Dear Sahaj: My husband and I are at a crossroad about having more children, but it’s complicated.
We have been married almost a decade, have successful careers, and are parents to two amazing and beautiful children — a 2-year-old son and a nearly 1-year old daughter. Recently I brought up having more children. He blindsided me by saying he doesn’t know if he wants more. The reason I say “blindsided” is because I have always been open about my desire to try to have four children — two boys and two girls. It sounds very specific, because it is.
You see, in addition to the two children we have, we have two frozen embryos (one boy and one girl) waiting in a lab for us. Our children, and these remaining embryos, were created through IVF. We had a very painful and long journey to having children. After years of trying unsuccessfully, countless appointments and procedures (endured mostly by me) we were finally diagnosed with male factor infertility. Even though our diagnosis was male factor, I was the one to take countless shots, pills and supplements before, during and after egg retrieval and eventual pregnancy. And I did most of this alone.
I will “age out” of being eligible to become pregnant via IVF before long. We don’t have the option to revisit this in a year or two. IVF is never a guarantee, but I want to try for these two babies. Two embryos created through literal blood, sweat and tears. I look at my children and can’t imagine not having one of them because they remain frozen indefinitely.
What should I do? How can I talk to my husband about this? He refuses to have any conversation or even give me a timeline for when we can discuss. I fear I will resent him if we never have more children. To me, these frozen embryos are my babies.
— Mother of Four
Mother of Four: You say you fear you will resent your husband, but it sounds like you already do. Your question indicates that you carry a lot of unaddressed pain from your journey to have your first two children. This is an incredibly hard position to be in within your marriage, but there are several things you can consider.
Erica Djossa, a registered psychotherapist and founder and CEO of Momwell, a community focused on empowering and supporting moms, says your loneliness during this process only makes this impasse with your husband more challenging. “Your partner deciding he is done having children overlooks the mental and physical load you carried during this time and feels dismissive and invalidating,” Djossa says. You may need to address a deeper issue around fairness in your marriage.
There’s also a level of grief that you have yet to process. Grief over the journey of discovering and navigating his infertility. Grief due to your body’s biological limits. Grief regarding the unfairness of it all. “Coming to a decision often means having to confront loss and trauma,” Djossa says, “Having embryos feels like there is a door of possibility open, often delaying the processing and closure of being ‘done’ and with embryos that you have worked so hard for, deciding when to be ‘done’ is never easy.” It could be helpful to make space to explore your feelings outside of your marriage in support groups around infertility and motherhood, or by finding a therapist who specializes in working with these concerns and struggles.
With or without professional help, I encourage you to reflect deeper on how you really feel. Did you want four kids before going through IVF? Would you want two more kids if you didn’t have two other embryos created already? Or do you feel like, because you have invested so much time, “blood, sweat and tears,” you have to see this through? There’s no right answer, but you hold a specific version of your family and it’s holding you back from imagining something different. “There are many reasons why we may hold tightly to wanting to expand our family. Perhaps this is the idealized family we always imagined, or maybe we had a traumatic birth or experience and want a do-over. It could also be that we don’t have a sense of our family being ‘complete,’ but all of these reasons are rooted in our emotions,” Djossa says. Although it’s tempting, she says to try not to make big decisions when experiencing these big emotions.
Right now, you and your husband are not connecting and may even feel like you are opposing each other. You need to find a way for you both to be on the same side, approaching the shared problem together — i.e., the question of whether to have more kids — rather than seeing each other as the problem. “It’s important to enter these conversations with the goal of actually listening to the other person’s perspective — to understand their experience as a parent, their hopes for the future, their fears, and why they feel differently than us,” Djossa says. Your husband sounds unsure of what he wants next; maybe he has fears and concerns about parenting, birth trauma, and his own unmet expectations of family and parenting.
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You carried the heavier invisible load when it came to having your children, and it may feel like if you’re willing to try again, despite that, he should, too. You want to be heard, but that means also listening to your husband and being curious where he is coming from. Right now he shuts down, which raises the question of whether this is a communication issue you have experienced historically in your marriage, or if this is a coping skill he deploys because of a repeated communication dynamic that isn’t working. You wanting more kids is okay! You wanting more kids and not being open to hearing or talking about other feelings and options may be leading to a fracture in your relationship.
You can’t force your husband to get on board just because this is something you really want. You want to speak up for your own needs and desires while also not rejecting or invalidating your husband’s. It’s a delicate dance, but ultimately, you have to decide what is nonnegotiable for you and what that means for your relationship and life moving forward.