Infertility impacts just about every area of a couple’s life; their work, their relationships with friends and family, their finances, their social life, their own relationship and their mental and emotional health. People will typically feel sorry for the woman who is undergoing multiple medical tests and treatments but often not think much about what her partner is going through. Infertility has multiple effects on men because despite his own concerns he often feels the need to be “strong” in support of his partner.
Typically a man wants to be able to “fix” any challenges they may encounter in their life. He has a primal desire to protect and make things better for his woman; This is innate. Infertility is, of course, not something he can fix and it can leave him feeling weak and “less than”.
Assisted Reproductive Technology treatments are expensive and can run into thousands of pounds. Figures released in recent months by Fertility Fairness (previously the National Infertility Awareness Campaign) highlight the postcode lottery that exists for people seeking IVF treatment on the NHS in the UK and the cuts to funding in most areas in recent years. Almost all the local clinical commissioning groups in the UK now fail to comply with NICE (National Institute for Health Care Excellence) recommendations and some are not funding IVF at all.
The alternative is private treatment. People have been known to sell their homes, or accumulate huge debt in their quest for a baby. Financial concerns can cause a great deal of worry for a man and the couple could disagree on how much debt they are willing to accrue for treatment which is not guaranteed to be successful. He suffers inner turmoil; he wants them to have a family but is also fearful of what it will cost them.
A man may also feel inept in his struggle to cope with his partner’s emotions, which may seem like a roller coaster. In the early stages of trying to conceive she will move from hope to despair as she has yet another period. Each month he comforts her, supports her , tells her that he loves her no matter what and assures her that it will happen. Then, if she has invasive tests and treatments this will further make her anxious, depressed and generally unhappy.
Throughout all of this whatever he is feeling, whether he is sad, disappointed, depressed, hopeless or weak he tries to be strong and positive for her; He keeps his feelings inside and puts on a mask. He may also feel lonely and long for the time when they used to have sex just because they desired it. Long gone are those days. If they are undergoing IVF treatment some couples will stop having sex because they feel “what’s the point, it doesn’t work”. They feel that their body has let them down and often stop trying to conceive naturally. All the joy, fun and tenderness of lovemaking have long gone. However much he misses it he may keep quiet, withdraw or become angry. This may also affect his libido and he struggles to perform on demand.
He may feel that he isn’t enough anymore to make her happy and that their future happiness is dependent on having children. People struggling with infertility often lose that sense of “coupledom”. They have forgotten how just being together was enough, when nothing else mattered as long as they had each other. The desire to conceive a child is all-consuming and takes over everything else in their lives.
If their infertility struggle is attributed to him he may feel guilt and shame. He may have issues about using donated sperm; He really wants her to be happy but he is unsure about them having a baby that isn’t biologically his.
Infertility is a dark and lonely place for everyone. Women typically share how they feel with their girlfriends but men generally don’t share their feelings. Bring a group of men together and they will talk about work and sport, not how they feel. Even if a man were to share his own specific fertility issue with friends he opens himself up to ridicule in some cases. One man reported that his “friend” offered to do the deed himself. Needless to say he is no longer a friend.
A Support Group provides an environment of safety and acceptance where couples and individuals can share their experiences. The simple act of coming together can feel as though a huge weight has been lifted from the shoulders of those struggling with infertility; and it provides an opportunity for couples to drop the mask, to share their feelings, communicate better and have greater understanding of each other.
There is a huge lack of awareness and understanding of the emotional impact by anyone who hasn’t struggled with infertility, and the only people who can truly empathise are those who have experienced the struggle themselves.
Alice Domar PhD. Leading expert in mind/body medicine says “We know from research that support groups can help people with just about any health problem to feel better”. Learn more about my support group in Swindon or find a support group in your aea. For more information about male infertility and some useful resources go to male infertility website Mensfe here
Visit this page for information about how hypnosis and other mind/body approaches can reduce the negative effects of infertility and learn more about the Fertile Body Method can improve the success rates of natural conception and assisted reproduction techniques such as IVF.