Let's talk a little bit about thriving for a few minutes (and don't assume I'm preaching at anyone here ...we're all a work in progress and nothing I say here is mastered or conquered by either spouse behind Conceiving Hope....but we need to have goals. And ours are big like Irish rainbows.)...
One of the things that infertility is really great at is: stealing your long term vision and making you blinder-ed and tunnel-visioned in its wake. We get drawn into ourselves. We become super critical. We are constantly uncomfortable. And some of the time we're actually in physical pain. And when the day is at a close, blame has to land somewhere, right? The angst doesn't just resolve itself magically between spouses in its own. I joke that two people who have been right their entire lives (or at least "not wrong") about how to live....enter into marriage...and then someone has to instantly be wrong. It's a funny commentary on the dynamics of marriage, but it's kind of true isn't it? Or maybe not true per se, but it's how so many of us approach it. Amirite?! Someone has to be wrong and blame has to land somewhere.
But in that equation, on the topic of infertility through a Catholic vantage point, things get confusing. It isn't his or her fault that infertility is experienced. It's both or neither, right??
So that brings me to my point here. You have to choose whether to fail together or to thrive together. At some point, you are either destroying the boat you're both floating in and choosing to sink with it...or you are improving the boat to make it sail better and head to clear waters. We all go through the boat burning phase. That's what being a newlywed is all about, right? Burn the boat down as many times as you can! And lest you think I'm being dramatic, ask any primary infertility couple how the first few years of marriage go. It is not pretty. Because on top of all the other things you are becoming accustomed to in each other, living together, and sharing lives, etc. etc. etc....you are also navigating something as serious as cancer. No one is going to do it well. It shouldn't even be the goal. Surviving actually is a good goal in that phase, in a way. But marriage doesn't have to remain the flailing, smoking, chaotic scene the early days usually are. And if they weren't that for you, I think you are doing it wrong (or you deserve a Nobel Peace Prize, I'm undecided!). The fact remains:
Marriage can't thrive when it's lived as a constant source of pain.
If you choose to thrive - or rather - when you choose to thrive, there are a few things to keep in mind. Build yourself a map. Make it specific to you and your marriage. Have a plan. Set goals. Have a trajectory. And stick to it. The thing you will reap the rewards of first is having a sense of accomplishment. Truly, the couple who stagnates in the murky waters of infertility, accomplishing nothing else in life and marriage, is going to just be a depressive mess. (We've done that act of the play already, right husband?)
So when you make your map and you decide that against all odds, all emotions, and all logic, that you are going to make NOW the happy part....here are my suggestions. Take them with a grain of salt. Add to the list in the comments below. Share your wisdom of what worked best for you and your spouse. Keep the dialogue going until you get to a point where this sounds like a good idea that can work. I'm convinced that someone has to lead the way out of the in-your-face-mess-that-robs-you-of-all-happiness-in-life phase of infertility. And if I had to vote someone to take that first step in my own marriage, it will always be my husband. He's not the one being held hormonally captive. He's not the one whose neurotransmitters are being tweaked with every pill and shot. We aren't capable of anything more than what he is willing to aim for, and we won't accomplish anything successfully if he doesn't point us in the right direction. It's a lot of work, but I'm convinced that God has purpose in making a husband the leader in a marriage. Otherwise, He wouldn't have given us Ephesians 5.
This is where I think husbands can shine:
1. Pray together, without ceasing, without exception, without excuse.
Don't have a go-to prayer? Make one up. Not good at making one up? Use this one!:
Lord, I am giving you all the negativity
I am choosing your Grace and leaving everything else at your feet
I want more for my life than these pains of infertility
Give me the gifts I need to overcome this stagnation
Help me to thrive in Your will and in Your plans for my life
Help me to use my talents in ways that glorify you
Help us to make a marriage that is worthy of the sacrament that created it
Let your wisdom guide us in our decision making
Let us choose life for ourselves and help us to be fruitful in doing so
If there are children ahead, prepare our hearts to accept them
And if there are no children in Your plan for us, prepare our hearts to accept that
Remind us that we are powerless through technology and medicine and all the works of man
And that Your will is perfect and good for us.
Give us the courage to build up our marriage
And give us the strength to forge a path for ourselves
And give us the endurance to stay that path.
Help us to walk by faith and not sight.
Help us to grow closer to each other.
Help us to love each other
And if someone has to be wrong, let my husband own it gracefully.
Ok, ok, adjust the prayer however you need to. Humor is a big part of what works in my own marriage, so that last line is just for us. Somewhere, he's not laughing. Right, sweetie?
You really do have to cut the tension with humor though. Until you can laugh at yourselves, your boat isn't going anywhere.
2. Seek out counseling, not because you want to or like the idea of it. Do it because it's good for your marriage and balm for your sacrament. Do it because you love your spouse enough to be uncomfortable and do things you don't like for the benefit of their soul. Do it because you don't want to!! There's probably something to that...
You wouldn't argue that a cancer patient needs to process the journey, so after talking through how similar the psychology of disease is this week, don't argue that infertile couples need counseling. It's not a punishment. It's a reward. Start looking at counseling as a need that is as important as weekly groceries and your boat will get faster. And sleeker. And shinier.
3. Be Honest. Let your spouse talk about the things they've been keeping silent. Draw each other out. You can't heal some pain that is hiding in the shadows. And the likelihood that your spouse understood your suffering that you've been hiding is.......well.......don't expect it to happen. When you don't spell it out, clown-obvious-style, expect your spouse NOT to get it. Forget what they are supposed to "get" or how obvious you thought you were being. Start sharing without the unhelpful expectations of what they should have "gotten". That will help end the blame game. Be vulnerable and it will be rewarded. Your marriage has to be a safe harbor for both of you, not an insanely ornate and convoluted series of mouse traps. Honesty will help change that climate.
4. Make your other dreams equally important. It's too easy to become one-track. Infertility kind of demands it from us at the beginning. But once you've seen how wonderfully that works, try something new and have no shame in doing it. What is it that you wanted to be when you were 5? A ballerina? Are you taking ballet classes? A fireman? Are you volunteering on the local squad? What is it you could explore to satisfy a childhood urge? What dream do you have that seems so ridiculous that you've never given yourself permission to try? DO THAT! Write that book. Draw up those crazy tree house plans. Go make that monster sand castle. Go learn how to trim that hedge into a 17 foot long Chinese New Year's dragon! The fruitfulness that these kinds of silly-seeming-things will do for your marriage is immeasurable. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Ok. But all infertility treatments and no play make grown up Jack and Jill a miserable, grumbling mess. It's time to give yourself permission to play again - and be playful. No one ever won at life by engaging in a misery marathon. Just choose to wake up and not own that mess tomorrow. Remind yourself of the things you used to enjoy. And don't allow yourself to feel depressed at how long it's been since that was "your thing". No regrets. More hopscotch.
5. Imitate a lighthouse and be that for your spouse.Guys, you have to be able to reach your spouse. Through the fog, you have to be that brilliant beacon. You're already not going gentle into that dark night. Make it easy to find one another. Just like you have those unspoken gestures for a party when you are ready to leave, you need to add this to the repertoire. Make sure that your spouse understands what triggers you in your infertility haze. But go a step further. Find a way to help them climb out of it when you can't prevent it. Be a clown. Be your spouses' hero and they will fall madly in love with you over and over again each time. I'm not exaggerating. Being a silent, vigilant advocate for your spouses' heart is one of the most powerful things you can do. You're their favorite person. You're their LOBSTER, for goodness sakes. If you don't know how to be the lighthouse in the storm, you need to talk to each other and figure that out. With this as a foundation, and God on your side, and your faith leading you.... there is less and less room left for blame or spousal discontent. You literally become two peas in a pod, two kids in an ice fort, two bears in a cave, two whatever-you-think-is-cuter-than-those-analogies. Together, doing it together. Thriving happens when you aren't needing to be focused so much on surviving each other. If it's the two of you against infertility, you're going to win (baby or no baby). Like any other form of adversity, your union and communion are the keys to overcoming the hurdles. It's all there already because it came with your sacrament. And yet it's so hard to live, isn't it?
6. Use your infertile powers for good.How many other couples do you know who can look at their wives and basically know she is ovulating? How many other marriages do you know where the husband and wife can inject hormones into each other, while assessing the best spot for delivery that won't lead to intramuscular pain or knotting? How many other marriages do you know where the husband and wife can calculate pill dosages, when to reorder, and basically act like a chemist in their own home to save money? And how many other marriages do you know of where the prescriptions have such an impact on the budget that both spouses become better cooks in order to minimize the economy of consumables throughout the month? FACE IT. You guys have super powers. You are much more capable now than you were even months ago. And managing the things you manage - with relative ease - well, that stuff scares the hair off most peaches. Give yourself CREDIT for being awesome, being up to whatever-it-takes, and for managing things with as much grace as you have. In fact, (I'm going to get raw here) think of how many people reading this have experience with the kind of infertility that involves miscarriage, RPL, or infant death. There are a lot, I will tell you that. Those people are managing all of what I mentioned above AND dealing with the realities of loss. A marriage that can manage loss like that and still find a way to keep romance alive between the spouses - that's the goal. I don't care how tenuously strung that romance is. And it doesn't matter where you are on the hope-o-meter either. But making the effort counts for the full gold star, people. Use what you've accomplished and survived and surmounted as a feather in your cap. Find ways to build each other up. Husband not good at math? Reward him with praise when he does the budget. Wife not good with chores? Reward her with something she loves when she finally gets up the steam to do them. Stop cutting under each other and start looking for ways to make that boat do more than float. You are already rockstars...and you make other newlyweds and veteran married folk pale in comparison at your MAD MARRIAGE skills. Take a moment to enjoy that. They are slow clapping for you because of how resilient you are and how unsinkable you've become.
7. Die a quick death to yourself.No one makes it out of this ride alive. So given that we're all headed for the earthworms, it's time to institute some kind of regular source of humor in your lives. Learn how to make fun of yourself. Welcome embarrassment if you have to, it doesn't matter. You HAVE to get over yourself. It ain't gonna work any other way. I know because I already tried the bazillion other ways. If you come through infertility with nothing more than a healthy way to laugh at yourself and your spouse..... you are 100% winning. It's not a consolation prize. In fact, in comparison, I almost think a baby would be the consolation prize in that scenario. (Maybe). The truth remains that you have to find what works. And let's be honest, we alllllll know what doesn't work. We're masters and 4th degree black belts in that venture, aren't we? So try something scary and uncomfortable and give self-deprecation a try. God isn't too impressed with our pride and esteem for ourselves anyway. He has been waiting for us to choose to thrive too. And I think He's going to richly reward our efforts to find light hearts with each other in your marriage. And that's why "just relax" is so hideous a piece of advice. Because relaxing has nothing to do with making things better. You can relax when you get that salvation Christ already paid for...and until then, I'm pretty sure it's trash duty and yes, dear for most of us.
This post has been brought to you by me yelling at myself for things I and we need to do in my/our marriage. It just happened to turn into a 7QT post on its own... :P In all seriousness though, I tried to write this as close to my own face as I could - because that's what infertility does to us - steals our peripheral and long distance sight. I hope that approach was helpful!
Choose to thrive in one small way today. And if you fail in a flaming pile of unrecognizable shards - try again tomorrow another way. You'll get there. I just wish that when we all get there, there were babies being handed out instead of medals. But then, that's not a new theme for me.
Be gentle to yourselves. And thank you so much to everyone for continuing to read along in this infertility series!
This post is the sixth post in a series on infertility. If you'd like to read from the beginning, click on the picture below to read the original post in the series where all of the posts will be linked.