Waiting for the results of a pregnancy test can be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences a couple faces together. Luckily, Alyssa Litman's hilarious, honest short films about those agonizing three minutes, Plus/Minus, brings some real candor and warmth to this notoriously fraught situation. Litman, who graduated from USC film school and currently works on Fox's hit show, The Mick, was inspired to create this bittersweet series after her own surreal encounter with that potentially life-changing blue line. "While we were waiting for the results, my boyfriend asked if he could still go to a taco festival he had tickets to later that day if I was pregnant," she says. "I pointed out how crazy it would be if he went to a taco festival after finding out I was carrying his child. He didn't know what else to say, because he was a little freaked out. Thankfully, I wasn't pregnant."
Plus/Minus captures the absurd mix of ecstatic, panicked feelings couples often deal with while staring at that test. To explore these scenarios further, we spoke to Dr. Marni Rosner, a psychotherapist specializing in relationship issues and infertility. Below, catch all three Plus/Minus episodes and our Q&A with Dr. Rosner.
Once the joy of discovering that they're pregnant has dissipated a little, many soon-to-be parents grapple with a lot of fear and self-doubt. What are the most common anxieties of first-time parents, and do you have any advice for combating them?
"I work with a lot of women, so I often hear, What kind of mother will I be? What if I’m a terrible mother? Many had a mix of both good and bad parenting, which is fine — the "good enough" mother is actually ideal — and fear they will only be bad. The best way to address this is for them to become as aware as possible of their own psychology, and to be mindful of how they are similar to their own mothers, in both the good and less-good ways."
Same-gender couples face a unique set of challenges when trying to get pregnant. Do you have tips for how to support and communicate with a partner through that process?
"Same-sex couples will need the assistance of a fertility clinic — females for sperm donation, and males for surrogacy. My advice is the same for any couple going through fertility treatment: Be prepared for a rollercoaster of emotions, and get support from friends and family, if possible. It takes a village to survive conceiving a baby! And don’t let issues fester. If something is on your mind, talk about it. If you don’t know how, or if the issue cannot be resolved, seek professional help. One issue that's unique to pregnant same-sex couples is that 'where did the baby come from?' question. Make sure you are on the same page regarding disclosure."
Not all couples agree about wanting kids. For couples who do become pregnant, how should they begin the dialogue about what to do, and how can partners be sure they're hearing one another, even during these difficult conversations?
"First, I need to say that this is a terrible situation. I strongly encourage any reader to figure this out before you get married, even before you get serious. Please, please, please — do not hope that someone will change his or her mind. I’ve seen too many couples that are miserable because of this conflict — one wanting a child, the other not.
"If you do get pregnant, start to talk about what you imagine this will look like: What will life be like with a child? What changes are necessary? How involved will the reluctant parent be? Also it's important to be aware of the loss of the 'fantasy' of your partner being on board with parenting/not parenting; this conflict has the potential to open a gulf that can feel very lonely. Do not hesitate to seek help."
Infertility is an issue faced by many couples, but it's rarely spoken about. What tips do you have for partners striving to stay positive and keep communicating, even when the frustration seems overwhelming?
"I would remind couples that infertility is a major life crisis, and, like any crisis, it is an opportunity to grow. It is a time for couples to support each other, face fears together, to see and respond to each other’s distress, and, for many, to first see their partner as truly separate from the other. It is a time to learn to effectively communicate — which is easy to do when both partners are happy and on the same page. I would emphasize that everything they are experiencing is normal, and has the potential to bring them closer. Go through the process together, and remember that both of you are suffering. Don’t forget your partner."
For couples coping with infertility, do you have any recommended strategies for taking some of the pressure off the situation?
"This is about the sudden loss of control over our bodies and what feels like our lives. All of a sudden, our planned future with children is in jeopardy. It is traumatizing. Because of this combination — the trauma and the obsessiveness — there is a tendency for women to constantly talk about it with one’s partner. It’s important to be mindful of this; everyone needs a break sometimes, including women. Do other things; don’t lose touch with what you like to do. And share the burden — reach out to others, join a support group, find others to talk to. Infertility often brings up feelings of shame, and talking about it, especially with others who are also experiencing it, can mitigate this.
"Also, you’d be amazed at how many women have needed some help getting pregnant. Once you open up, you’ll hear a lot of, 'me, too!'"
What's the one piece of advice you'd pass along to any couple considering trying to get pregnant?
"Reflect on why you are together. Did you commit to this person because you love them and wanted to make a life together? Or just to have children?"