A study shows that men may feel more depressed, angrier or sadder than their own partners about not having children
Even today, there is sometimes an idea that fertility problems are “women’s issues”. We may know that around a third of fertility problems are caused by male issues, but there’s still an overwhelming focus on the female perspective on fertility in the media and online, and fertility information and support is often aimed at women too.
Fertility problems affect both partners in a couple, but men and women may deal with their emotions very differently when they are going through tests and treatment. Women often feel more able to talk about fertility problems; they may cry with a close friend, talk openly to a fertility counsellor or chat to online acquaintances, but men tend not to be as open about their feelings. If you log on to any Internet fertility forum, you will find endless threads where women are busily discussing their treatment with one another, but if there is a male section it is rarely as well used.
Putting on a brave face
Some men do feel that they need to be a tower of strength when faced with any adversity, fertility problems included. Seeing a female partner or wife desperately upset can be hard to deal with, and men are sometimes reluctant to “give in” to their emotions if they feel the need to protect their partners. Trying to put on a tough front during fertility tests and treatment isn’t always easy, and men may be experiencing just the same emotional turmoil as their female partners underneath the surface.
Sometimes a woman may conclude that her male partner doesn’t feel as distressed by their fertility problems as she does if he isn’t showing his emotions, but this isn’t necessarily the case. One study in the UK found that although there is often more pressure on women to have children, men can feel more isolated, depressed, angry and sad than their female counterparts about childlessness.
Feeling it’s all your fault
Men’s feelings can be particularly acute when there’s a male factor problem and there can be a stigma around male infertility – although there certainly shouldn’t be. If a couple are having fertility treatment, whether it’s IVF, ICSI or donor treatment, there can be a sense of guilt about the fact that although it’s a male factor problem, it’s the woman who has to go through most of the treatment. Men can feel dreadful about this, and that in itself can be one reason why they clam up rather than talking about it. They may also feel guilty about the fact that they feel that their partner might have been able to get pregnant easily with someone else.
It’s really important to remember that a fertility problem isn’t anyone’s “fault” – it’s a medical condition just like any other and not something that either of you should feel responsible for. If you are trying to have a baby as a couple, you are in this together and there should be no blame or guilt regardless of where the difficulty lies.
Communication is the key
The best way to get through the challenges fertility problems and treatments pose is to do it together, and for that to work it is essential that you keep talking to one another. If you are able to be honest and open about your feelings and emotions it can make all the difference. Accepting that you may deal with things differently is just part of that; going through fertility treatment doesn’t always have to have a detrimental effect on your relationship, but can actually leave you with a closer bond.
Writer and journalist
Kate Brian is a journalist, writer and author of four books on motherhood and fertility, including The Complete Guide to IVF. Kate started writing about the patient perspective on infertility after having IVF herself.
Currently, she contributes to various types of media as an expert on fertility and writes her own blog, where she gives all the latest news and views on fertility issues, as well as useful advice and links for anyone trying to have a baby.
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