Surrendering to the Unknown During Infertility

By Justin Lioi, LCSW
Published: January 30, 2019 | Last updated: February 26, 2020
Key Takeaways

Surrendering to the unknown is incredibly scary, but it is a much better decision than putting energy into avoiding vulnerability.

Surrender and dependence are two of the scariest concepts for most men that I know. Dealing with infertility can feel pretty damn helpless quite a lot of the time.

The idea that there is nothing we can do is simply unacceptable to many guys and it may lead us to tie ourselves (and people we love) in knots as we try to fool ourselves that there is something we can do.

The thing is, all that work may be making us less present for our wives and girlfriends instead of being the partner that they need—and that most of us want to be!

It may go against everything we’ve been taught, but moving toward helplessness may be the most helpful thing we can do.

It may go against everything we’ve been taught, but moving toward the helplessness may be the most helpful thing we can do.

Embrace Uncertainty to Gain What Matters

We were not brought up with thinking about helplessness, surrender, and dependence as virtues. In fact, we’ve been told again and again to hone the opposite. Do all we can to stay away from vulnerability.

We were taught to "take control of difficult situations” and to “get to the bottom of things.” To “fix whatever needs fixing.” Those are the things that make us men, right?

While these may be great strategies for many situations, they come up way short when confronted with the stress of infertility. We’d be better served by not running away from the uncertainty of our situation, but directly turning toward it—if not actually embracing it.

That may seem ludicrous, but:

  1. It’s how we’ve achieved anything that truly matters in our lives
  2. We don’t really have much choice (sorry).

Let’s take a look at what embracing uncertainty has provided for many of us; Think of the risks you took on a business venture, perhaps, or even a move away from home. Believe it or not, even your decision to commit to a relationship held a lot of uncertainty.

Hopefully, most of these risks were worth it. Jumping with both feet allowed you to go places you wouldn’t have if you were fully in control of it all every step of the way. You needed to be able to confront the riskiness of all those situations. Which led to all those possibilities.

Sure, you can run some version of a cost-benefit analysis on all of these situations. You can do the math and make sure you’re taking calculated risks. That makes sense.

You can also choose to stay “safe” and settle, but you know deep down that you won’t be happy unless you really take a chance on what you want.

And deciding to have a child is a very uncertain journey. But the great reward cannot be overstated.

Letting Go of the Strategies You Use to Avoid Feeling Helpless

When faced with infertility and our helplessness to conquer it, it’s important to look at the strategies that we use and how these may cross a line from coping skills to anti-coping skills, making things more difficult for you and your partner. Allowing ourselves to move toward surrender and dependence—dependence on science, on the “fates,” on our partner—may be the only thing that will save us.

That doesn’t make it easy.

  • Some people find refuge in research. They read all the books, they have pages of questions for doctors and fertility specialists, and they scour websites for the latest info. Like just about anything else, moderation is the key here. Read and learn as much as is helpful and that gives you some power, but at the end of the day, you’re not going to “outthink” your helplessness with infertility. Has your research tipped over into obsessiveness? If so, it’s not helping you anymore.

  • Some men avoid all the talk of fertility and infertility and take refuge in the fact that it's not their body that is trying to get pregnant. They feel they’ll be the most helpful if they stay at work longer (ostensibly to make more money and to be better able to care for the family), but they’re not seeing the growing divide. Yes, the divide between themselves and their partner, but also within themselves. It takes a physical and emotional toll when you are actively denying your pain. Allow yourself some distance when you can. Enjoy your work. Enjoy time with friends or on hobbies that you enjoy—you’re not betraying her by doing so. But staying fully away is hurting your relationship and this issue will linger well into the parenting journey you’re hoping to take.

  • Some hold in their feelings in order to “take care” of their partner, but this “rock” is often misinterpreted as just the opposite. You are allowed to have and express your own anger, sadness, and fear. You can be aware that her body is the one going through all of these tests and struggles, but she probably needs to know that you are worried too. You don’t want your stoicism to be misinterpreted. (Read: Hey Men – It's Vulnerability, NOT Strength, That Will See You Through Infertility)

While it may not be comfortable, the key just might be embracing the messiness of all of this. There is a scariness of the unknown. There is anger that you can’t control it all. And there is likely dissatisfaction that there is only so much you can do to move forward.

While it may not be comfortable, the key just might be embracing the messiness of all of this.

It can suck to take that in, but avoiding it only grows the divide between you and your partner.


Surrendering to the unknown is incredibly scary, but it is a much better decision than putting all that energy into avoiding vulnerability.

And, don’t forget, parenthood is fraught with uncertainty, lack of control, fear of the unknown—so this state of being is a place you’re going to want to connect with now since having a child is your goal.

The release of some (not all) of the control is an incredible relief and allows you to be able to support your partner in a very different way.

Find the strength in surrender.

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Written by Justin Lioi, LCSW | Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) focused on Counselling for Men

Justin Lioi, LCSW

Justin Lioi, is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) focused on men’s mental health and relationship expert. He is a New York-based psychotherapist with a teletherapy practice throughout New York State and internationally. He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and is a requested presenter on topics such as fatherhood, assertiveness, anger, and self-compassion. His writing can be found on The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and Good Therapy.

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