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The Silence And Stigma Of Men’s Fertility

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

In the same way as men’s mental health issues have a certain stigma and silence attached to them, so do men’s fertility issues.

Because men don’t get mentally ill, or have problems producing a baby. It just doesn’t happen to us.

My wife (Davina) and I started trying for a baby in April 2011. It’s a journey that’s still going. And it’s still difficult. And we still have no baby.

But I’ve discovered a lot about myself, fertility and our marriage along the way.

I had my first test in April 2012. This is after a year of trying. We went to the doctor together and he explained the process. No I didn’t submit the sample there and then – I had to produce it at home and get it to the hospital within a certain amount of time.

It turned out that I had enough of them (count), they moved well (motility) but only 1% were formed normally (morphology). The normal level is between 2% and 6%. My doctor at the time said it only takes one to succeed – and that 1% wasn’t a problem.

Davina had a bunch of other tests up until November 2012 – that turned up nothing. Based on the information we had, it was all OK; the medical professionals we spoke to said to keep trying.

February 2013, I have another test. Again, I have enough of them (count) and they move well (motility).

But 0% had normal forms.

This was upsetting for me. ‘It can’t be happening to me!’

I begin to question everything and search for a reason for this – as do the medical professionals. I get asked questions like:

Do you smoke? No.

Do you drink? Nope.

Oh.

OK.

I start to wonder if it was my diet and general health. Yet by all the basic measures (weight, waist measurement, body fat) I was in good shape.

In fact I’m in better shape and health *now* than I was in my twenties. FFS.

What I know now, is that there are a lot of men (and couples) who have fertility problems. But it’s a Great Unspoken Thing. I think it goes to the core of what it means to be a man if you can’t have children.

Now, I’m all for men getting themselves tested to find out the state of their fertility: whatever their age, whatever their relationship status. It’s just expected that we’ll have children easily.

In January 2013, Davina and I made the choice to have IVF. We started researching and found in our area that we weren’t entitled to any NHS treatment.

That meant going private and paying a fair amount of money, which we were willing to do. So we began the process, meaning more tests for Davina.

In the meantime, I started taking a supplement attempting to improve my statistics.

Then in March 2013, we found out Davina also had a fertility issue. Apart from the fact it wasn’t ‘all my fault’, it also meant the chances of us conceiving naturally were *small*. It also made us think about our family members who didn’t have children. I began to wonder if it was all a genetic jackpot and divinely determined.

When we told our families, they were wonderful. My Dad said he was glad that we had each other, whether we have a family or not. My Mum just said she wanted grandchildren. My Mother-In-Law said we should think about going to church…

We pressed on with the measuring, the timing, the paraphernalia. And Davina went on a physical, emotional, hormonal, and intellectual roller-coaster. It was as much as I could handle to listen and be there.

We went through what is often called ‘The Two-Week Wait’ amongst those who have had IVF, and found out that it failed.

It was about this time that my emotional response kicked in: rage, upset, frustration, sadness, settling on indifference with occasional cynicism.

On trips to the clinic, I noticed a book in which people could write words of inspiration, hope or pain. Every time I went, I would read some. I made me feel less isolated. I noticed though that every message was written by a woman. For a woman. Men were undoubtedly going through stuff – I know I was (and am) – but why so silent?

Certain things started to crop up in conversations I had with other people that contributed to my frustration like: 1) You need to stop thinking about it/ relax/ take your mind off it (or some other trite nonsense). 2) I’ve got a friend who was about to have IVF when, just like that, they found out she was pregnant (Just. Go. Away.)

Also, our contemporaries were all getting pregnant and having children. We’d find out in conversation through friends and relatives. And on Facebook. A stream of grinning pregnant pictures. And then the babies. FFS.

Eventually, after talking with friends and family – and consciously letting go – I’ve got to the point where I’ve *started* to stop taking everything so personally. I’ve realised it’s not that good things happen to good people. And it’s not that bad things happen to bad people.

It’s simply: Things. Just. Happen.

After the first round of IVF failed, I discovered that a lot of people have more than one round. I was still hopeful. Although numbers had moved in the right direction, I was still having a crisis of masculinity.

Even before the first round, I kept thinking to myself that it would work. This particular life challenge would be over and I could get on with fatherhood. I’m a man – that’s what I was meant to do. It is my purpose and destiny.

I wanted a valid reason to come into work tired. I wanted to be woken up by a baby’s frustrated cry. I wanted to pass on my genes – all my grandparents lived past 80. Three into their 90s.

It’s all about me dammit! I just want life to go my way.

Part two coming soon…

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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