In our confessional culture there is one thing that is rarely spoken about – male infertility.
Almost 8 million couples in America alone suffer from infertility. In an estimated third of all infertile couples the problem will lie with the man, but if you surf the net and visit forums you’d be forgiven for thinking that infertility was a female only medical condition. Thousands of women are writing about the problems but almost no men. Fertility is so tied up with our ideas of masculinity and virility that most men refuse to talk about infertility for the shame and embarrassment it will engender.
Male infertility is one of the last great taboos. And I can understand why. When my wife and I were struggling to make a baby I also found it hard to vocalize my feelings. My failure at fatherhood ate away at my very being and made me feel less of a man. Friends later told me that my body was physically hunched from the emotional weight of my baby wait. I didn’t want to talk about it to anyone and certainly not mates. I would walk past children playing in the park and I’d feel my heart breaking into tiny pieces. Consumed by Buggaboo envy I’d see couples pushing their baby strollers and want to punch them in the face. I would oscillate wildly between anger and depression. After learning a friend of ours was pregnant I didn’t leave my bedroom for two days.
Last month a close friend of ours announced that they were about to have a baby. Later that night over a few glasses of wine the husband admitted they had gone through IVF 5 times. And furthermore his sperm was at fault. Only now that a baby was on the way did he feel he could open up about their ordeal. During the whole traumatic journey he had spoken to no one. He said he felt too full of shame and guilt.
I know how he felt. I am ashamed to admit that when my wife and I both had our fertility tests I sat in the doctor’s room waiting for the results silently praying that my sperm would not be judged to be ineffective and that instead it would be my wife’s eggs at fault.
I know of another couple where the wife told everyone the problems was with her eggs, when in fact it was her husband’s low sperm count, to shield him from the embarrassment. It’s telling that while female celebrities have spoken openly about their struggles to conceive I can’t think of one male celebrity that has admitted to a low sperm count. Like Chlamydia, men with infertility problems are everywhere. Lost and isolated blokes who would rather chew off their own arms than discuss the number, motility and quality of their sperm.
One of the consequences of this male silence is that, despite men and women being equally responsible, infertility is still seen primarily as a woman’s problem and most of the research and resources is focused on them.
I urge men to speak out and be open about their infertility struggles. I realise now that there is no shame associated with it. Being a father and being man is not defined by the potency of our white stuff.
I hope my novel will give more men the strength to speak out. And also for women going through IVF to realise that despite their partner’s outward appearance of strength and detachment, there is a man next to them who is just as emotionally invested as they are.