ovulation predictor kits, basal body temperature and cervical mucus than any real desire to get it on. The fact is, having sex because you have to just isn’t as much fun as having sex because you want to.
Sloth. Trying to conceive can be an isolating, lonely experience. Even though it consumes much of our daily thoughts, we often keep our struggles to ourselves for a number of reasons: It’s hard to talk about. It’s scary to share something so personal. The reaction of friends and family can make you feel worse. (See “wrath” above.) And there’s also this lurking sense of shame when you feel as if something’s wrong with you. It’s not uncommon for these feelings to cause you to pull away from friends and family members — and even your partner — choosing instead to spend your time alone on the couch with your buddies Ben and Jerry.
Pride. It’s okay to keep your struggles with infertility private, but that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone or feel embarrassed about what you’re going through. It’s easy to forget that for every baby shower invitation and bump update you receive, there’s another couple out there playing the trying game. It may not make it any easier, but it helps to connect with others who are experiencing the same thing you are. For my husband and I, that reminder was sometimes the only thing that kept us from going to a dark place. Don’t feel too proud to reach out for support, whether it’s a friend who’s been through the same thing, a counselor or a local infertility support group.