Navigating Infertility as a Sub Spouse

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Submitted by an anonymous reader

In early 2020, my husband and I decided to start trying for a baby. Having been fully indoctrinated into thinking unprotected sex at any time would almost certainly result in pregnancy, I was very naive about how much control we had and what was to come. Over a year later, multiple tests, and a few months of therapy in, we still don’t know what’s taking so long… but having a partner that disappears every few months certainly doesn’t help.

Whether you are in the early stages of trying to become parents, through to completely fluent in the myriad of acronyms (TTC, TWW, BBT, DPO, ICSI, IUI, IVF…) that rivals the number of acronyms on a submarine, I hope this blog is a big virtual hug and reminder that you’re not alone.

Infertility is defined by the CDC as “not being able to get pregnant after one year of unprotected sex.” However, I think the CDC should’ve added *or much longer in submarine-adjusted terms. I also want to acknowledge a lot of intersecting issues including medical and mental health challenges, pregnancy loss (including recurrent, early, and late losses), finances, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion. I can’t speak to all of these – and really shouldn’t be given my lived experience – but know that these can pile on to make the already tough journey of infertility as a sub spouse even harder.

I hope by sharing a few lessons I’ve learned along the way I can help even one sub spouse to feel supported and hopeful:

Lesson #1: Look After Yourself

In any submarine community, you start to think “there’s must be something in the water” (pun intended). It feels like everyone is either pregnant or has 3+ kids. Much of the FRG and socializing is centered around kids, which I completely understand. However, as the person who is struggling to get pregnant or hasn’t been able to have a kid, it often feels like you’re the only one and that it would be inappropriate or awkward to join a playground meet up.

The Mayo Clinic shared research showing, “women with infertility have the same levels of anxiety and depression, as do women with cancer, heart disease, and HIV.” Having seen cancer and heart attacks in my family, I don’t share this comparison lightly. However, the toll is real, and telling someone with these conditions to “just relax” would not be socially acceptable in any other setting.

I have invested in friendships with partners and spouses that don’t have kids (by choice or circumstance) and dabble in yoga, meditation, gardening, and baking. I’m also a proponent of therapy and online fertility communities (see lessons 3 and 4). Find what works for you and don’t feel guilty about passing on kid-centric gatherings or needing mental health support through what can be a traumatic experience.

Lesson #2: Re-learn Sex Ed

I spent so many years trying not to get pregnant that I was far more knowledgeable about contraception than conception. About six months into trying, a friend and female submariner recommended Taking Charge of Your Fertility and I now recommend it to every female friend. Around the same time, we also chose to take at-home tests through Modern Fertility and Legacy to see if we had any obvious fertility red flags. In hindsight, we probably should’ve just asked for these basic tests through our PCMs so Tricare would have covered them. On an ongoing basis, I’ve found the Premom app and ovulation test strips to be helpful. These may not be right for you but each of these resources has helped me to learn more and try to optimize our chances.

Lesson #3: Make the Most of Tricare

Frustratingly, pregnancy does not count as a Qualifying Life Event for a special enrollment period. By extension, nor does infertility. Given that, it’s important to understand whether Prime or Select is the best option for where you’re stationed and switch (if needed) during Open Season in the fall if you might try to get pregnant in the following year. For example, in Groton, the base doesn’t treat dependents anyway, so I decided to stick with Prime but receive all my care off base.

Tricare is very helpful with testing and treatment that will help natural conception. A list of what’s covered is available here. While some providers may be sticklers for having you try for at least a year (excluding underways), some are sympathetic so if you and your partner want to be tested in amongst ever-changing sub schedules, you should advocate for yourself and find a provider that will help you spot any red flags early. Tricare also covers a variety of mental health services including therapy, which I would highly recommend.

Unfortunately, where Tricare stops short is any “non-coital reproductive procedures, services or supplies”; aka procedures like intrauterine insemination or IVF. There are exceptions for those that lost reproductive ability due to illness or injury on active duty, but I’m focusing on submarine spouses. That leads to my final point about knowing what other support is available.

Lesson #4: Seek Support

As submarine spouses, we all need support when our partners are underway. However, it can be especially upsetting and isolating to reckon with each underway delaying your hopes of parenthood. If you feel comfortable turning to friends and family for support, that’s great. If not, that’s okay!

I’ve found the US Military Wives IVF & Infertility Support Facebook group to be full of honest, supportive, and generous people ready to share their experience, particularly about which facilities and providers are best near different bases. The Modern Fertility slack has also been a fantastic online community. I am also a big proponent of therapy and am grateful that this is covered by Tricare and spouses don’t need a referral.

Resolve is the national infertility association and they have a comprehensive list of Tricare infertility treatment, military facilities that offer IVF treatment (for a fee), and discount programs. Beyond these, CoFertility and Fertility IQ have collated a database of grants for fertility treatment, including some specifically for the military. There are lots of resources available and you are not alone!

Anyone with the patience and resilience to make it as a submarine spouse is uniquely equipped to handle the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with infertility. I hope these lessons help at least one other sub spouse be kinder to themself and use the resources and support around them.

I’ve published this anonymously but am happy to connect directly with anyone who would like to discuss further. Just reach out to the amazing team at The Submerged Life and they’ll share my details.

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