Getting pregnant isn't always easy. In fact, couples in the peak of their fertility only have about a 20 percent chance of conceiving each month. This definitely adds pressure to the process and can turn a seemingly fun and hopeful experience into one fraught with stress and feelings of guilt or blame.
"Couples who've been trying for a long time to conceive may grow impatient and disillusioned," explains Mayra Mendez, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California. "Sadness and helplessness may play out in the form of arguments, irritability, dissatisfaction, or resentment."
Here are some common fights couples have when trying to get pregnant and how to solve them.
The very first step in a couple's parenting journey is deciding to start a family. "Many partners are not on the same page about the timing of their decision," says Anate Brauer, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at the Greenwich Fertility and IVF Centers and assistant professor of OB/GYN at NYU School of Medicine. "While woman are burdened by the loud ticks of their biological clock, men often want to spend a little more time enjoying life as a couple."
She explains that this disconnect can often be a game-changer in many relationships. That's why it's best to have these big-ticket conversations well before you're ready to start trying, ideally even before you become serious as a couple. "If goals are aligned, success is more likely, and when it isn't, you are able to power through struggles together," Dr. Brauer adds.
Even if both partners are open to having a family one day, your timelines might not match up. For example, one partner might be in an ideal work scenario for starting a family, while the other is just starting a new job that requires all of his or her time, energy, and resources. Women are often the ones in the more difficult position, as they're also faced with the concept of their biological clock. A woman's fertility begins to decline in her early 30s and speeds up dramatically after 35. This pressure can sometimes cause fights over a lack of understanding on the man's part. "It is important to get good communication on board and discuss the expectations of each party involved, what their role in the process might be and what time constraints you're facing," says Johanna Kaplan, child clinical psychologist and director of the Washington Anxiety Center of Capitol Hill.
Most couples don't realize how small the window of conception is until they're actively trying to conceive. But the reality is that conception is only possible from about five days before ovulation—which occurs around two weeks after your last period, though this can vary from woman to woman—through to the day of ovulation. That gives you maybe six days where conception is possible—and you still have just a 10-20 percent chance during this window. "Our biological calendars are not necessarily in sync with that business trip you or your spouse had planned or that guys night he was planning on," says Dr. Brauer. This often means putting other commitments, both personal and professional, on hold in order to maximize your chances of conceiving each month.
When sex becomes only a necessary step to baby-making—it's not the sexiest thing. If this happens, Dr. Kaplan explains that it is critical to bring intimacy back into the relationship. Try not to make conception all that you are as a couple. "Continue to do all the things you love to do and don't revolve your lives around the ovulation," suggests Elena Mikalsen, Ph.D., section head and assistant professor of Psychology at Baylor College of Medicine in San Antonio, Texas. "Get together with friends, travel, go out to eat, have fun!"
"Partners often feel a varied sense of pressure to conceive and, therefore, have opposing views of when they should seek outside medical assistance," explains Dr. Brauer. "Avoidance of seeking an opinion sometimes comes from guilt of feeling like 'I should be able to do this naturally.'" What's important in these scenarios is to understand that seeking help from a specialist does not necessarily mean you will need help throughout the process of conception.
"Many couples present for a basic fertility workup, including checking sperm, uterus, fallopian tubes, and egg reserve go on to easily conceive on their own," she says. "If an issue is identified, such as low sperm count or blocked tubes, the couple has identified it in a timely manner and will not be wasting months more of frustration in fighting a futile battle to conceive." The bottom line is that for some couples, merely having the reassurance that everything is normal and in working order can relieve their anxiety over trying to conceive.
After several months of trying to conceive with no success, feelings of failure and inadequacy can follow. But Dr. Brauer reminds couples that it is impossible to make a baby without both egg and sperm. Therefore, it is important to understand that no matter the issue, whether male or female, both partners are inherently involved in the process. "Avoiding guilt and blame and supporting one another through a potentially tough time will make success easier to achieve and even sweeter to enjoy," she says.
Depending on how difficult it was for you to get pregnant the first time, you might consider having less or more children than you had originally discussed with your partner. This can be a serious point of contention if you don't see eye to eye, says Laurel Steinberg, Ph.D., New York-based relationship therapist and professor of psychology at Columbia University. If one partner feels strongly about having only one child, but the other wants to fulfill his or her lifelong dream of having three or more, serious tensions may arise. The best thing to do is communicate and see how you feel as time and life moves forward.
Battles over how to raise the children that you'll someday have due to polarizing views on parenting can cause a rift between couples who are in the business of baby-making (this may also follow you into parenthood as well). "They may argue about discipline beliefs such authoritarian versus assertive parenting styles, nutrition, educational anticipations for the child, and even the idea of having two working parents or one," explains Dr. Mendez. "Couples may have differing ideas about who should be the stay at home parent if they agree to only one parent maintaining out of home employment." In this scenario, it's best to keep talking. "Don't hide your feelings and just share with your friends," says Dr. Mikalsen. "Share with your partner directly and communicate how the process has been making you feel and how you wish things were better, different, improved."
If traditional methods of conceiving aren't successful, couples may turn to alternative conception methods, such as in vitro fertilization, donor egg implantation, intrauterine insemination, or the use of fertility drugs. But this consideration of alternative conception methods may be at odds with their respective families' expectations and their cultural beliefs, explains Dr. Mendez. "This may trigger the couple to argue about how to best navigate the options afforded by present-day progressive medicine versus family held beliefs and expectations." This is a time when it's best not to involve the role of the extended family, whose beliefs may sway one or both of the partners when it is really their choice as a couple. "Getting other family members involved can also lead to fights when trying to conceive," explains Dr. Kaplan. "Conception is a highly personal experience for a couple, so it is important to respect the boundaries of the other person in the relationship."
If a couple is not having success conceiving on their own or with the help of medical interventions, they may consider whether to continue trying to have a biological child or adopt. "This decision may be an agreement and collaboration for the couple that propels them toward adoption, or it may result in fights over the notion of parenting a child that they did not give birth to," explains Dr. Mendez. "Issues of social consciousness for one partner may clash with the other partner's desires for a traditional process when it comes to growing a family."
The best way to handle this uncomfortable and sometimes scary situation is to research as much as possible to understand the options available to you. "Knowledge is power and most couples who find themselves in the situation of adoption are ones who have highly educated themselves to the process," says Dr. Kaplan.