In Search of Fatherhood: A Male's Experience of Infertility
When it comes to challenges around getting (and staying) pregnant, so often the focus and support is geared toward the woman. There are an abundance of support groups, books, and resources to help women overcome the challenging feelings that accompany unsuccessfully becoming pregnant.
But, as we all know, it takes two to make a baby, and rarely is the support and attention channeled toward men during periods of infertility.
In this post, we’ll explore what men go through during infertility with their partners, and offer some recommendations on how men can better cope alongside their partner during this challenging time.
Playing the Supportive Role
First off, supporting a woman who is experiencing infertility is not an easy role. Women are hormonal, emotional, and can even suffer from depression and anxiety during these times. They often feel inadequate, put tremendous pressure on themselves and their bodies and are likely blaming themselves for the inability to get pregnant. They may fear that not having a baby with their partner will be detrimental to the long-term potential of their relationship overall. Likely, they experience the full spectrum of emotions on any given day, from fear to anger to sadness and insecurity.
Men inherently want to fix problems, and this is one that likely can’t be fixed by a partner. Therefore, men can feel helpless in times of infertility, or even miscarriage. However, being supportive, emotionally consistent, and simply listening - even when your partner’s feelings sound irrational - without trying to fix anything, can go a long way in easing your partner’s high-intensity emotions related to fertility and pregnancy.
Likely, you’ve turned the blame on yourself in order to reduce some of the pressure on your partner. You may be convinced that it’s you preventing a healthy pregnancy, even without testing to verify this. You may be feeling inadequate and on some primal level you fear this means you are less of a man, that it threatens your masculinity, especially if you are needing to use donor sperm. You may even feel responsible for your partner’s sadness around infertility and that you would do anything you could to fix it.
The truth is that the inability to get pregnant is a very complex situation that will likely involve dozens of specialists to solve. Recognize that pregnancy is complicated and there are endless reasons why it might not be happening easily for you and your partner. In fact, even if you do get pregnant, sometimes the root cause of infertility isn’t clear. So, instead of blaming yourself and believing you alone can fix the situation, practice self-love and self-care along with your partner. Connect with other men who have been through infertility to feel validated and supported in your experience. While the timeline is different for each partner, working towards acceptance of the unknown and of the losses associated with the fertility journey can help you come to terms with it.
Most men didn’t grow up with the advice to “wear their heart on their sleeve”. As a society, men were taught in the past not to cry or show vulnerability. This is a learned behavior (that society reinforces), likely stemming from many generations of men going to battle or war, which required them to be confident and almost stoic.
When it comes to the ups and downs of infertility, give yourself permission to feel, and talk about those emotions. You might feel sad, uncertain, inadequate or even angry. You might feel uncertain or lost without a clear road to fatherhood in front of you. Be willing to experience this full range of emotions and discuss them with your partner, despite the reluctance you might have around doing this. It’s by naming your emotions and owning them that you can move through them, without spinning up a story about them and/or stuffing them.
Partners Can Feel Differently
Leave space for the possibility that you and your partner may experience your fertility journey very differently. One of you may struggle in the beginning with early losses, while the other rallies on with hope, eventually feeling fatigued by the ongoing stress on your relationship, finances, and health. One partner might think more logically about decisions and results, while the other might think more emotionally. One of you might feel more sadness, while the other feels hopeful. One of you might need to spend the weekend in bed zoning out to Marvel movies, while the other might need to throw themselves into a daily yoga practice or going out with friends. Know that it’s okay to feel differently, at different times, and to express your feelings in different ways. Have compassion for yourself and your partner and recognize that you may feel and heal differently.
At Center for Shared Insight, we have a team of therapists in Denver, Colorado who specialize in working with infertility, miscarriage and overall maternal health. With the support of a professional, you can often give voice to your emotions around infertility and work to overcome them. You can also deepen the relationship with your partner as you experience challenges together. A therapist can provide tools and perspective as you move through the journey of infertility. We offer a free consultation with a staff member to get started. Schedule yours today.