By a show of hands, How many of you know a male who is struggling with infertility.
Now, by a show of hands, how many of you know a female who is struggling with infertility.
It’s not surprising that more of you know a female who is struggling than a male. Why? Because, and I know this is going to be an absolutely shocking revelation, men don’t talk about infertility.
In 2007, after dating for five years and an engagement period of 19 months, which was 19 months too long, my wife and I got married, and immediately the inevitable question arose.
In truth, we just weren’t ready, with school and careers taking priority.
A couple years later we started trying, but nothing came of it. Things like basal thermometers became part of our sexual activity. Spontaneity? That’s not something that happens when there are “right days” and “right times” to consider. Romance? Passion? Yeah, those went out the window too.
Finally, after trying for a long time, we got the result we had longed for.
We were overjoyed to say the least, but at 11 weeks, we lost our child.
It was here that our infertility journey truly started. Before this, we knew we were having trouble conceiving, but we were still in a time period before we could go to a fertility clinic for help.
Once we started with the clinic, everything moved quickly. Consultations, tests, and procedures were the new order of the day.
As our journey unfolded, we went through tribulations as a couple, but just as importantly we had our own individual difficulties.
What I didn’t do well was talk to my wife.
I was supportive of her, but I shut down on my end. I didn’t think much of how I was dealing with thoughts of inadequacy and shortcoming. Instead, I became nearly robotic.
This didn’t help our relationship. It made things worse.
It was only after an ultimate low that I admitted needed help.
I finally did what I should have done right from the start – I began down a path of counselling, anti-depressants and other outlets to – if not right the way I was feeling – at least find comfort and consolation.
Unfortunately, my reach-out is far too unique. Couples struggling with infertility rarely talk, the men in the relationships less so.
In particular, I have found that men have difficulty talking with other men. In the support group I attended with my wife, I was one of the very few males who came on a regular basis. Those who came rarely spoke. Even in social situations, we had trouble talking about the status of our journeys. One night a group of couples gathered for an evening out.
At the end of the night, the women huddled on one side of the street, talking about injections, procedures and the like. On the other side, the guys talked about work and hockey.
This wasn’t uncommon. Virtually every conversation I’ve had with another guy falls into the archetype of four topics that men talk about:
1. Entertainment and/or sports
2. Home renovations
3. Jobs and financials
4. Things our kids do (for those who have)
The myth is men don’t talk.
We do…it’s just that a lot of our conversation is very superficial. In looking at these four topics, there is little room for discussing feelings. So imagine, then, the trouble I had talking openly with guys about infertility.
It’s understandable, really, from the listener’s side. It’s hard to talk about infertility if you haven’t experienced it, so empathy for the effects it has on a friend is a difficult prospect. Sure, there is support that comes, but for the most part conversation quickly returns to one of the four basic topics.
Of course, my situation isn’t unique – one in six Canadian couples suffering from infertility.
The effects of infertility on men are hard to truly report on, because there is far too little research.
The reality is men go through a lot amid infertility, and we have trouble finding the right assistance because the support a male needs is as individual as he is.
I can safely say; however, that my path wasn’t the norm.
One of the most important outlets for me was in a rather public stream – broadcast radio.
Having been on several shows in the past, I was approached to share my story on behalf of an infertility support group, and I felt like I could easily speak about a subject that had become so prevalent in my life.
But as the interview grew closer, I became nervous. I find charitable causes and hockey easy to talk about; but something so personal as infertility? Completely different animal.
In the end, I did the interview, but used a pseudonym.
It was in that anonymity, though, that I found comfort. Talking about the issues that had been bottled up for too many years lifted a heavy burden off my shoulders.
What also helped for me, to an extent, was my nature of being a “girls’ guy”. Though not a Wikipedia-recognized term, girls’s guys are those who have many female friends, and, as a result, are exposed to open talk about everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. When it comes to conversation with women, nothing is off limits, much more so than with men.
What did this mean? Well, the usual taboo topics that come with fertility struggles were not that fearful to talk openly about.
Armed with anonymity and the experience being in open situations made my fear melt away. My confidence grew after that first broadcast and I soon opened up further through Facebook (Slide) and other interviews.
And a funny thing happened – others opened up too.
As I shared my story, I began to get messages of support from a lot of avenues. From relatives, to close friends to mere acquaintances, I received support for speaking out.
But more importantly, I also found I had reached men and women who struggled in silence with infertility. That 1 in 6 statistic that seemed so impossible when one is isolated in thoughts, became that much more real.
So how do you get to this stage of being able to talk? There are two steps:
The first is recognition. The key act for both men and the women in their lives, is to recognize the pattern of when he is ready to talk. Attentiveness and going outside our own minds and situations, and being ready to talk in other settings, can be downright traumatizing, but showing support and understanding is an important first step.
The second – and I can’t say this strongly enough – is. to. talk. Follow through on those instincts, fight that fear.
Guys, please listen to me. Whether you take on an anonymous form such as online message boards or use in-person venues such as support groups or your local men’s resource centre, there are plenty of opportunities to proceed and communicate with guys who are either in the situation you’re in or have been there.
Talking about what difficulties you go through will make the entire infertility journey easier.
Once I began opening up, talking my issues out, I was able to return to a comfort spot and talk with my wife. I was able to express my fears, concerns, and my sense of shortcoming, and we were ready to move forward, together, as we made huge steps forward in our journey.
Unfortunately, not all stories have a happy ending. Not every infertile couple finds the solution and has their child
My particular story, thankfully, does.
In 2014 we were booked for IVF in Victoria, BC. All told we were going to be there for a month, an intimidating prospect, for certain, but by the time we packed up our house, our car and our dog and moved across the country for the shot of a lifetime, I was feeling better. Driving through the Rocky Mountains wasn’t scary because I had already been down the most hellacious road I would ever travel.
And holding my baby girl for the first time, made all the trials and tribulations a journey that I needed to share.