Five years ago my wife, Cheri, and I embarked on what would prove to be the struggle of our lives. We wanted to start a family but were unprepared for the challenges that infertility would pose. Every step of the way was a marital, spiritual and ethical challenge.
As treatments became more invasive and expensive, our emotions and marriage began to fray under the stress. What could a husband do to keep his marriage going during a season of infertility? Here's what I learned:
Protect her. After struggling to answer prying questions, Cheri and I agreed upon a few stock answers about when we were going to have children. "All in God's time" was a favorite. And rather than giving in to the desperation that comes from working against the biological clock, I constantly reminded Cheri that I loved her — no matter what. I assured her that we had worth even if we were not parents.
Take care of control issues. Infertility brought a profound sense of powerlessness to our lives. I found it easy to retreat to places where I had more control, namely my career. Then Cheri landed in the hospital for a week from severe side effects of one treatment. While sitting with her, I realized that control was an illusion. I could, however, place my trust in the One who was in control. Understanding this truth gave me the strength to fully engage with, rather than retreat from, our struggles with infertility. I started taking more time off work to be with Cheri at the doctors' offices.
Strengthen the foundation. Infertility revealed many hidden cracks in the foundation of our marriage, but it also provided an opportunity to build our communication skills. We made sure that dinner conversations were not just about our next treatment options. We continued to go on dates, even when we were dreading what the next week would bring. We learned there was no time like a season of struggle to build intimacy and dependency on each other.
We made it our mission that any baby we had — yes, we eventually became parents — would come home to find Mom and Dad in a strong, healthy marriage.
Matt Appling and his wife, Cheri, are the authors of Plus or Minus: Keeping your life, faith and love together through infertility.