My husband and I can’t agree on our future after IVF. How do we move on?

You need to actively listen to each other’s fears. Compromise is the best way forward, says Annalisa Barbieri

Illustration of a stork with a frozen embryo in its beak
‘We have one frozen embryo remaining, which I am desperate to use.’ Illustration: Lo Cole/The Guardian

My husband and I both have fertility issues and underwent IVF. We were lucky to conceive our child (who is now one) on the first attempt; it was a complicated, high-risk pregnancy. After the birth I had some health issues, including postnatal depression (PND), but have now recovered. I think my husband found this much more stressful than I did.

We originally wanted two or three children. Before beginning IVF, we agreed to use all the embryos from the cycle. However, he now says that he thought we agreed to use all the embryos until we had a child, then decide what to do with any that were left (I believe this may be a genuine miscommunication).

We have one frozen embryo remaining, which I am desperate to use. I understand it’s unlikely to work, but the grief in that event would be better for me than the uncertainty of leaving it. My husband doesn’t want the stress of another pregnancy, although specialists have said it’s unlikely to be as much of a problem a second time. He also sees the embryo as “just cells”, not our potential child.

Added to this, we agreed to move to his home country for five or six years once we had children. He is keen to leave soon but I feel too “mama bear” about our embryo to even think about it. I can accept not having a second child, but hate the idea of never giving this embryo a chance. How can we get through this impasse?

Congratulations on the birth of your baby. I’m sorry to hear you had such a rough time. It must have been hard on you and your husband. While attention rightly went to you, I do think partners (and their trauma) are often overlooked after difficult pregnancies and births. This may be at the heart of your husband’s resistance to try again. He may want to protect and cherish what he has and not, as he perceives it, risk it.

I consulted couples and family therapist Armele Philpotts (bacp.co.uk). She felt there were three issues you disagree about: how many children you both ultimately want; what to do with the final embryo; and where you end up living. It’s important to focus on each issue separately and not lump them together. “Because discussions around the embryo, for example, probably touch on core values such as ethics and beliefs,” Philpotts suggested, “while the moving is more about practicalities.”

She pointed out that, when you originally discussed how many children you wanted and moving abroad, your world was different. “Now you have been through a difficult pregnancy and PND, you’re sleep-deprived and trying to make space for these conversations while being new parents.” In other words, you need to start these conversations afresh, based on where you are now. You also need to allow yourselves a bit of time. I know you are keen to “get on” but, with a one-year-old, you’re still very much in new?parent territory, with all that brings.

Philpotts suggested making proper time for these conversations: find a babysitter, put a date in the diary and create space to talk about the issues individually. She also thought that you and your husband were focused on, and avoiding, different things. You are focused on the embryo, but minimising the difficulties before and after birth. He is distancing himself from the embryo and focusing on the problems surrounding the pregnancy and birth. It might help to acknowledge this, because you need actively to listen to each other’s fears and not bat them away in attempting to justify your own points.

You might think you know what these fears are but it’s important to voice them. If you can open up a space where you can talk safely and explore the way you feel, there might be room for a bit of give and take. You might decide, for example, that you will move abroad if you try for another child. Compromise is the best way forward. Otherwise, you end up with one person getting what they want and the other not, which is a breeding ground for resentment. Can you put the move on hold to buy more time?

Alternatively, you can leave the country and come back for the embryo – make sure your clinic has your new details, or take the embryo with you with the help of your UK clinic. The Human Fertility and Embryology Authority website has information on importing and exporting embryos and the conditions that need to be met.

? Send your problem to [email protected]. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.