Not having children is a choice for a fair few, but a consequence of nature for others. According to available statistics, it is roughly estimated that about 10% of women in the U.S. between the ages of 15 – 44 years are unable to become pregnant. Some research indicates that about 5% of men have infertility issues. The overall numbers of how many couples are infertile out of all couples is unclear, but some studies suggest that the prevalence of men being solely responsible for the infertility is one third of all the reported cases, and the ratio is another one third for women being solely responsible. Research predicts that this issue is only about to increase, as the quantity and quality of sperm in Western countries has noticeably decreased by more than half due to a variety of environmental, medical and lifestyle issues.
Infertility often leads couples into a very distressing life crisis. When a couple is struggling to conceive, profound feelings of inadequacy and loss of hope are unfortunately very common. The prospect of having children is so embedded in our culture that for a good fraction of people, the concept of a complete family rests upon the presence of children being born from the relationship. Being unable to complete that cycle is extremely hard.
Individuals sharing their testimonies about their infertility issues narrate how the discovery of this problem came as a shock and for some, the adjustment takes many years. Someone who has gotten to know that they are infertile might feel very responsible for the future of their potential or current partner. It is common for such individuals to feel like they will let their partner down and that this problem would rob their partner from a chance of a blessed future. The load that befalls someone who discovers that they cannot have children is extremely daunting and unfortunately, the support that is usually offered is often inappropriate. Feedback such as, “It wasn’t meant to be’’, ‘you can have a freer life with less worries’, “the silver lining is that you can have sex without being worried of any unwanted pregnancies” and so forth, do very little to comfort the person and are often very painful to hear.
It is very hard for someone to tell their partner that they cannot have children, especially if the relationship is a new one and the partner is still a young or early middle aged adult. It is understandable that the person might worry that their partner would leave them and that they will never find someone who would accept them as they are. These thoughts are very heavy to carry and I would encourage any person going through this to open up, especially if they are in a committed, steady relationship.
There is no toolkit for how this conversation should take place, and there is no one way to go about it. Different people and different couples are likely to present varying degrees of resilience. Although each conversation is unique, there are common themes that I believe may be useful for anyone who intends to talk about a future that will not go as expected.
In the second part of the blog we shall explore the themes that may emerge in this situation.
Claire Borg is a gestalt psychotherapist at Willingness. She works with adolescents and adults. She has a special interest in mental health. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.