There is no doubt that infertility treatments create an emotional roller-coaster. The wonder and worry, the hopes and dreams, the schedules and expense are all emotionally charged factors that come on the heels of the heart-breaking confirmation that infertility is a very real issue. In vitro fertilization (IVF) and other forms of assisted reproduction therapies (ART) rely on substantial doses of mood-affecting hormones, which add higher peaks and deeper valleys to one’s everyday emotional roller-coaster. In spite of the obvious challenges to even a rock-solid marriage, there’s been precious little research conducted on how IVF treatments affect a marriage.
A recent blog post in the New York Times written by a married woman undergoing IVF treatments compares her experience with that of her friend, a single woman also undergoing IVF. The married writer first expresses pity for her friend flying solo through this rigorous adventure, then she hints of envy of the easy life the single woman has - freedom to mope, hibernate in bed for days on end, cry at will, get lost in mindless TV, and no worries about make-up.
Fortunately, the writer realizes the extreme value of her supportive partner. “Tell me how to help you,” he says. The single friend doesn’t have that. It’s at this point that the writer acknowledges that she is she and he is he, together they want a baby, but the truly important element in their family is their already-existing marriage. “More than just the sum of him and me,” she writes, their marriage “takes protecting.”
One of the few scientific studies to examine IVF and the marital challenge involves 117 couples undergoing their first attempt at IVF. Each man and woman answered questionnaires before treatment began, during treatment, and one month after. The questions were psychological and social in nature.
The study found that couples, for the most part, were able to withstand the emotional strain of IVF in a well-adjusted manner, regardless of treatment success. Women reported more extreme emotional responses than the men, except when pregnancy did not happen. When this first cycle failed, both genders were almost equally affected.
Study authors did note the possibility that only securely married couples volunteered for the study; those with marriages already in jeopardy might have refrained from participating for fear that their fitness for parenthood would be questioned and treatments stopped. The authors also suggest that those who did choose to participate may have over-rated their positive emotional outlook in order to protect their parental fitness.
Another possibility for such positive outcome might be today’s greater societal acceptance of infertility and ART than in previous years. A 1988 study found 94 percent of women and 64 percent of men experienced anxiety and depression after failed IVF.
An even more promising reason for happier couples today is the ever-increasing success rate of IVF today versus that of 1988.