Everyone knows that infertility is a stressful situation that is usually focused around the woman and the processes she goes through with IVF. The daily scans, appointments, constantly having blood taken, hormone injections, and surgical procedures that sometimes seem endless. It is not surprising that most women become exhausted and emotionally overwhelmed.
But what about the men?
As little control as women have over the IVF process, the men in their lives have even less. Yes, they can attend visits and administer the hormone shots, but most men are usually waiting in the wings trying to figure out how to help.
Most couples experience the struggle in much the same way, but it is probably fair to say that men and women are affected by infertility in different ways. Perhaps this is related to the traditional ways men and women think, feel and act. Women are typically seen, by others as well as themselves, as the emotional caretakers or providers of the relationship.
Women in infertile couples often protect their husbands from their own pain and feelings of failure by taking much of the responsibility for the treatments upon themselves and some have often suggested they fear their husbands will leave to find a woman who can bear children.
‘Men are traditionally the financial providers in a relationship’
Men are traditionally seen as the financial providers of the relationship and are responsible for protecting the family from real or imagined dangers and often feel overwhelmed by the intensity of their partner’s emotions as well as an inability to access their own. It has been suggested that men tend to focus their energy back into their work, a place where they have more success.
To get a real idea of how men really feel, I spoke with two men in my clinic who were willing to share their story.
Josh – 33
Josh and his wife started to think there may be a problem after two years of trying but thought was because of their very busy lifestyles working in the city and not really having much quality time together.
Josh’s wife had the usual tests and found she wasn’t ovulating which was thought to be the main problem. However, through further investigations a chocolate cyst on her ovaries was found some 6cm in size that needed to be removed in the first instance.
The fertility problems didn’t stop there as Josh’s sperm analysis showed his sperm count to be below 5 million. So, there was a double infertility factor for them both.
How has the process been for you? Finding out that there was a problem with us both hit us hard at first. After the initial shock of us both having problems, we thought we needed to do everything we could to try and deal with the problem and manage our lifestyle to see if this would make a difference. We changed our diet, exercise and basically made time for us. I was able to speak to my colleagues at work, even though it’s not a bloaky thing to do I suppose. My wife felt she couldn’t talk about it to her friends or family as the expectations and questions to when we were going to start a family was just too much for her, so she just closed up which made it difficult at times.
How did you cope through the emotions? The sort of emotional resiliency you need to just push forward at times wasn’t something I’d thought about. At the time we started trying, it didn’t really affect me as much as I didn’t think I was ready to have a family if I’m honest.
However, my wife was so keen that when it wasn’t happening she was the one who went to the doctors to find out what was wrong if anything. The pull of us being in different emotional places in the beginning, my mind was one of it will happen when its supposed to. However, when I found out I also had a problem, it hit me that actually we may not be able to have a family which made me want to do as much as I could to make it happen.
How has it changed your marriage? I like to think that I’m more sensitive to my wife’s feelings and going through this journey together. It has made us focus on our health and doing more as a couple and trying to get the work life balance of spending quality time with each other.
‘I’m willing to try again’
How is your outlook for the future? Well as you know we have our wonder boy of course which we still can’t believe and we are looking again at trying for baby number two. However, I now have been diagnosed with having testicle verciles and its just one of those things, but I’m willing to give IVF another try, but I realise it’s easier for me to say that. I definitely want our son to have a sibling, but on the other hand, we are truly grateful that we have him.
George – 38
George and his wife have had 6 IVF cycles due to his wife having tubal removal after an ectopic some time ago coupled with having a low ovarian reserve at the age of 40. His wife has a child from a previous relationship and as George hadn’t had any children from a previous relationship he and his wife wanted to have a child between them and started the IVF process. Egg donor was not an option for them.
After the 4th IVF attempt, George and his wife had a positive pregnancy and the early stages of pregnancy was without complications. However, the 12 weeks scan detected a severe chromosome defect with growth abnormalities which meant they had no choice but to terminate their long-awaited pregnancy. They decided to have two further IVF attempts after their pregnancy both of which unfortunately failed. They are currently having a break from IVF and although at the time of the last failed IVF, they both decided that that was their last attempt, his wife is thinking that perhaps they will give it one last go in the new year.
How has the process been for you? Difficult to say the least, especially as we had a positive pregnancy which having to make a decision to terminate which has completely broke us both. We are still grieving and although we are getting through it, the process has completely broken us emotionally and financially. I guess as we went through attempt after attempt we just kept on thinking it’s got to happen which it did on the fourth attempt which was when we started being treated by you to look at our nutrition and try and manage our stress as well as do as much as we can to improve our health and lifestyle.
But now after so many attempts I am in so much debt that I don’t want to do another cycle. My wife wants to give it one last chance and I don’t know how I’m going to be able to afford to do it. Its breaking us apart and I’m trying as much as I can to keep us together and work through this, but it’s tough.
‘I’ve never cried so much’
How have you coped with your emotions? When we lost our baby we cried, I don’t think I have ever cried so much and I’m still trying to deal with it. My wife has had some counselling but for me I just want to try and get on with our lives. Having multiple IVF attempts, and then when it worked a miscarriage are the toughest challenges we have ever faced. We are still working it through and if I’m honest I am still worried about our finances and working really stupid hours. My job doesn’t bring in a high salary, so each IVF round has cost us in so many ways and we are still paying for them over the last 5 years.
What have you learned? The biggest thing is that being happy and keeping it together has been something I have valued more than anything as going down the journey of fertility it has brought us so many emotions that it has challenged our relationship many of time.
How is your outlook for the future? I used to hold onto hope that think that it’ll absolutely happen, which it did for us, but I’m trying to detach from it now and I’m not sure it will happen again for us. My wife wants to have one more last chance, even though the last time was our last chance and I’m of the opinion that it won’t work for us now. We have decided to have a break and at least have a deserved holiday. If I could give any advice to anyone, it would be work it through together and stay happy.
Coping with Emotions
Clearly these two real stories give insight the emotional impact fertility and IVF can bring let alone life’s blow at getting pregnant and then having to go through the trauma of experiencing miscarriage.
With emotions, such as grief, anger, fear, etc., which, combined with emotions of being dysfunctional or out of control is no doubt these may be familiar to many, as I certainly see it in my clinic almost every day.
Men find themselves experiencing the ebb and flow of emotions like women as they struggle side by side on the fertility journey albeit from a different angle.
These real-life stories give a clear indication that men are likely to take on the provider responsibilities to ensure that his family is provided for in terms of financial needs and will do as much as can achieve this.
This journey along any fertility road can be difficult for many but here are some suggestions to help both partners during the infertility process.
Communicate openly with each other.
Realise there’s no right or wrong way to feel.
Get in touch with your feelings; consider counselling and talking therapies.
Share the process of treatment and be flexible to the changes that treatment can bring.
Try not to put your lives on hold and don’t forget the reasons to why you and your partner got together in the first place.
Share both the burdens and joys of your different perceptions/experiences of infertility. It will help to balance the intensity and bring you closer with a deeper respect for each other.