There’s no question that discussing your plans to conceive with a partner can be difficult. The decision to start (or grow) a family requires a lot of thinking, negotiating, and maybe some reprioritizing of other goals. But if the process feels more out of your control than it usually does — which might be what you’re feeling right about now — these conversations have the potential to become even more complicated and layered.
So, we turned to Dr. Lucy Hutner, a reproductive psychiatrist and member of Alma (a community for mental health providers), to learn her thoughts on approaching this conversation about trying to conceive during the COVID-19 pandemic — a time when many people with ovaries are reevaluating their reproductive plans.
Here’s what she recommends:
1. Approach the decision to conceive as a team.
Whether you’re considering postponing kids or continuing to try as planned, Dr. Hutner says it's important to unite with your partner and come to a decision together.
“It takes a lot of active work to get to a place where you can really approach it as a shared team,” she explains. “It is so much more natural or intuitive to say, ‘I want this,’ and the other person says, ‘Well, I want that.’ Especially when there are times of stress or uncertainty.” As much as you can, Dr. Hutner suggests, “Say, ‘Hey, we're a team. We're going to approach this together and make a shared decision about the set of issues in front of us.’“
But what do you do if your partner wants to put your plans on hold and you’d rather keep trying? Since the hesitation is likely a response to all of the unknown, Dr. Hutner has this advice to share: “Try to see if you can narrow the scope of uncertainty … rather than try to project into the future.” She suggests asking how long your partner would like to wait and reassessing the situation (and decision) after a month or two. As more time passes, we’ll all have more information to prepare us for making these important decisions.
2. Accept that the burden isn’t necessarily going to be 50/50.
“We know that research with partners shows that they often have a difficult experience because they feel like they aren’t 100% involved in the decision,” Dr. Hutner says.
Even though your day-to-days might be impacted in different ways by how you choose to proceed, approaching the decision as a team is still important — and it will help your partner feel included in the process.
After all, as Dr. Hutner explains, “This is not a rational decision. This is not anything that statistics can decide for anyone. It’s what each person feels in their heart." Understanding the complexity of the decision (both in general and because of the coronavirus) and recognizing how it might uniquely impact each of you will better prepare you for any conflicting opinions or disagreements.
3. Call on the strategies that have worked for you in the past.
“Sometimes different couples have different strategies for the way they want to solve problems together,” Dr. Hutner explains. Maybe you’re great at looking at the big picture and your partner is better at thinking about the details. Ask yourself: “How did we handle [difficult decisions] before and how would we translate that into now?” Take the same approach you’ve successfully used in the past and allow that to help you come to an agreement now.
4. Talk about talking about it first.
Dr. Hutner says it’s okay to have a conversation about having a conversation around trying to conceive... before actually getting into it.
“If there's an important thing to discuss, like the timing of fertility, it can kind of make you feel awkward,” she explains. “It’s sort of hanging over you because it’s hard to find the time, or you’re aware that you have completely different points of view.”
When that’s the case, “sometimes what can be really useful is to take a half-step toward talking about it,” says Dr. Hunter. You can discuss ways you can make the conversation easier — like setting a dedicated time, talking over a homemade dinner, or separating out each step of the decision-making process.
Planning your talk ahead of time can “help underline the team feeling” and “release some of the tension that may be hanging over the couple,” she explains.
5. Remember to validate and support one another.
“There are a lot of wishes that are brought into fertility, and those wishes are important even if it doesn’t go the way you originally expected,” says Dr. Hutner. It’s important to validate and support the wishes and hopes of each of you as individuals, as well as your wishes and hopes as a couple. Remind yourself that you’re both invested in the process and the outcome — and try your best to honor the other person’s expectations and feelings.
Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong way to handle this conversation. However and whatever you decide is totally up to you — and what makes the most sense for your future and timeline.
If you’re looking for more resources to navigate this stressful and confusing time, check out our other posts on the coronavirus and fertility — and join the Modern Community for real-time discussions about planning for kids in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most importantly: Take care of yourself!