"Ever since I was 3 years old, I wanted to be a mother," sobs Cathy, 29. She and her husband, Ed, have been trying for seven years, and Cathy has consulted so many specialists, and subjected herself to so many aests, "I feel like a laboratory experiment," she says. "I'm on an emotional roller coaster. My whole life revolves around my menstrual cycle."
Now she's afraid her marriage is falling apart. Sex is mechanical and businesslike. Ed is working night and day, often seven days a week, at his accounting firm. "He'll be hours late coming home and won't even call me," she says. Ed spends so little time at home, Cathy feels worthless.
"We went for a rare dinner out last week, and when I tried to tell him about a new fertility method I had just read about, he ignored me," Cathy says. For her, that's the worst part. "We never talk anymore, except, of course, when he's putting me down," she says.
Ed, 39, despairs for his marriage, too. "Cathy doesn't understand that I have a very important, very demanding job," he says. "Besides, whenever I used to call, she'd harangue me for being late. Why bother?"
Ed wants a big family, too, but he doesn't want to spend every waking moment talking about babies, and he's upset that they never do anything as a couple anymore, since it might interfere with some medical procedure Cathy has to have. He's having a difficult time living with a woman he thinks is anxious, oversensitive and hysterical. "We have to get on with our lives," he says. "But we can't."
"Like many couples, Cathy and Ed's struggle with infertility is putting a tremendous strain on their marriage," say Evelyn Firestone Moschetta and Paul Moschetta, a counseling team in New York and Huntington, N.Y. Their inability to conceive is a blow to their egos. Cathy is dealing with this blow by obsessing about it. Ed is withdrawing and numbing himself with work.
However, in any marriage, outside pressures -- problems at work, the illness of a friend or family member, the relationship we have with parents or siblings or, as in this case, the emotional upheavals of infertility -- can strain a person's self-esteem and place extraordinary demands on a relationship. Any problems a couple may have will be magnified. It's important to first identify these stressors and then separate yourself emotionally from them. Cathy and Ed used this technique, which might help you, to short-circuit their emotional response to issues and ease the tension between them:
* At a quiet moment, think about an argument you had with your spouse recently. Ask yourself: What was I really feeling while we were fighting? Was I feeling uncared for? Guilty? Unworthy? Can you remember having that feeling before? When? Try to isolate the events or comments that triggered your emotion and think about how it might be similar to the way you're reacting to a comment or action on your spouse's part now.
* Share these discoveries with your partner. The important part of this exercise is to learn how to put the brakes on your emotions before events sweep you along. Once Cathy and Ed were able to do this, they could more calmly discuss their inability to have a child.
We finally asked them, "What is more important, to be pregnant or to be a parent?" They agreed that, as much as they longed for a biological child, they wanted to be parents more. Though they haven't abandoned hope, they've begun adoption proceedings.