Monday, May 10, 2010

Taking It Like a Man: Coping With MFI

MFI was one of the many issues that was preventing us from having children. Unlike what I expected, DH handled it rather well. Sure his ego was bruised and he experienced lots of conflicting emotions (especially when I brought up using donor sperm), but he made it clear that we were partners on this journey and that he will do what ever he can to make it happen for us. He made some dietary and lifestyle changes (no laptops on the lap, lots of multi-vitamins designed to help sperm production and quality). Most importantly, he showed-up; he was always by my side, he changed his meetings around in order to take care of me post egg retrieval, heck, he even came out to Denver with me so that I wasn't alone during that cycle. I asked him to briefly share what the experience was like through his eyes and what advice he had for other men. You can read his thoughts below. 

I realize that not all partners are going to be as resilient in the face of this news, so here are a few suggestions on how to help him cope (and keep your sanity): First, give him some space and don't nag. Men, as we well know, are not the most communicative creatures. They need to internalize things first, and that process takes a while. His silence should not prevent you from doing your own research and feeling pro-active. I certainly was the researcher in our case and when DH was ready, I would share with him everything I found out that day. I promise you that he will eventually be more apt to talk about it, but I guarantee you that he will shut down even more if you nag him. When he is finally ready to talk, share with him some of the options that are out there, along with blogs written by other men who are also experiencing MFI. He might say he doesn't have time, but I promise you that he will check them out when he's ready.

Secondly, when he is finally ready to talk, remember what you want to hear from people when you share with them your journey through infertility; you want to be heard, you want to feel comforted and the slightest callous comment is like a dagger through your heart. Well, behind that tough exterior, your partner feels exactly the same way, so while you might have to initiate the conversation, let him take it from there and air-out his frustration and insecurities. Also, consider seeing a therapist together. Sometimes, it helps to have a third-party facilitate -- a therapist's office is neutral ground and a place where you can truly listen to each other. RESOLVE offers a list of mental health professionals, which I encourage you to check out, even if you end up going by yourself to better communicate with your partner about his infertility issues. 

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, remember why you wanted this baby in the first place: you are happily married or in a loving relationship with your partner and you want to create a family TOGETHER. Sure you could get knocked up faster alone, using the sperm of a medical student who likes rock climbing and plays the piano, but this 23 year old is not going to be there for you when you're overwhelmed by parenthood. Again, it's about togetherness. So make a conscious effort to make time to stay connected. Go out to a romantic dinner (and don't talk about infertility!), meet for drinks after work, and make sure you remain physically connected. Having gone through the period of sex-on-demand, it's hard to reconnect sexually and leave the heavy baggage of infertility at the door. Especially if you're dealing with MFI, your partner may be feeling inadequate or "less of a man," if you will. It is partly your responsibility to show him that you still desire him and that you love him just as much as you did before you found out about his infertility. So, time to buy some lingerie and make reservations somewhere nice!

MFI is hard on everyone, but especially on your partner, so become his rock and let him lean on you. 


Typically infertility is seen as a woman’s burden to bear, but if your experience is/was anything like mine, it’s plenty hard on men too. Sure, we’re not the ones with the burning maternal instincts. Nor are we the ones having needles shoved into every square inch of our bodies and begin to look like a bruised pincushion. We are, however, often times the ones who have to shove those needles in there. A task I personally found horrific, shoving a metal spike into my soul mate’s flesh EVERY day and watching her wince in pain, all because she wanted that baby so badly -- not fun.

But that’s almost the easy part compared to the coping and humiliation. Coping with the fact that the one thing your wife wants more than anything else in the world (including you) is a baby and you can’t seem to give that to her. The guilt and the pressure that swells inside of you borders on hate. You hate your wife for adding pressure (as if you needed any more), you hate the situation and most of all you hate yourself. This penis of yours that used to give you so much pleasure is now the bane of your existence.

Soon you’ll start jacking off into cups for analysis and popping pills to improve your “quality." Whatever the case, you will do what is necessary because all you want is for this to go away so you can get back to that life you both had intended on living.

Then, somewhere along the way, you lose yourself, forgetting that you are going through something too, and that your wife isn’t the only one who is suffering. But we are men, right? We’re supposed to be strong and fix everything and make this all better. But when you are this lost, how do you find your way back? Sad to say, but you have to put all of that on the backburner and go after this baby like it is the single most important thing in your life (because it should be). Literally everything hangs in the balance: your self-esteem, your focus, your marriage and your future. And I promise that if you do this, resolution will come. For some it may come as a successful IVF cycle or an adoption. While others may turn to donor sperm or living life as a couple, but as long as you have given all of yourself, leaving no stone unturned, you can look back and say, “I made this happen” and not “This happened to me.”

That’s what I did. At one point I literally took a month off of work and moved to Denver with my wife and dog so that we could go to the best IVF clinic on the planet. It even cost us tens of thousands of dollars of our own money, but one look at my son and it was worth everything. I never look back. And the best part is, I also feel like my marriage is infinitely stronger, because I showed her what I was willing to do for “us.”

Signed, Mr. Infertility Doula a.k.a. DH.


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