My book is as relevant today as it was back in 1993 – sadly though some things have changed a lot has not changed – the sense of men being cut out of the whole process marginalised. I’ve done an earlier blog on my book, but wanted today to give some more detail on stories.
This book came out of my experience and wondering what men feel when they’re told they are infertile. There was plenty of material about women’s experiences but little on how men felt.
Twenty-two men talked to me about their experiences including how they reacted to a diagnosis of male infertility, how they coped, felt about fatherhood, trying to create a family, survival strategies, what support they had. The stories are all different but threads link them and here’s a flavour of some of them .
*Kevin (not his real name) told me how he had recurrent dreams of pushing his dead baby round in a pram. His sadness was palpable. But no other men talked about dreams in the context of their infertility.
*Standing on the sidelines looking on whilst their partner was treated for a problem which he considered was his not hers was a common thread. Feeling redundant and useless when she was going through IVF. One man exploded with anger guilt and frustration when he had to give his partner painful hormone injections – furious with himself for inflicting pain on her.
*I felt cheated life had handed out unfair cards to me but there was no sense of grief or loss. There was nothing specific I could get a handle on no child to cry over just this sense of unfairness. I felt impotent not in a sexual way but in a general way
*To start with I didn’t really have any feelings about the diagnosis but six months or so later I remember lying in bed saying I really wanted to be a Dad. Another man talked of a having a lump in his throat when he saw children in the playground.
*Another man recalled how he’d bottled up his own feelings during tests and treatment to support his partner through various assisted conception techniques. The treatment didn’t work so they decided to use donor sperm and were thrilled when she became pregnant. Later that day when his partner reached over to caress his face he suddenly started crying and crying. He felt as though he’d been missing that attention from her over the years in their quest for a baby.
* Knocked sideways by a diagnosis , some felt miserable and frustrated at work, sensing loss of control, only with hindsight did they realise how upset they’d been.
*Others felt in control, saw the diagnosis as a challenge to overcome, but other men felt isolated and alone, not wanting to join a support group or ring a helpline. Some decided to take up a project as a way of coping e.g. doing up the kitchen for instance.
*Bottling up feelings – some men felt they had to do this to be strong for the sake of their partner.
*The importance of parenting as opposed to fatherhood came up – John emphatically rejected the notion of genetic death nurture not nature was what counted. Another man said he hadn’t been bothered much about fatherhood he didn’t have much desire to pass on his genes. But when he was told he was infertile that all changed. I felt a sense of protest inside me because I felt I’d come to an evolutionary full stop. This was a philosophical thought he said not a gut feeling – but then he said his siblings who had children would carry on the family name but there’s nothing for me just emptiness.
*Not being able to pass on family characteristics saddened another man who had come from a family of two girls and one boy – he looked at this sister’s little boy and girl to see whether they had any of my father’s characteristics, he felt sad because in some way he wanted to reproduce him – then he looked at his feet which he considered horrid and then felt sad because nobody else would have them.
One of my parting thoughts then and still now was that ‘motherhood is almost thought to be a right for women at the present time and they are seen to be more deserving of support if this prospect is denied them. Men are marginal to the whole process of infertility investigations. Upbringing and social conditioning militate against men expressing their feelings of sadness. What most struck me from all the interviews was the sense of uselessness and guilt many men felt – his partner was undergoing invasive painful treatment because of him.
Note: it’s still the case today that gynaecologists dominate fertility treatment and much is still not known about male fertility. And men don’t know much about their fertility, how to protect it and make sure warning signs of problems are checked. They need to be properly investigated with a physical examination, semen samples and hormonal tests to get a proper diagnosis and see what options/treatments there are for his problem rather than jumping straight to IVF. An eminent urologist says that IVF is a solution not a treatment for male infertility , men need to be thoroughly checked out in order to get a proper diagnosis and they need to be treated with care and support.