There are several things people “know” right off the bat when it comes to family planning, conception, and infertility.
- It’s a women’s issue, certainly not for men to discuss
- Infertility is all about the woman
- Men are along for the ride – when the woman wants a child, the couple wants a child
- Adopting is apparently the same thing as a “normal” or “natural” child
At the beginning of a relationship there is always a process. First you date. Move in together. Get married. Then you have kids. In that order. When you are dating, the natural question at weddings is “you’re next, when are you putting a ring on it?” from some nosey person. Chill, bro. Don’t try to press me. Then at your wedding or a baby shower or really whenever someone wants to know about your sex life, they ask “when are you finally going to have a baby?” incessantly. I always wanted to ask if they were having unprotected intercourse. But I digress.
The First Steps
The first thing you hear all the time is the whole not trying, but not trying not to routine. Really, I think it’s just something us guys say because we don’t want to look too eager to get into the parenting thing. Especially for younger couples, it’s easier to say that than to hear “you have your whole life” when you say you want kids now. But let’s face it, you want kids and you really are giving it the old college try.
Mood: Great. Sex all the time, no more worrying about birth control or any of that business. Just… fun.
Should It Take This Long?
I was told basically from birth that “If you have sex, you will get her pregnant.” You totally expect it’ll be quick! Two, maybe three months at most? You spend your whole young life trying to avoid pregnancy like the plague. Surely it’ll be happening soon. Like, really soon. Let’s give it a few months. What people don’t commonly know is that your odds of conception are only 20-25% each month for the healthiest of people.
Mood: Still pretty good. Because, sex, you know? But maybe we should try something different
Ok – Really, Let’s ACTUALLY Start Trying
This is where the research comes in. Basal body temps, special lubrication, eating healthier, cutting booze, monitoring cycles, etc. The list goes on. We’re coming up on 7-8 months of not trying, let’s actually put a plan in place. We’re smart people, we can handle this.
Mood: Well, this is slightly annoying. Still, sex. But now it’s planned. And that’s not so exciting.
Infertility – The Dreaded Word
We’re up on 12 months of trying, which is “infertility” by the medical definition. Trying naturally for 12 months without achieving pregnancy is when you have an official diagnosis of infertility. We already knew it was headed that way, but it still sucks going to the Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE) for the first time. For Brittany, it was her feeling like a failure. This goes back to the beginning rule: infertility is a women’s issue.
For us guys, our experience is much different than the woman’s experience at the doctor. Doctors, nurses, insurance people, etc. all try their best to include then males, but at clinics, the woman is the patient. The woman gets the tests. She has to talk to insurance because the husband isn’t a patient. But we are! Our infertility hasn’t been diagnosed by any means. 33% of all fertility related issues are male factor, 33% are female factor, and 33% are a combination of male/female factor infertility. For me, that was the most frustrating part. Not being talked to as a patient but as the support. I could be there or not, they’d just need my sample a dozen times or so.
Mood: This is such crap. But we just took steps that will surely put things back on track. We’re taking charge, here. Bringing in the experts. As the guy, I might be ignored a bit, but it’s worth it. Also, if you ever posted a baby picture on Facebook, I hated you and probably hid you from my timeline. You’ve since been re-added and I’ve caught up on your awesome journey through parenthood.
On to the Treatments!
Monitoring. Blood tests. Shots. Lots and lots of shots. Have you ever been jealous of someone getting a shot or blood drawn or anything? It’s a very strange experience. If I could have taken my wife’s place as a human pin cushion, I would have. No doubt. It started out gradually with just oral medication and ultrasounds, but then we got into blood tests and a trigger shot (to induce ovulation). And after that, stimulating hormone shots.
Mood: Ok, for real. I am here. Maybe talk to me a bit?
At the end, in all she was taking 3-4 shots per day with the biggest one of them being administered by yours truly. (Total side note: I got to be a damn fine shot giver. Like, so good.) Me doing the shots, in a way, got me more involved in the process. I was less resentful of the whole thing because I actually felt like I had a role in creating my child. But that wasn’t until basically year four of our infertility journey. Years two and three were super shitty. One failed procedure after another, a cancelled IVF cycle, a break to switch clinics, etc. It wears on you!
Mood: Our second cycle of IVF was actually a great experience from my perspective. We switched clinics (and got basically the best IVF nurse you could get), so that was a big thing. It was tough on Brittany to be sure, but it was almost like I had a role. A purpose. And everything she was doing wasn’t going to be a complete waste of time and money.
Looking Back at the Whole Infertility Experience
Obviously, I wouldn’t take it back. I have a daughter on the way and we have more than a few embryos waiting for us when we are ready to continue on. Our experience (like every other experience with infertility) was unique, so in that way we’re like everyone else. If that makes any sense. Gosh, it sure was terrible at times. And other times it was just laughable. Let’s just say that our dignity took a hit between collecting samples and a million ultrasounds. There’s nothing quite like handing someone that sample cup at the end of your session. It’s something, to be sure.
There’s still a ton of stigma associated with infertility – and that’s the reason I am writing this today. In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, here are my takeaways:
Yes, men can and do want families just as bad as their wives. And for the record, I am not disappointed by having a daughter as I’ve been asked multiple times. I can’t wait to be surrounded by pink and princesses and Disney.
Yes, the woman is the patient. But I am still a willing and necessary part of the equation. Especially given that we are fighting unexplained infertility.
Yes, we could have adopted. And no, it wouldn’t have been the same thing. We considered it. Still could do it in the future if our next treatments don’t work. But to the next person who asks “Why didn’t you just adopt?”, I am going to sharply reply, “Why didn’t you?”
Yes, we will certainly have leftover embryos. Yes, some of them will be donated to future research. Yes, we will try to have some donated to couples in need. No, I don’t need to hear how you think it’s wrong we created excess life.
So, there you have it. We hope NIAW can let people talk more openly about their fertility. Some studies suggest that an infertility diagnosis has a similar psychological impact as a cancer diagnosis – and no one should have to go through that alone.