It is sometimes suggested that men are less emotionally affected by infertility than women – as if having a family is something that is more important to women than men. While it is true that all of the women we spoke to had very much wanted to have a child, this also applied to many of the men.
Martin said that he battled with his emotions – he very much wanted to have children and was disappointed that he could not make it right. “I battled with my own emotional elements for the want of a family and the disappointment…”.
George was surprised that he “burst into tears” when he found out there was a problem with his sperm. He already had two grown up daughters and was shocked when he started to feel very bothered about his difficulties having a baby with his new wife.
George is an engineer. He is married to his second wife, Gemma (Interview 14) and lives in Scotland. Ethnic background' White Scottish.
As I said it is something that really never ever bothered me, and even when we started the IVF treatment or [wife] should I say started going to the clinic. I mean it didn’t bother me really at all. I just thought well [wife] has got this problem polycystic ovaries and it will happen sometime. So I never really thought about it. I thought, being a man, it is there, but you don’t think about it too much but then I think really it affected me was when… I know it might sound a bit, oh what do you call it, it may sound a bit self centred or something but when the sperm, my sperm test came back really, really poor, and it was about two or three days after that it really hit me. And I was just going to work one day and I just burst out into tears. It was crazy. Because I thought why am I feeling like this? You know, I should be thinking about computers or repairing cars or what I am doing at work. And all of a sudden there was this baby thing. This baby issue that came over me and it really, I thought I must be turning into a woman or something, because it really, it really did affect me, and that was quite a shock. I have never experienced that before.
And because I have got two daughters and done my man thing in life. I thought well, you know, it is just something… it really was unexpected when that happened.
Women were sometimes very conscious that it would be a huge disappointment to their partner if he did not become a father. Maggie explained that her husband loves children and Sarah said that she and all her friends thought her husband would be a perfect dad. Lulu said that they both found it very sad and difficult to be going through infertility treatment.
Several of the people we spoke to felt that women and men either coped differently with infertility, or wondered if they just expressed their feelings differently. This could cause problems. Men sometimes concluded that their partners needed them to be strong and supportive and tried to hide how terribly upset and anxious they were themselves. Clare felt her husband reacted very differently to their miscarriage and for a while she felt that he didn’t care as much as she did. She later came to realise that he was just dealing with their loss in a different way.
Marine is a researcher, married to Oliver (Interview 40) with one daughter. Ethnic background' Norwegian.
I suppose this was towards, like after about a year and a half of it I started to, because [husband] was getting. I found it really hard in the beginning and then I got better and better at it, because then I thought okay I’m seeing the end of it now. Whereas [husband] was very hopeful in the beginning so he found it harder and harder, the more attempts, so yes.'p>
I remember the last failed attempt, it was like ringing up, oh it didn’t work out, oh okay, so we hugged and cried a bit and then I was like, “Okay now I’m going to sing and dance.” And I just felt a spurt of energy and this relief in a way that at least I wasn’t just waiting any more. And I was really high [laughs]. Which is so bizarre and [husband] was really down and he found it even harder, because I was so up about. I wasn’t up about it, I just could not be depressed any more. I just had to get on with things. And so I remember going out and buying loads of sweets and sort of treating him as though he had a flu on the sofa with nice films. Yes. Yes [laughs].'p>
Carol thought that women tend to talk about their problems, but men, “Definitely don’t have a release and I think that’s a shame”. Olivia, who had spent several years running workshops for donor parents, said she felt that men and women do tend to approach things differently. While women feel the need to connect, men (on the whole) want to “ponder things internally”.
Olivia is manager of an infertility support group, and married to Walter (Interview 39). They have three grown up children. Ethnic background' White British.
Well, I do think that men and women approach things differently, largely from a need to connect or a need, not necessarily to connect. Women do seem to have this need to talk with others about issues that are problems that are happening in their lives. They open up to girlfriends and their mothers and their sisters in a way that a man would find completely unnecessary.
Men’s tendency does seem to be, on the whole, and I hate making broad generalisations because there are always exceptions, but on the whole, to want to ponder things internally and/or do absolutely in depth research on the internet. They want to fix it. So they either put things in a box and don’t want to talk about it, and would rather forget about it for the time being, thank you very much. Or they have got to fix it, by finding out how you do it. And they will be the ones to do the in depth internet research.
Sometimes it’s the women who do the in depth research and then inform their partners. I wish, that men would take a more active role and sometimes it’s very clear that they are being led by their women and in a wish to lead a quiet life, thank you very much. They will go along with what their partners say. And it’s often not good for them, because they need to be able to indicate in some way or other what they are really feeling about it. And that may not be by being able to go and see a counsellor or even sit down and talk to with their partner, but may be by, by, I don’t know, by writing, doing a blog. I mean some way for them to be able to get out what their real perspective on it, on it is. So that they are genuine partners in the decision making. And I think very often they are not.
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Belinda is an intensive care nurse, living with her husband. Ethnic background' White British.
He is very laid back and he tends to cope with things in his own little way and he doesn’t tend to talk about things much, but that is the way he is and that is the way that he handles things, whereas I much prefer to talk about things and I find like one web site is really, really good and I have met quite a few people through it. I have found it helpful talking to other women in my situation. Because it does feel really lonely otherwise. You feel like you are the only person going through it and knowing that there is other people who are like having exactly the same feelings as you, really does help. And a couple of them, we meet on a regular basis because we live nearby, so that is quite nice.
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Steve is a lecturer, married to Janine (Interview 33). They have two adopted sons. Ethnic background' White British.
I think you have to. Be able to communicate about it. And probably men have to be prepared for their partners to want to know more about how their feeling and their partners need to know that. We’re blokes, we don’t do feelings so it’s not a lack of engagement with the process or anything if its [not] one of reticence, it’s just that we don’t think about these things in the same way.
Tim felt that he suppressed a lot of his feelings, as he was focused on trying to support his wife. But this could be a difficult juggling act, trying to get the balance right.
Tim is an engineer, married to Carol (08). Ethnic background' White British.
I think my wife has coped very well considering what they go through. Again as I say my participation, I am not getting the hormones. I am not getting the drugs, all I have got to put up with the moods or the illnesses, the support side of it, the tears, that is what I have got to deal with. And I think just being a shoulder to cry on a lot of times is, I mean I could probably be a lot more supportive, but I am not, again the way I am, which to be honest, I mean she wouldn’t want a blubbering wreck sat next to her if she was like sort of crying anyway, I don’t think, so probably I suppose there is a balancing act somewhere. You don’t want someone who is completely a cold fish and you don’t want someone who is like as emotional as you are under the hormone treatment.
But yes, I think we cope a lot better then a lot of people do. There are friends we have spoken to that have been through it all, colleagues that we have spoken to have been through the same sort of treatment and they are continually bickering and like can’t do more than one treatment a year, because you know, the emotional stress of it all and it is like, it is the end of the world, and to me they seem to go totally over the top. But I think we cope a hell of a lot better than that.
Some of the men (and women) we talked to thought that having a child was less important for them than for their partners. Steve said that he had been ambivalent about whether he wanted children and James said that a possible benefit of having been through fertility treatment was that he had a bit more time to prepare himself for the prospect of being a father. Another said that it was just as well that he did not feel as desperate about having children as his wife did, otherwise he might have decided to leave her and have children with someone else.
However it was clear that men often felt the pain, disappointment, guilt and grief associated with infertility. Brian found it, “Horrendous, absolutely horrendous” and couldn’t believe how emotionally draining it was not to be able to have a child without medical intervention. “I mean we used to have tears on our way in, tears on our way out – heartbreaking”. Although he said that he had a “more clinical” approach to the treatment than his wife he was not sure this was a good thing. He described it as a “kick in the teeth” when the treatment did not work. He and his wife went together for counseling.
Brian is a manager in a local council and is married to Michelle (Interview 21). Ethnic background' White British.
I went to the doctor’s and he said, ‘Oh we’ve got your sperm test results back’ and he said, ‘They’re all fine, so many million whatever. No problem at all. We’ll wait and see what comes back for [wife].’ And I found out when we went to the private hospital afterwards that these two or three tests I’d had, he totally misread the counts on the, and it had been, the majority of the problem had been me all the time. Which was horrible because [wife] had been through so many other horrible tests. And for a woman it’s much, much worse than it is for a man, obviously. You know. She actually had a test done which gave her a horrible womb infection. She was in so much pain. I felt so guilty for that afterwards. And again blaming myself for it.
And what was it like when you actually heard that there was a problem with your sperm?
Complete kick in the teeth I think. You know, it’s, it’s as I said before you’re born into thinking, you know, you’re here on this earth to do what you do and you have children and you pass on your name. You pass on your bloodline and all that rubbish really. But it’s just that because it’s, it’s, no one ever says to you, but it might not happen. And when someone says to you, ‘Actually because of your sperm count and whatever you’ve got you’ve got a 3% chance of actually having natural, a natural birth. What do you think? You know you think, well you know, I thought wonderful, great. It’s not going to happen. We’re not going to have kids it’s the first thing I thought was [wife] wants kids. It’s a big thing she wants and I know she loves me but should we then be together. I started thinking, you know, should, should we split up. Should I make her not love me anymore so she can be with someone and have children. I think anyone would do. That’s a bit drastic, I know sounds a bit dramatic.