Supporting your partner through fertility issues

It’s a cruel irony to worry about falling pregnant in the early days of a relationship, only to struggle with fertility later on. Chris Pavey and his wife went through IVF and he’s put together his advice for those hoping to support their partner.

When my wife and I decided we’d like to start a family, we stopped our birth control and thought things would take care of themselves. A couple of months passed without success. Then, before we knew it, a year had gone by and we had to face the fact that we might not be able to have children naturally. 

It was devastating for my wife who desperately wanted to be a mother, and heartbreaking for me to see her so upset.

I’ve put together some suggestions which may help you to support your partner through this situation.


Support each other to take the first step 

One of our greatest challenges was accepting our fertility issue and choosing to do something about it. My wife immediately blamed herself because she has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). This is a relatively common condition that can make it hard to get pregnant.

Try as I did to argue otherwise, the conversation about the likely cause of the fertility issue became a pointless back and forth discussing hypotheticals and ‘what ifs.’ Until we knew more about what the underlying issue was, our conversations were doing more harm than good.

It may be hard for one of both of you to take the first step. For example, when there’s a specific women’s health issue involved, your partner may feel alone in facing what’s ahead, assuming it is her problem to deal with. Sometimes sharing in the first step can make a big difference. Sitting together to make an appointment with your GP or specialist, or even offering to make the call yourself could help. 

From the beginning my wife and I shared the burden of our fertility issue, which made it easier for us to confront it and start addressing it. 

couple holding hands

Make the big decisions together

The next step after seeing a GP will most likely be a consultation with a specialist. You may wish to go through the public system and be assigned a specialist or you may wish to do things privately where you’ll have a choice as to who you see. We started down both routes, ending up continuing on with the private option because of the shorter wait time (we wanted to start straight away) and the ability to choose the type of specialist (we wanted to see someone who specialised in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)).

If you go down the route of choosing a private specialist, it’s a good idea to put some real thought in to the choice of doctor. You’re probably going to invest a lot of time, energy and money with this individual, and possibly a number of years, so approach it as you would approach making a new long-term friend. Do it together and give it the consideration it warrants.

You can research specialists via one of the many fertility websites. Don’t be afraid to also google the specialist’s name and take a look at some of the feedback concerning them on some of the fertility blogs. That’s what we did. And, if you’re a member of a health fund, talk to them about how choice of provider might impact your out-of-pocket costs. 

Because my wife had a lot of reservations about baring all to a doctor, I did a lot of research into the right specialist for us and found a couple of different options. We eventually agreed upon a specialist who also did obstetrics. It was an optimistic approach which also took care of a concern my wife had at the time.

Acknowledge any differing expectations early

For me, my primary concern once we were faced with fertility issues was to have a child, full stop. I wasn’t too concerned if my wife carried that child, or even if it was ours or adopted. My wife, on the other hand, placed a great deal more importance for her personally on carrying a child to birth.

To prevent any points of misunderstanding, disagreement and future resentment, try talking through how each of you view this issue early on. Does she feel that all avenues must be explored, no matter the physical, mental and financial costs? Do you? At what point would each of you say enough is enough? Nothing needs to be set in stone, but knowing where each of you stand can help immensely when the pressures is at its greatest.

Knowing how my wife felt about carrying a child early on, helped me understand and support her through each additional round of IVF, even when I could see how much of a toll it was taking on her mentally and physically.

Be present and involved

No matter who has the fertility issue, most of the treatment for fertility will be focused around your partner’s cycle. Which may leave you feeling helpless. The temptation may be for you to skip the occasional doctor’s appointment and to not stick around during those stressful hospital visits. But by being as present and involved as possible, you can help ease some of the pressure, guilt, fear and many other emotions that one of both of you may be feeling.

Try to attend as many of the specialist appointments as you can. Sometimes it may seem like a simple check-up, but often questions come up that really need shared input. And if you do end up going down the route of medication, try to be around when your partner is administering it.

I’ll never forget the first injection I helped my wife with. By being around in those early days, it helped take the pressure off her. I could get the medication for her, and put it away. I could double check the amounts for her and make sure it was administered at the right time. This approach really helped us reinforce to one another that this was an ‘us against our fertility issue’ battle, not just hers.

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