What Infertility Is Really Like — From A Man's Point Of View
My wife and I endured a seven-year period filled with six pregnancy losses and a year of infertility.
We were told there was no hope and were encouraged to use a sperm donor. But after learning I had DNA damage due to toxic exposure, we took steps to counteract it and eventually sustained a healthy pregnancy. Today we have a beautiful 20-month-old boy.
As reluctant as women might be to discuss this, men are even more hesitant.
Of course, that seven-year period was very hard on both of us. But I'd like to share what those years of infertility were like from my (the male) point of view — since it's a perspective that's so rarely discussed.
Most people are hesitant to talk about infertility. But I've found that as reluctant as women might be to discuss this, men are even more hesitant. The problem is that the less this is discussed by both partners, the less chance we have to help heal the wounds, find ways to overcome the loss, and have a child.
Here's what I wish more people understood about men and infertility:
1. We feel helpless.
Just like women, we feel the desperation of wanting a child and the frustration of it not happening.
But it also goes further than that. We feel helpless because our significant other has to deal with so much more than we do.
Sure, my wife and I both had the emotional pain of our losses and infertility — but she had to go through all of the physical issues. She had to deal with the fact that the baby was gone, but the tissue was still inside her. She had to pass it.
All I could do was be supportive. As a man, it broke my heart to see my wife in so much mental and physical pain and not be able to do anything to take the pain away.
Facebook support groups had tens of thousands of people in them — but I was always the only man.
I would love to say that I was the perfect partner through all of our losses, but I wasn't. In the beginning I was supportive and sought to help my wife in any way she needed. But in the middle of all of the losses, I got frustrated that we weren't having a successful pregnancy and that frustration made me more focused on myself.
In hindsight, I was better able to process everything when I returned to focusing on my wife. The more I helped her, the more she helped me. We were a team going through this rather than two people dealing with their own issues alone.
2. Infertility hurts us, too. And we do care.
After our first couple of losses, I joined a few miscarriage and pregnancy loss groups on Facebook. These groups had tens of thousands of people in them, but I was surprised to find out that I was always the only man in the groups.
I found that strange — even though I am a man, I of course still had emotional pain. I still wanted to know I wasn’t alone. And it was far easier for me to address those thoughts in a closed Facebook group than in a therapist’s office.
I'm not trying to say that being the only man in these groups made me special. It didn’t make me a better husband or boyfriend than the other guys. Rather, the point is that people deal with things in their own way.
I've seen many women in those Facebook groups complain that the men in their lives didn’t seem to care. Maybe that is true in some cases — but I suspect that most of those men were simply dealing with this the best way they knew how.
It seems stereotypical to say, but many men hold their pain internally and try to keep up a strong front. It might look like they don’t care, but inside they are probably very scared. I've certainly been this way at times.
3. We are afraid it’s our fault.
Just as women tend to do, the male partner fears that the pregnancy loss and infertility is all their fault.
After our six losses, I eventually took a test that suggested I might be the problem. When our doctor, a reproductive specialist, told us that it was time to think about a sperm donor, any ego I had was destroyed.
No man ever wants to hear that. I remember at one point telling my wife that she could leave me and that she deserved a man who could do his part to have kids.
4. We are uneducated about fertility.
Once, during this period, I was over at a friend's house. He was drinking and asked if I wanted a drink. I said no, because we were trying to have a child.
Having had a couple of losses by that point, we were trying everything we could to have a healthy pregnancy, including abstaining from alcohol. My friend looked at me and said, “Every weekend all over the world people go out, get drunk, have a one-night stand, end up pregnant, and have a kid.”
Of course, he was joking when he said this (although that surely isn’t something to joke about). But there's actually an important lesson in that story.
My friend, like most men, I suspect, didn’t know that drinking alcohol can be harmful to male fertility. I didn’t know any of this when we first started our pregnancy journey, either. In fact, six years into that journey I was still learning.
Even our doctor didn’t know everything. He told us to see a sperm donor, but we kept researching. We later learned, after taking a test measuring toxins, that I had high levels of phthalates, which are linked to reproductive issues. One of the ways we overcame our struggles was by getting rid of anything that contained phthalates.
But prior to learning about this, I had no idea what a phthalate even was, much less what to do about them. Just like my friend and his thoughts about the effects of alcohol on fertility, I would never have thought that the soaps, lotions, shampoos, and that we use every day could contribute to problems.
Overall, it seems like men tend to think things will simply work out. The reality is that we have to take control and make them work.
Infertility and pregnancy loss aren't solely a female issue. The female in the relationship might have to go through more of the pain, but that doesn't let the male partner off the hook.
We owe it to ourselves and to our partner to do everything we can in this process.