Infertility has long been identified as a female issue, what is lesser known is that in couples diagnosed with infertility, 1/3 of cases identify a male factor. The CDC estimates that 35% of couples with infertility have both a male and female component contributing to the inability to conceive. So why do we still see infertility touted as a female issue?
June is Men’s Health Month, a time to raise awareness about the unique health concerns that men face. We took this opportunity to get more specific on male factor infertility. What do the men of the infertility world have to say? We spoke with a few of our social media followers and found some common themes: denial, societal pressures from friends and family, trying to find their role, and lack of support from other men.
One common theme we heard was men were in denial that they could be part of the struggle. Looking for an “easy” answer, internet research often leading couples to believe it has to be the age of the female partner and how her eggs will perform. An assumption that the biological clock only applied to women. It took time for them to come around to the idea that this wasn’t just on their female partner, but men too contribute to the inability to conceive with their own male factor.
“Everyone thinks it’s going to be easy, you have a plan to start your family, and then that plan doesn’t always pan out.”
Our followers found they became more attune and sensitive to asking those questions of others about starting a family. They spoke of attempting to maintain some sort of privacy with friends and family, choosing how much or how little to disclose about their journey.
“When a guy is sitting by himself in the waiting room of a fertility clinic, everyone knows what he is there for. What was once an intimate piece of you and your spouse’s relationship, now seems clinical and routine.”
Role as the Male Partner:
Each guy we spoke with mentioned they tried doing everything in their control to help their sperm parameters: decrease alcohol and caffeine, exercise more, eat better, take recommended supplements, etc.
The reality of infertility is, even if it was solely a male factor issue, even if the male partner does each of those things perfectly, the female partner often still carries a large burden of the workload.
One of our followers described it this way,
“Every month we didn’t get pregnant, it was like placing a heavy rock into her backpack.”
Eventually, after starting fertility treatments, those weights were slowly lifted, he could see his partner was able to shed her backpack, and they were able to move forward together. He mentioned helping to carry some of that weight, remove a rock or two. One of those major rocks? Medications.
Couples described handling their medications differently. For some, the male partner became the “injector”. For others the opposite was true-
“I called every pharmacy to get medication pricing, I kept the inventory to make sure we didn’t run out, I was using Google and YouTube videos to walk through how to mix the medications, attach the needles, and get everything ready to go so my spouse could then inject herself.”
All of this, before heading out the door to work for the day. A reminder, the rest of the world doesn’t stop to accommodate for infertility.
Men are an important part of the baby equation and their perspective matters. Yet unfortunately, there is a gap in the support for male infertility. A simple Facebook or Instagram search for male factor infertility yields pages with women as the administrators, support groups for the female partners with male factor infertility diagnoses. This begs the question, do men not want to share their perspective, or is there no place for them to do so? Some final words of advice and encouragement from those who have weathered the storm:
“It’s okay to be vulnerable. If there had been a support group for male partners, I would have been open to it. Even a virtual chat option would be a good way to just ask others about their experiences, to learn more about what to ask.”
“We tried to be as positive as we could throughout the process and we could see there was a light at the end of the tunnel.”
“This is a very anxiety ridden process, and it’s important to be patient. You go into starting a family thinking, ‘This should be easy’.”
“Our ultimate goal was the same, to have a healthy baby. Staying focused on that goal, allowed us to weather the tough times.”
*Thank you to those who anonymously shared their struggles, their achievements, and advice for this post*