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Supporting your partner through a diagnosis of female-factor infertility

Infertility affects 9–15% of all couples of reproductive age. About half of cases involve female-factor infertility. In this article, we’ll explore how female-factor infertility is diagnosed, the emotions that may surround a diagnosis, and how you can help support your partner through this difficult time.

Key takeaways

  • Female-factor infertility involves issues with the female reproductive system, including the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, or egg count or quality.
  • Fertility issues can be a source of emotional turmoil for both partners, but you can support each other by following some simple steps.
  • If you feel you might benefit from some external support, then consider a fertility counseling specialist to help provide the specific support you require during this process.

How female-factor infertility is diagnosed

When a reproductive endocrinologist is assessing female fertility, several factors are taken into account.

First of all, infertility — including female-factor infertility — can only be diagnosed if a couple has tried and been unable to conceive. An evaluation of a fertility is appropriate for women under 35 who have not become pregnant after 12 months of regular, unprotected intercourse.

If a woman is over 35, then it may be appropriate to seek help from a fertility doctor after six months of trying to conceive (TTC). This is because age is directly linked to female fertility. (Surprise — there’s also age-related male fertility decline.)

A woman may also want to seek specialist help earlier if they’ve experienced one or more of the following issues: 

  •  Known or suspected problems with the uterus, fallopian tubes, or other issues within the female reproductive system or abdominal cavity, including endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease.
  •  History of irregular or absent menstrual cycles.
  • Multiple pregnancy losses.

As part of a fertility evaluation, a reproductive endocrinologist will collect a thorough medical and menstrual history, including how long the couple has been trying to conceive. The doctor will likely perform or order some female fertility tests that investigate ovarian reserve, structural abnormalities in the uterus, and ovulatory function. These tests might include hormone blood testing and imaging or ultrasound of the reproductive organs.

Learn more about what to expect at a reproductive endocrinologist appointment.

Ruling out male-factor infertility

An important step in the process of diagnosing female-factor infertility is to rule out any possibility that the difficulties conceiving are male-factor related.

A report from 2021 indicates that roughly 50% of all infertility will be due to issues with the male partner’s reproductive health. Given this stat, it is essential to test and evaluate the male partner’s reproductive health before deciding on any treatment plans.

As with the female partner, the doctor will collect a medical and reproductive history. The gold standard test for male fertility is a semen analysis, in which a lab scientist examines a sample of a person’s semen under a microscope to assess the number, movement, and shape of their sperm.

Learn more about male fertility testing.

With Legacy, you can do a proactive semen analysis from the comfort of your own home. Get started testing your sperm with Legacy.

The emotions surrounding a female-factor infertility diagnosis

No matter the cause of infertility, this will likely be an emotional time for you and your partner. You both may experience feelings of frustration, sadness, isolation, despair, inadequacy, anger, or guilt, among many others.

If you and your partner are facing a female-factor infertility diagnosis, your partner may feel as though they are “the problem” or that they have “failed.” Feelings of shame, inadequacy, and guilt are unfair, but common for those facing infertility. Take time to reassure your partner that you will work together toward the goal of becoming parents, and that no one is “at fault.”

Hormone medications used during female infertility treatment can intensify mood swings. Remember this as you navigate this period, and try to be gentle and patient with your partner. If you are struggling to cope with the emotional rollercoaster that hormone treatment can cause, consider seeking professional support from a fertility-focused therapist.

How to support your partner through female-factor infertility

There are many ways that you can support your wife or partner through your infertility journey, and ways to strengthen your bond so you can face this rollercoaster together.

Be an equal partner in fertility

Even when your female partner is undergoing the majority of the procedures and treatments, you can do your part to signal that you’re a united front against infertility.

Make sure you do your own semen analysis testing proactively and enthusiastically. It’s much easier than your partner’s ongoing testing and monitoring, and is one of the simplest ways to ensure you’re being an equal partner in the process.

Try to attend all or most appointments together, so you share the burden of responsibility for this process between the two of you. Another valuable way to help is to aid your partner with any medications or injections they might need to administer. This can help each partner have an active role in fertility treatment.

Learn more about being an equal partner in the process of trying to conceive.

Make plans to take your minds off getting pregnant

When facing female-factor infertility, it can feel all-consuming. It may feel especially overwhelming for your partner, as they deal with the bodily changes as a result of infertility treatment, and the mental load of managing medications, cycle timing, and monitoring for pregnancy symptoms.

Do your best to make time for activities that do not focus on fertility. Consider planning dates, a vacation, or even a simple daily walk. This will support both of your mental health and your connection, and create positive experiences that can boost your mood.

Practice simply listening to your partner

Many men feel the temptation to tackle every issue with a fix-it attitude. While that might be great around the house, in issues as complex as infertility, sometimes you won’t have the solution. Try to practice simply listening to and validating your partner’s emotions and fears.

Be your partner’s advocate

As we mentioned above, attending appointments alongside your partner is a great practice. This also allows you to be their advocate with healthcare providers, especially if they feel too nervous or overwhelmed to voice concerns or questions while at your fertility clinic.

You can also be an advocate for your partner with your friends and family. Most couples who are trying to conceive are familiar with the tricky, if well-intentioned, questions from loved ones — like “When are you two going to have kids?” Talking about infertility with those closest to you can actually be one of the most difficult tasks, triggering feelings of shame. This can be especially true if family and friends are not as supportive as they should be.

Get on the same page about these situations with your partner in advance of get-togethers with friends or family. Would it be helpful if you asked Aunt Susan privately not to talk to your partner about kids or pregnancy? How do the two of you feel about pregnancy announcements, or baby shower invitations — is there a way you can intercept those on behalf of your partner?

Express and manage your own emotions

Remember that, even with a female-factor infertility diagnosis, men can feel pain and grief during this journey. Studies find that men sometimes struggle with feelings of powerlessness, as their female partner undergoes many tests and treatments. They may also have difficulty with the pressure of a “sex schedule,” or mourn the loss of spontaneity around sex.

There may be societal pressure to be “the strong one” during diagnosis and treatment, and men historically don’t tend to “open up” as often as women do about their feelings. However, the best way to maintain a healthy relationship throughout infertility treatment is to prioritize open and honest communication.

Consider fertility-focused counseling on your own and/or together

Facing fertility issues and undergoing fertility treatment can be one of the greatest sources of stress that a couple will endure in a lifetime together. If you’re communicating and connecting with your partner but still feel overwhelmed, it might be time to consider getting outside help.

There are therapists and psychologists who specialize in issues of infertility, pregnancy loss, and childlessness. Often your fertility clinic will be able to connect you with someone qualified to provide this service. Couple’s and individual therapy can provide a new level of understanding and support for both of you while you go through this physical and emotional journey.

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