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The Silence And Stigma Of Men’s Fertility: Part Deux

Here is James’ story, part deux. Launching on 9th Jan, Let It All Hang Out is an initiative that aims to break the silence surrounding male fertility…

(Click here to read Part One)

We thought carefully and went for a second IVF round. There was no explanation for an embryo not implanting, but we thought it would be worth another go.

Over July and August 2013, Davina did it all again. I did my bit. We visited the clinic. The injections, breaking, measuring, disposing, checking. And hoping. And getting the news. That it didn’t work. Again.

I remember really really really thinking it would. And finding out it didn’t: Numbness.

We had a follow-up meeting with the head of the clinic. Davina could barely sit in the room. I had set aside feelings to listen as the woman spoke of ‘unexplained fertility’ and ‘difficulties knowing why’ and ‘understanding it must be hard’ and other nice things they’re trained/ expected/ wanting to say.

I then remember being at home and eating a tub of Ben and Jerry’s in about half an hour.

As we started to communicate with those close to us, both Davina and I realised there was only so far we could go by ourselves. Counselling was the next step – recommended to me by Lyndsey (my sister) amongst others. So we did. Davina’s workplace was enlightened enough to offer counselling services, and I took advantage of the free session the clinic offered.

It was useful to be able to examine what I was thinking, how I was feeling and what I was doing. It was less about finding answers and more about asking decent questions to open something up.

I also found limited support on web forums. Fertility Friends and the Infertility Network were two I discovered, and they did make me feel less isolated, however I’ve only posted on there two or three times.

I wrote something describing my situation, requesting a male viewpoint. What I got was ‘I’m not a man but…’ or ‘My OH (other half) hasn’t said anything like that, but I think…’

Now, over the years, I have trained, explored, and challenged myself to open up and communicate effectively. I am able to describe my feelings. I can get to the heart of what’s going on for me quickly.

But there is so much support for women. And so little for men.

IMHO (in my humble opinion) there are certain pressures ‘society’ puts on men to be a particular way. Of course society puts all sorts of pressures on women and people in general, but the silence is stifling around particular issues surrounding men.

My feelings come in waves: pain, regret, rage… the smallest thing can set me off – seeing a colleague’s car with a baby seat, watching a young family go shopping, or making space on the tube for a woman with a ‘baby on board’ badge.

I’ve learned to ride the waves rather than shove them down.

It’s not about a voice for the voiceless. It’s articulating the inarticulate and emoting the emotionless. Men want to talk. We are capable of communicating. I have male friends who are utterly amazing; the conversation will move seamlessly from an in-depth discussion about Star Wars, to debating the vagaries of the financial system, on to some teasing and ending with us being able to say how much we love each other.

I’m not alone. I build and maintain a brilliant network of family and friends. They know who they are, what to say and how to say it. And even when they don’t, the message gets through. I’m so grateful.

But after discovering the fertility issues with myself and Davina, and then two failed rounds of IVF, we were somewhat bereft.

It made us reflect on what was important to us. We discussed, argued and debated. We discovered that creating a family is important for us. We realised that there is no set form to family. It can be created in many ways: adoption, surrogacy, donor eggs/ sperm to name three. Family means many things and we have energy and love to give.

January 2014 then, we looked into adoption. We attended an information evening, had a call with a social worker and then a visit.

All the way through, I felt a certain trepidation and nervousness amongst the couples. But there seemed to be a greater sense of partnership. In beginning to examine adoption, the differences between men and women were less apparent. With fertility treatment it was much more stark.

Was it resignation on the part of men?

As it happened, we didn’t choose to start the adoption process. They requested we use contraception for two years. This is to protect the children being adopted; many come from an already traumatic background and coming into an adopted family, only to be playing second best to a new baby, would be too much for them.

The request to use contraception and commit to adoption felt like a door slamming on the possibility of conceiving another way.

I also discovered that I had a fixed idea of what it means to be a man. I had to be strong; I had to be a provider; I had to have chiselled features, a lean body, be a rock, unemotional. I was meant to be a father. And I had decided that it was unattainable.

Through this adventure, I’ve realised all I’ve done is rebel against that made-up, inherited, ‘standard’ of masculinity. It’s informed the way I am: preferring the company of women; finding it hard to be around lots of ‘traditional’ male-macho-nonsense; feeling I have to stand out in order to get attention; being at home expressing my feelings; hating participating in sport.

If there was nothing to rebel against, perhaps masculinity would be my ongoing creation.

A biology teacher called Sam at the school where I teach told me that women learn about the symptoms of testicular cancer and how to spot it, because men avoid the issue and don’t want to talk. Women nag, they push, make themselves heard, make appointments.

It’s the same situation in men’s fertility as it is in men’s mental health.

Men can communicate. Men want to communicate. But awareness of this needs raising.

Let It All Hang Out, an event designed to shift the conversation around men’s fertility, is being held on Saturday January 9th at the Gorringe Park Pub, Tooting, from 12pm until 3pm. There is no admission and the event is a chance to bring some real talk to a challenging area, and shift the conversation about male fertility, and masculinity in general. There will also be a fundraiser for CALM and infertilitynetworkUK.

If you would like to attend the event or find out further information about getting involved, contact James D’Souza on dsouzajj@gmail.com or check out the Facebook event.

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