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What to Know About the Decision to Stop Trying to Conceive

My husband and I struggled with trying to conceive for four years. The decision to stop trying was devastating . . . but necessary.

When it's time to stop trying to have a baby.

When it's time to stop trying to have a baby.

It's Not Easy to Give Up Trying

Our decision to stop trying was not an easy one. We didn't just read a negative pregnancy test, shrug our shoulders, and say, “Oh, well. I give up.”

Every woman who has traveled down this road knows the devastation of seeing yet another negative pregnancy test. After a grueling two-week waiting period post-insemination, there's that call from the fertility clinic informing you that it didn't happen. No, the word “devastation” is not an exaggeration.

In my article entitled "Sometimes It's Best to Say Nothing," I explained what not to say to couples who are dealing with infertility. I also described a little about the struggle my husband and I went through trying to conceive. For about two years, we tried to have a baby through the regular tried-and-true method. When that failed, we spent another two years working with fertility doctors to make it happen.

To describe that experience as a nightmare would be an understatement. After spending thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs, getting countless tests done, three failed IUI’s (artificial insemination), and four failed rounds of IVF, it was time to stop.

Infertility Grief

The National Infertility Association describes an infertile couple's grief as being similar to that of losing a loved one. Especially for a woman.

But imagine experiencing that grief on a monthly basis.

When a loved one dies, you know that person is not coming back. You can work through the stages of grief and eventually move forward with your life. But when every hope of ever becoming a mother (or father) dies, it takes a lot longer to admit and accept the loss.

Infertile couples continue to grieve the loss of the baby they will never know. Every month, the hope that they will conceive that baby is lost, over and over again. Delirious hope followed by hopeless grief . . . again and again. No matter how hard you try, there is no way to prepare for the bad news.

Infertility Empathy

I’ve known many couples who have been through this same experience but were eventually successful and had that baby they worked so hard for. Even after my husband and I made the decision to stop trying, I was still happy to hear those success stories. I know their struggle because I haven’t forgotten mine—I have recovered from it and come to terms with the disappointment, but I have not forgotten it.

I’ve always assumed that those couples remember the heartache and bitterness that accompanies infertility. That’s not always the case.

After You Realize You'll Never Be a Parent

After my husband and I closed the fertility chapter of our lives and even adopted a puppy to help us move on, one of the many emotions we felt was relief. Don’t get me wrong—we were not happy about having to abandon our dream of a Mini-Me or two. But, I have to admit, the thought of not having to try anymore was quite liberating.

Seeing Facebook birth announcements and hearing the latest news of a Teen Mom still sent me into either a depression or a fit of rage, but at least I could start thinking about where we would go on our next vacation and not worry about when my next cycle was starting or restocking my supply of syringes. I tried my best to look at the positive side.

There are many well-meaning people who are all too eager to offer suggestions. I was expecting our decision to also mean the ending of well-meaning-but-annoying platitudes such as “Just relax and it will happen,” “Everything happens for a reason,” “You can always adopt,” etc.

True, we didn’t have to hear those clichés anymore; but there was more to come.

The Negative Impacts of Trying to Conceive

What many people fail to understand is that when a couple makes the decision to stop trying to conceive, there are other issues they need to deal with aside from “getting over” the fact that they will not have children. Not only have your dreams been dashed, but:

  • Your bank account has probably taken a big hit. Not everything is covered by insurance and it's not cheap, at all. We were trying several expensive holistic treatments like acupuncture, which insurance does not cover.
  • Then, I'm ashamed to say, there's retail therapy. Many of us are guilty of this when going through depression. I’ll be the first to admit it; I’m guilty. It didn't help matters that I worked within walking distance to Coach, Anthroplogie, and Manolo Blahnik.
  • The fertility hormones your doctor prescribed take an enormous toll on you physically, mentally, and emotionally, and you don’t always bounce back from it. I once had an emotional outburst that was so bad I actually hit myself over and over until I bruised. I also now experience hot flashes on a regular basis, swollen feet, and my menstrual periods are much more difficult and irregular than before. (Sure, I can go on birth control to make my periods more tolerable, but do you really think I want to put anymore hormones into my body? I think I’ve had my fill.)
  • I gained about twenty-five pounds and, although I have lost most of the extra weight, my body has not gone back to the shape it was in before.
  • The intimacy in your marriage is negatively affected. Does anything I just described put you in a romantic mood?
  • Communication within your marriage can start to go downhill, as well. While I was going through these issues, it never occurred to me that my husband may have been hurting, too. He always wanted to have children and there were times he blamed himself for all of this. We spent less time together and did a lot less talking. It took several months of therapy and a lot of tears to get things back on track. I feel blessed because I have heard of, and personally know, other couples whose marriages did not fare as well as ours.

Telling People That You Are No Longer Trying

Since we’ve gotten over the biggest hurdles (namely, the grief and the marital issues), I’ve been able to discuss everything with friends and relatives without getting worked up to the point where I scare everyone. But I have to admit, I’ve been a little surprised by the reaction I’ve gotten from many people once I tell them we’re no longer trying.

One of the responses I get most often is a combination of an enthusiastic “Well, you never know, it still could happen!” and “Maybe now that you’re not trying so hard it will happen!”

I know what you’re thinking: The people who say this are trying to be encouraging and positive. But here’s the thing: We don’t want to hear that. And when I say “we,” I’m not just talking about my husband and me; I’m speaking for all couples in our situation. We have all been struggling to pick up the pieces and move on with our lives. Since then, we’ve managed to set new goals for ourselves, design new plans for our future. You may not realize it, but by not listening to our decision to stop trying, you’re negating our healing.

“Maybe now that you’re not trying so hard, it will happen!”

In the past, my knee-jerk response to statements like this is to express how angry I would be if I did get pregnant, now. (Of course the way I've expressed it is a little more colorful than that, but you get the gist.) The immediate response to from those around me is "Oh, no you won't. Maybe at first you'll be mad, but you'll eventually be happy about it. I know you will!"

Now here are my questions to you:

  • How do you know that?
  • How can you be sure what I'm feeling and will be feeling in the future?
  • Do you know what kind of financial condition we're in?
  • After what my husband and I have been through, can you honestly say that we are in any way emotionally, mentally, and physically able to have a baby? You never know how these types of experiences affect someone in the long run.

"Why don't you adopt?"

Adoption is not as easy as celebrities make it out to be. If we could make it rain money, I bet we would have no problem finding a way to adopt a kid, but we're not Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. The adoption process is extremely expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally draining. It is not for everyone and the last thing an infertile couple needs is to feel guilty about not taking that route.

It Takes Courage to Stop Trying

Here's the point I'm trying to make: couples who make the decision to stop trying to conceive do not make this decision overnight, and it is not a decision they take lightly. In our case, without a doubt, that decision became a matter of self-preservation. And I know my husband and I are not alone.

Whether you realize it or not, it takes courage to say, "It was just not in the cards for us. It's time to move on."

What to Say to Someone Who Stops Trying to Have a Baby

The best thing you can tell someone in a situation like this is that you are happy to see them moving forward with their lives and finding new interests. Chances are that the couple is just now coming out of a deep funk and rejoining the living. They want to focus on their new future and are ready to share it with others. Let them share it and show your support the way a true friend would. After all, it is their decision and their life, not yours.

You might also be interested in 10 Legit Reasons to Not Have Kids (By Someone Who Has Them!).

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Brenda Thornlow


SieY on June 21, 2015:

Thank you so very much for sharing so many of these aspects of this decision - and managing to express them in a coherent manner! I find it so hard to try an explain (justify!) to people around me the many complex and utterly destructive emotions, experiences and mind-spirals that come along with all of this - where to even begin! Thank you for making me feel a little bit less isolated. I hope you also feel a little bit less isolated for having shared. May the hole in your soul (very Dr Zeuss, and just how I think it feels, not meaning to put that on you) - anyway, may it be overgrown with the beautiful things in life so much that you can hardly notice it :) X

Brenda Thornlow (author) from New York on January 05, 2015:

Nice! You are blessed. :)

Mhalie on January 05, 2015:

All of my school aged kiodds are involved with some kind of extra-curricular activy. My 16 year old son is on the drumline at his high school, my pre-teen daughter is on the volleyball and softball teams and my 8 year old son is halfway to his black belt in Taekwondo.My little guy who stays home with me and does flash cards during the day has extra-curricular activities of napping and cuddling with Mommy and Daddy! =)

Rangle on January 04, 2015:

Yeah that's what I'm talking about babi--nyce work!

Brenda Thornlow (author) from New York on August 27, 2014:

Thank you for reading and sharing your experiences Pamela & Nicole! The experience of infertility is difficult enough and when you throw people into the mix that don't think before they speak or fail to try to see things from a different point of view, it makes you feel even worse. And I agree, Nicole, women from the infertility community can be the harshest critics!

Nicole Pellegrini from New Jersey, USA on August 26, 2014:

Thanks so much for this article. My partner and I decided not to pursue fertility treatments or adoption when it became clear we could not conceive naturally. There were many reasons for this: I was already coming up on 40 when the odds of success were low, the financial cost, the unknown long-term effects of the hormonal treatments when I've already had issues with cysts that could have been precancerous. Yet it's so hard to get other people to accept that decision! Even sometimes - or even especially - other women who have gone through infertility treatment. For some reason I became someone, to them, who "did not want a baby enough" therefore I didn't deserve it, because I chose not to put my life, my love, and my finances at risk with very low odds of success. Sometimes other women in the infertility "support" communities can be the harshest critics of women who choose not to follow the same paths that they did.

Pamela Barwa on August 26, 2014:

I cannot thank you enough for writing this. This is my husband's and my story too. We finally came to peace with not having a family. Family are being crappy and insensitive to say the least.

Brenda Thornlow (author) from New York on August 14, 2014:

Thank you for reading, Audrey!

Audrey Howitt from California on August 11, 2014:

Thank you for your frank account of this time in your life. It helps when we can understand others path through this most stressful time.

Brenda Thornlow (author) from New York on June 21, 2014:

Such a stressful thing to go through.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on June 20, 2014:

I was four years getting pregnant; not enough time to get involved in all you did but after getting on birth control pills and going off them I got pregnant immediately. People said that was why, I don't know. The next year I got pregnant again as soon as I could and then I was not able to have any more so I was lucky.

Brenda Thornlow (author) from New York on June 19, 2014:

Thank you, Flourish! Have a great day!

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 18, 2014:

I'm so glad you wrote about this. It provides perspective.

Brenda Thornlow (author) from New York on June 17, 2014:

Thank you, DDE! Have a great day!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on June 16, 2014:

Respect the decision of others guidance works well.

Brenda Thornlow (author) from New York on June 14, 2014:

Thanks so much and have a great weekend! :)

Sharilee Swaity from Canada on June 14, 2014:

Bk42author, thank you! And I just wanted to add that I am sorry for what you went through, with this whole process. It sounds devastating, and I am glad you were able to move on, and not get stuck in what was not happening. That is such an important growth for all of us. Beautifully written article.

Brenda Thornlow (author) from New York on June 14, 2014:

Thank you so much for reading and sharing, Prairieprincess. It really is heart-wrenching. It's amazing when you already know it's not going to be easy or it's simply not going to happen how it still has such a strong effect on you. There really is no preparing for it. I'm so sorry you had to go through all that heartache as well.

Sharilee Swaity from Canada on June 14, 2014:

Wow, I can relate to this so much. My husband and I were never able to have children, but it was something I knew going into the marriage. It was a heart-wrenching fact, though, and I have had to make peace with this fact. We did not spend money to have children, but sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and cry out for children I will never have. Wow!

I did have people who would question me about it, asking why I didn't want to try, etc, and it was so awkward to talk about it. Thanks for writing such an important article. I hope people who have infertile couples in their lives will take note. Take care. (I will share this one!)

Brenda Thornlow (author) from New York on June 14, 2014:

Thank you for reading and for your comments everyone! So glad you enjoyed. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

travmaj from australia on June 13, 2014:

I admire the way you brought this to our attention, your journey, your thoughts, your decision. I shall certainly think before I express opinions on similar matters. Thank you for your honesty...

Maria Giunta from Sydney, Australia on June 13, 2014:

I admire you both for coming to an extremely difficult decision. My husband and I came to the same decision years ago with the same well meaning comments (mainly from family members).

We are a lucky 'infertile couple' in that when we decided to stop all treatments a year later I was pregnant. We now have two kids who are teenagers.

We do consider ourselves very blessed to have kids but those years of IVF took a financial toll that we are still trying to catch up with. I know exactly what you mean about the treatments taking an emotional and physical toll on your body but the financial toll is also a big burden on the marriage.

Thankfully we are still together but there were many times during the treatments when we rarely spoke and we often needed time apart.

Whatever is in your future embrace it and enjoy being a couple that has made it through the minefield of infertility together. You will find it is the best decision you have made. Getting on with your lives is so much more important.

swilliams on June 13, 2014:

Great article! 'Whether you realize it or not, it takes courage to say "It was obviously not in the cards for us. It's time to move on.' This is true! Voted up and tweeted out!

Brenda Thornlow (author) from New York on June 13, 2014:

Jodah - so true! I've never quite undunderstood why people concern themselves with life decisions others make. You never know a whole story and what makes them who they are. Thank you for reading!

Melissa - thank you so much for reading & I'm glad you enjoyed it. We named our pup Norman! He's a Maltese & he'll be 3 in August. :)

Thanks again!

Melissa Knight from Murfreesboro, TN on June 12, 2014:

Totally love the way you opened up about it. Brought a topic that is foreign to me to life and I thank you for that. So my question is... What did you name your puppy? :)

Thank you again for the honesty on such a personal topic!

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on June 12, 2014:

Bk42, I'm sure this was an important hub for you to write and good advice for other couples going through it. Any choices you make in life should be between you and your partner and everyone else should respect that...friends and family alike, though it is hard for many not to express their opinions. Well written, voted up.

Brenda Thornlow (author) from New York on June 12, 2014:

Thank you, MsDora! Actually, that whole experience is what helped move forward with my writing and get over the self consciousness I had that held me back for years. So something great did come out of it. Thanks so much for reading!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 12, 2014:

I hear you, Brenda. I am happy that you are at peace with your decision. I hope that writing helps you to move on. I admire your wisdom and courage!

Brenda Thornlow (author) from New York on June 12, 2014:

Couldn't agree more, Billy! Thanks so much for reading!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 12, 2014:

I find the best thing I can do is work on myself and leave other people to do the same. Your decision is your decision, and I respect it. We do what we in life, and we move forward. Thank you for sharing your experience.