The male struggle
There is a lot of focus on women when we discuss IVF. This process is intrusive for the lady with egg collections, embryo transfers, scans, daily hormone injections and monitoring visits to the clinic with the gentleman in the partnership (where there is one of course) ‘just’ handing in his sample. The male struggle with IVF and infertility is an important factor for us to consider.
As I learn more about this process I feel that men are sadly often overlooked. However, they still go through the same emotional responses as women and are going through the same journey with their partner. Sometimes being an observer can actually be more difficult as they have little control over the process and can feel helpless.
He is more than a pot of semen
I mentioned ‘just’ handing in his sample above. For many men it must actually be really difficult to artificially perform under pressure to produce a sample, in a clinical room with a roll of paper on the chair, people walking past in corridors, rules to follow and a magazine. This is a lot of pressure and in the cases where the gentleman is unable to produce a sample, this can cause feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. Clinics do try and ensure rooms are ‘off the beaten track’ for privacy and are comfortable places and samples can be produced at home within a set time limit if needed but still – pressure!
He then has to hand it over. We all know how it feels when we have to hand over a urine or stool sample to the receptionist at the doctors, waiting in the queue trying to hide the pot, wanting the ground to swallow you up. How must it feel for a man to be escorted to a room, given a time limit and then told to hand over a pot of semen? Most people still giggle at the term ‘sperm’ and get embarrassed about it so this can’t be easy.
Many clinics are designed now to help with this and they have a hatch that the man can leave the sample in without having to see anyone but if there are issues he has to go and find someone. Once the sperm has been analysed, if there is an issue how will this make him feel? Remember men are different to women. They don’t talk about their emotions, they are the strong ones so to have an issue with their fertility is potentially a huge blow for them and their masculinity.
Then there are the practicalities. If you are having to pay for IVF it can be expensive and the man is part of sorting this out. In many cases he may be the one who deals with the money and is responsible for ensuring you can afford it. Lots more pressure.
Observation and helplessness
He then has to watch you inject yourself every day, or even help you in some cases, seeing you struggling, hormonal, upset, bruised but yet can’t do anything about it. Taking you to egg collection, looking after you when you recover, being there in the embryo transfer hoping beyond hope the process has worked. He avoids hot baths and tight undies, he watches his diet and reduces or eliminates alcohol to help the sperm quality.
He sits there during the two week wait, just like you. He looks at the stick with you and sees a big fat positive, or a big fat negative result. Celebrates with you or breaks his heart with you.
Men generally do not show their emotions and that can be difficult for everyone. You might think he’s fine because he looks fine and is being strong. You might think he doesn’t understand because he hasn’t got to inject himself, that he has it easy, that he doesn’t care as much as you but we have to remember he is human and his emotions are maybe being internalised.
Supporting the man in your life
Men going through the IVF process don’t need to be pushed to talk about their emotions but they need our compassion, empathy and understanding. We need to include them as much as possible so they don’t feel helpless and inadequate. You need to do things together to show you love him and to try, as much as possible, to have some time off the IVF topic where you can ‘forget’ and ‘be normal’.
He needs time with his friends, to play his games, do his hobbies, to exercise – whatever helps him to cope. Infertility can hit men harder than women as it is part of their masculinity, so the best thing any of us can do is to approach the process together with understanding, remove any temptations for blame or comments like ‘the problem is with him, not me’, this is unhelpful but we hear it a lot unfortunately. Ensure you schedule quality time together to do things that are fun and make you both smile and hopefully everyone will benefit.
To find out more practical tips to cope during the IVF process, see our other blog here.
Read this article from The Guardian about male infertility – ‘It tears every part of your life away’: the truth about male infertility.