Infertility Takes Toll on Romance, Relationships

PHOTO HEATHER CHATFIELD JOHN IN VITRO FERTILIZATION
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Heather Chatfield will celebrate her fifth wedding anniversary in May, but after three tries with in vitro fertilization., she still can't get pregnant, and now doctors are suggesting she seek donor eggs...

"It's hard for me to even find words to explain how devastating this all has been," said Chatfield, 38, of Northville, Minn.

Chatfield's struggle with infertility has taken a toll on every relationship: well-meaning friends, family and even her marriage.

Her best friend has three children, and even though Chatfield works hard to keep her friendship going, she said she can't relate.

"When she started to make a whole new group of 'mommy' friends, it almost broke us," she said. "It's not her fault, and I don't begrudge her the opportunity by any means. It was just unbelievably painful for me to watch."

"Facebook is a minefield," she said. "I'm of course always excited for anyone who makes a pregnancy announcement there, but a little part of me dies inside each time I read one."

Sex with her husband has now become "complicated," according to Chatfield.

"I wish I could differentiate between sex and baby-making in my head, but it's very hard for me to do," she said. "As a result we've gone from scheduled sex to very little sex, not a healthy thing for our marriage at all, and I'm not sure how to fix that."

Chatfield's lonely experience with infertility is not uncommon. An estimated 7.3 million couples -- 1 in 8 -- are unable to conceive or carry a pregnancy to live birth, according to RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association.

Couples say they feel socially isolated and the pressure to conceive inevitably affects the marriage. One partner can blame the other, sex becomes mechanical and communication breaks down.

Chatfield said she fears life won't ever be normal again. "I think sometimes we both wonder if we'll make it, or if this struggle will break us."

Dan and Heather Chatfield have had numerous failed IVF procedures and are now considering egg donation.

Of the 62 million women of reproductive age in 2002, about 1.2 million, or 2 percent, had an infertility-related medical appointment within the previous year, and 10 percent had an infertility-related medical visit at some point in the past, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. .

Doctors say that more women face infertility than even a few decades ago, because women are postponing childbirth. After the age of 30, a woman's fertility drops exponentially, so that by 40, 85 percent of all women are infertile.

"Boy, is it a strain," said Dr. Sherman J. Silber, director of the Infertility Center of St. Louis at St. Luke's Hospital and author of "How to Get Pregnant."

At the first sign of trouble, women rush out to buy ovulation monitoring kits that are "notoriously inaccurate," setting in motion more stress.

"She tells the husband we can't have sex until I ovulate," said Silber. "The husband wants to be a kind and caring guy and knows how important a baby is. She is always the harder pusher and the husband goes along with it. It tends to become mechanical and not the expression of love and tenderness, and often results in a lower pregnancy rate."

Infertility Adds Anxiety to Relationships

Though anxiety is not the cause of most fertility issues, it can have an effect on the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, delaying ovulation or creating subtle uterine contractions that can inhibit pregnancy, according to Silber.

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