I’m slowly coming to the end of this Gifts of Infertility Series. The one big issue I haven’t yet touched on, the issue that I don’t write about often on this blog because it’s not just my story, is that of our marriage.
Going through infertility and loss was incredibly stressful. It was stressful for me, making me question who I was; it was stressful for my husband, unable to do anything to help (and whose hair went grey over the year of our first and second losses), and it was stressful on our marriage. We had both changed in this process, and we were both finding that life together wasn’t going to be what we had hoped.
We’d been together a long time by the time we faced infertility. We’d had our ups and downs, made many compromises, and were looking forward to having children together. When that didn’t happen, we could have taken it out on each other. But we turned towards each other; we mourned together.
We tried to comfort each other, and - knowing that words wouldn't help - we rediscovered the real value of touch. Not in a sensual way (though that was still there), but in an intimate, caring way. Simple hugs, or a touch as we passed, reminded each other we cared, that there was a place we could feel safe, with a person who would love us no matter what. We learned that even when words are too hard to get out, emotions too difficult to express, a touch can speak volumes.
We showed patience with each other, more than ever before, and learned to focus almost exclusively on the positive, on what we had together, on what we loved about each other, and on what made us smile, or laugh. We learned that life can hit you with sadness when you least expect it, so we should embrace happiness with joy and enthusiasm when we have it.
As I learned to take care of my own feelings, I became more acutely aware of my husband’s feelings. He didn’t react the same way as I did, but that was okay. I didn’t place any expectations on how he should behave. (Though some of this was instinctive, much of it came from the advice of a few wise women who had been through this before.) This was helpful, as I think the burden of his overwhelming sadness at the same time as my own might have been too much to bear. We shared with each other, but we also protected each other. My friends, and my online friends, gave me outlets to share my grief and sadness, without expecting him to be all things to me. Because he was grieving too, and as we all know, that is a lot. So he didn’t really start opening up about his feelings until he saw a definite improvement in my demeanour. He felt that he could do this when he felt I could cope with his grief. I think too he also learnt from me that opening up was okay, and that grieving was okay too.
Ultimately, I think our losses and difficult no kidding journey in those first years helped forge our relationship into something even stronger. We turned to others, but in doing so we didn’t turn away from each other. Yes, we were lucky. Not all couples are able to come through this with a deeper, stronger, kinder relationship. But you know, my observation is that most of us do. It's a lovely feeling too, knowing that we're together because we want to be, not because we feel we have to be.
When we travelled a couple of years ago for five months, some people sounded puzzled that we could go five months with each other as company, as the only people we talk to, as our social fun, and emotional support. They joked that they were surprised we hadn’t killed one another, which of course said much more about their relationships than about ours. Yet the truth is, we didn’t find it an effort at all. Once we got home, it was also another year before my husband started getting work more regularly, so we also had a lot of time together after the trip. I did say to some people, perhaps only 50% joking, “there is such a thing as too much togetherness.” But actually, we don’t really have issues being together 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Our relationship is probably the beneficiary of the “no kidding” factor in our lives. We both feel this way. We don’t have to be parents together, so we don’t have to have battles about different parenting philosophies and styles (and believe me, we would have had a few battles). We don’t have to crawl in bed exhausted from looking after children, wrestling with toddlers or teenagers, or juggling our annual leave so we can look after the children in school holidays. We don’t struggle to find time for ourselves as a couple. On the contrary, we need to be sure we find time for relationships with other people, and give each other some breathing space.
As a couple without children, we are able to just “be.” It doesn't mean we don’t have difficulties. But having been through some tough times, and having survived these, we are able to know each other in a different way than I suspect we would have if we were parents. For that, for our close relationship now, I am very grateful.