Physically, fertility treatment usually means one partner going through invasive medical procedures and therapies, and often feeling treated by the health system as an individual rather than as part of a couple. IVF can be very expensive and place significant financial pressures on partner relationships. Finally, LGBTQI+ couples face additional challenges related to accessing fertility treatment, obstetric and/or gynaecological care within a medical system organized around binary gender and heterosexuality, resulting in experiences of systemic and interpersonal discrimination.
Couples may find relationship or individual counselling, support groups (online or in person), or talking with trusted family members or friends helpful in supporting them through the experience of infertility and fertility treatment.
To learn more, see ‘Further information’ at the bottom of this page.
The first film below looks at people’s experiences of the impact of infertility or fertility treatment on their relationship, while the second film examines perspectives on how their partner influenced their experience of fertility treatment.
Impact of infertility and fertility treatment on partner relationships
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At first, fertility problems challenged Georgia’s relationship with her husband, however she says theyare now ‘much stronger’ and feeling optimistic about starting fertility treatment.
My husband was the person that started the family planning talk. He was the one that said, “I want a family before I’m 30.” It’s something that has stuck in my mind, from when we first were dating. I think it was maybe our first or second date, he actually said to me, “I want children. So if you don’t want children, we shouldn’t continue this.” First or second date, you know. That’s a lot of pressure for a girl, but I said, “Well, I do, at one point.” And he said, “Okay, we don’t have to talk about it anymore, but I just want to make sure that children are in your future.”
But I’d never really thought about it before I met my husband, and then when we got married, he said, “Look, I want to start trying straight away”, and it was almost pressure on me, and I thought, “I don’t really want to right now, I need to get off the DEPO [medroxyprogesterone acetate], I need to sort my life out, I need to know where I’m going, first.”
So he has wanted children from the moment we met, it almost seems. So when we first started trying, he was just as disappointed as me, but he doesn’t show his emotions well. He will go and immerse himself into work, he’ll go immerse himself into other different things, to not show that. But when it really started to affect us, it really… It was hard on the relationship, but now we’re stronger through it.
At first I would be blaming him, and I’d say, “This is your fault, you need to…” My husband was smoking, and I was like, “You’re smoking, that’s it. This is all your fault.” And it was a real selfish way of looking at things, but that’s just how I felt. He would be upset, and it would take a toll on the relationship; but in the end, now we are much, much stronger for it, for doing all these things together. He comes with me to every appointment, to support me, and vice versa. If he had anything, then I would support him. So now we’re getting to the beginnings of our treatment, it’s exciting for us, because we know that hopefully this is going to work, and that we’re on the right track now, rather than going around in circles with what we were doing before.
Skye has PCOS and had to take several different medications to regulate her menstrual cycle when trying for a baby with her ex-partner. She shares the impact that infertility had on intimacy and their relationship in general.
So we were trying for about two years. After that two years I was pretty exhausted from it all and it wasn’t – it was just a chore and it wasn’t, you weren’t doing it because you – you were doing it because you had to, not because you wanted to. So then I just said, “Look, I don’t think it’s going to happen anyway if I’m this stressed and trying to,” you know, and I was taking so many tablets that it was just exhausting trying to remember to take all these tablets. I just thought, “What are they all doing to my body?” and I was quite emotional.
I don’t know if that was because of the tablets or whether it was because of the situation. It just became too much so I just said, “Let’s just stop” because I just could feel that I wasn’t… It was affecting me mentally. That I just wasn’t enjoying it and I just wanted to stop for a while. That really changed our relationship a lot because he really wanted children. I really wanted them. Then I felt this guilt because I couldn’t conceive, and he had been checked and he was fine. So it was a lot of pressure on the relationship at that stage because I think I felt a lot of guilt that I was the reason why it wasn’t happening. We were still very young at the time and just newly married and all of that.
So there’s all of this social pressure that you’re going to conceive and blah, blah, blah. So I think that was a small part of it. It wasn’t the main reason but it was definitely a small part of it and it definitely put a lot of strain on the relationship at the time. I think because he wanted it so badly and I knew that it was, it was me that was causing the issue, even though obviously I couldn’t help it. But it was just that guilty sort of feeling and it just snowballed from there, and then I think when I said that I’ve had enough he wasn’t ready to sort of give up just yet. Yeah, and it was just too much for me so – and then it wasn’t long after that that there was other issues and then we split.
Tallace reflects on how the burden of fertility treatment was placed on her, even though her partner was fully supportive. Once she became pregnant, this pattern continued during prenatal appointments because of COVID-19 restrictions in health services.
It’s a really big burden that you carry, when you’re the one whose body is going through fertility treatment. It had to be me at every appointment. It wasn’t something that my partner could do. Really, it was me that was responsible for making sure that I’d picked up enough of whatever medication I needed at the time, and that I knew what medication I needed, and that I was keeping track of that, and that I brought ice bricks, or… It’s just a lot to keep track of the medical stuff.
And then on top of that, injecting yourself can be quite emotionally challenging. Really unpleasant to inject yourself, and often I would do it early in the morning, I would get up before my partner and son woke up, and just in the kitchen, have to jab myself in the stomach with this horrible needle, and it would sting. It’s just unpleasant, and sort of a bit overwhelming at times, to feel like… I don’t know, just to feel a bit alone with it. I think even if your partner was more involved, there’s just some kind of… It just falls to you, ultimately. It is you.
And the medical system really does treat you as the patient, which has been really hammered home to me during this being pregnant during COVID, where I’ve had to attend all the midwife and obstetric appointments alone. I just… I honestly think that that’s a very strange thing that the medical system has done to pregnant women, because you know, it is my partner’s child as well, and it means that decisions about the pregnancy, and about the birth and everything, is even more than usual put on to me, and I have to be the one who comes home and remembers what was said in the appointment, and translates, and she has no opportunity to ask her questions directly. So, I don’t know, I think that it would be… Even though I believe that a woman should have autonomy over her body, I also think that… Well, hospitals don’t do that too well either, but at the end of the day, it places all this responsibility and burden on to me.
Marika recalls being warned that many couples don’t survive infertility and fertility treatment, rather than the experience being framed as an opportunity for growth as well as possible loss.
Like – okay, for my whole 30s, I had a whole decade of trying to have children and it consumed those 10 years in a very big way, not only my – it consumed my husband and I’s relationship in a big way, emotionally, financially, time-wise. It was a very big thing and very layered. So, and we grew, I’ve learned so much through that.
Another thing I thought of was the messages you get given, we got told, “You need to think about this, 50% of people don’t come through this, they’ll break up,” dah, dah, dah, but they don’t situate that in terms of, well, 50% of people break up anyway.
It’s the negative messages, rather than, “Hey, this is going to be a really big experience that you’re going to go through as a couple and potentially, you could have some positives out of it, whether it works or not”. It’s not framed as a growth experience or – and not everyone will experience it in that way and that doesn’t come without the loss – but how people are going to experience that loss and potentially, because I had a different outcome because we have children, it’s going to be very different.
Partner’s influence on the experience of infertility and fertility treatment
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When Chelsey and her husband were not getting pregnant on their own, she wanted to explore fertility treatment but he did not. While eventually he agreed, his reluctance affected their fertility journey and relationship, and Chelsey herself.
Chelsey: So we’d been trying naturally, obviously, and we weren’t having much success. Hubby was resisting to go and get tested. So that in itself was quite stressful. He kept saying we – he didn’t want to have IVF, which was quite distressing ‘cause I was already 30 and knew that this type of process would take some time. So I felt very isolated, very frustrated and it took him quite some years to actually accept that we did have a problem, because we weren’t falling pregnant naturally.
We actually didn’t start seeking help until I was 33 or 32, and we’d actually gone to the doctor later in the year, it was about July, August. And husband still wouldn’t go ahead because we’d found out that the whole Medicare scheme was run by the calendar year, so to take full effect of how much we paid and getting rebates back, he actually wanted to start at the start of the year so that we’d get a full year of trying without overspending too much. So that was a real contention between us for a long time. I felt that he didn’t actually want kids and it just hurt me so much that we’d have to wait another four or five months before we could try.
Children had always been something that we’d both discussed and wanted, and it was really devastating when it actually came to the crunch and he was stalling every second of the way, is what it felt like, and that in itself, there was one point where I said to him, “This is the path I’d like. If you don’t want to have children or if you keep stalling, leave me, let me go and find my path, because this is where I want.” So it really did put a lot of strain on our relationship for sure, and we did have those serious conversations.
He felt that everything should be natural, and the fact that money had to come into it as well. He grew up quite poor, so that didn’t help that we had to spend money, we needed to buy the house, because he wanted to be mortgage-free of course, which was never going to happen.
Interviewer: You mentioned that he was also a little resistant about getting tested. Is that because he thought that might lead to an IVF path?
Chelsey: Yes, absolutely. It was just the whole IVF pathway that he didn’t want to go through financially, the fact that babies should be conceived naturally, but also the whole rollercoaster of emotions and hormones within me.
Actually, I found having the treatment, from my perspective, hormonally wasn’t too bad. I actually felt that I was quite, very even-keeled at that time because I felt finally that I was on the path and trying to control it, and that I felt like I was actually doing something to have a step towards having children and making a family.
Because of communication problems, Mary’s husband did not understand how PCOS was impacting her ability to conceive. After hitting ‘breaking point’, things changed and her now support and understands Mary, making her more motivated to look after her health.
Mary: And then they referred me to the endocrinologist at the hospital, the specialist clinic, and it was from then when they started to help me with the weight loss, since 2017 at the endocrinologist clinic. I started to find some motivation in myself to try and stick to these plans that they were helping me out with.
Interviewer: And so what changed?
Mary: Me and my husband, we were going through a lot of… It was very hard for us because, communication-wise, he didn’t understand what I was going through. And I understood what he was going through, but it was trying to get him to understand my stuff and my many moods and everything that I was going through health-wise. And then, we hit a breaking point, me and my husband, and, he said some stuff and that just snapped me out of whatever world I was shutting myself out from.
But then he started changing too. So he noticed that I didn’t have any motivation to try to lose the weight or even try to make an effort to conceive. So we started going for walks and stuff like that. And just those little steps started to get me up and gave me a bit of motivation to take in whatever help I was getting. I started taking these appointments a bit more serious, which has made a difference in my life and also out of my marriage as well.
Ingrid’s ex-partner agreed to go through IVF, however showed little interest in the process. Looking back, she reflects this foreshadowed the end of their relationship, and contributed to her experiencing anxiety and depression during fertility treatment.
Interviewer: Can you maybe just talk me through how you and your partner… How you came to make the decision to pursue something like IVF?
Ingrid: It was pretty much just me. He just said… Well he just agreed with it. I told him that I was going to start enquiring because I was concerned that we just weren’t getting anywhere. So it was a conversation that I started. He didn’t really say anything. He just said, “Yeah, okay.”
I mean, certainly he knew what he was getting into, because you have to sign a fair bit of documentation and you have to get a police clearance and I can’t remember. But anyway, there’s a process that you go through. He was certainly aware of what that process was.
But I don’t think it was a large conversation, if you like, between he and I, regarding IVF. But it did indicate to him for me to bring it up in the first place to consider or to go down the path of IVF is that my desire to have children, another child, and at the time, I thought he was happy with that.
It was really because we just weren’t getting anywhere. IVF seemed like the only course of action to take. The longer we waited… I know he and I definitely spoke about this and I know it comes back to my age and I know that he’s resentful about my age. I can’t do anything about my age. I just find it disappointing that even though he knew what he was getting into in terms of IVF, he didn’t really seem to take part.
The only appointment he turned up at when we first started down the IVF road was… Well for one, you have to be there with your partner if you have a partner for a standard counselling session, which he did, and also, he had to turn up to provide his sperm, obviously. So he turned up for those two things and then for subsequent cycles, he only turned… He didn’t even turn up with me. He just turned up to the clinic on the way to work and provided his sample. So he didn’t participate. I mean, he didn’t even pick me up from the hospital.
On one occasion, I had to fib because he said he was going to pick me up and after day procedure, you’re not supposed to leave the hospital. You’re supposed to have someone pick you up. So the first time he did. The second cycle, I had to phone my father, who lives two hours outside of… To pick me up because my partner didn’t pick me up. The third time I sat in the waiting room for ages and whilst they weren’t looking, I walked home, which I was not supposed to do. I felt fine, but it was just… That was the start of him possibly not being really committed to what a relationship should be.
So, again looking back, I think that I may have been experiencing slight amounts of anxiety and depression through the process, which I believe now, most definitely I think did contribute to either miscarriages or the fertility treatment possibly not going as well, not just my age.
Jacinta explains how she and her husband approached infertility as a shared issue.
He has been incredible the whole time. So we’ve always really faced this as an ‘us’ issue. This is not just me. That was really important framing for both of us I think because then it didn’t place any blame on anyone. I know in these situations it is really easy if there’s an obvious problem with one partner to feel a bit of resentment towards that problem. So he’s always come along to every appointment, every ovulation induction appointment, everything. He’s been there with me which has been amazing and we definitely didn’t move on to anything before the both of us were ready.
Managing infertility, IVF and your relationship – Centre of Perinatal Excellence
Queer Parents Network – TTC (trying to conceive) support group, Facebook