Infertility Takes Toll on Romance, Relationships

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"Infertility completely takes over your life," said Rachel Imbar, a 41-year-old who lives in Israel and spent three years trying to get pregnant when she was in her early 20s.

"You are obsessed with having a baby and you put your entire life on hold until you get that baby," she said. "I didn't pursue a career or studies. I just wanted to have that baby. And when you are young it seems like an eternity."

Attending friends' baby showers was particularly painful. "Women touching their bellies, pregnancy announcements -- I couldn't go," said Imbar, who now runs the website, Fertility Stories. "They were too hard for me."

Infertility took a toll on her marriage, which ended in divorce. Today she has six children aged 17 to 3 -- three through IVF with her first husband and three after no intervention with her second husband.

Jessica and Barry Barkley, young professionals who have been together for 15 years, didn't pay much attention to getting pregnant – until they couldn't.

The Chester County, Pa., couple had four insemination procedures and two in vitro fertilization attempts-- all failures. They were too ashamed to talk about it with family and cut themselves off from friends who were building their own families.

"We lost a lot of friends through this," said Jessica, now 33 and a fashion designer. "I didn't want to go to baby showers and talk about it and we withdrew ourselves."

Barry and Jessica Barkley are expecting twin boys in May.

Even their marital relations suffered.

"It was brutal and very emotional," she said. "You get prescriptions for sex, which takes the fun out of it altogether. They tell you where and when to have it and there are so many drugs they put into your body."

One of the hardest moments came in Christmas of 2009, when they were told IVF had failed just as her brother's wife was giving birth to their second child, and they had to hold their pain in silence.

"It really does take a toll on you," said her husband, Barry. "Every family function there's kids running around and everyone says you'll make great parents. It hurt."

The Barkleys eventually did get pregnant on their third try and are expecting twin boys in May.

Getting Pregnant Puts Pressure to Excel

Renee Sebby, a 41-year-old nurse from Chicago, said trying to get pregnant was so "structured" it felt like a job. "There was so much pressure to perform and excel.

"You can't leave the stress behind and go home and relax," she said. "There are doctors' appointments and medications -- a real regimented life.

"It was hard because we had two brothers and we were all three married within a year of each other," she said. "They got pregnant at the same time and we didn't. The first question family would ask is, 'When are you going to have kids?' Even on our wedding night."

Sebby eventually had three children through IVF and said the journey, though painful, brought the couple closer. Sebby urges women going through infertility to seek support from others. "You are not the only one."

Fertility counselors agree that support is the key to coping during this trying time.

"A lot of women are afraid of support groups and think it's a pity party," said Linda Applegarth, director of psychological services at the The Ronald O. Perelman and Claudia Cohen Center for Reproductive Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell.

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