There will be differences, of course, between the male experience of infertility and the female one - particularly in terms of treatment. It’s unlikely, for instance - although I won’t rule it out - that men will have had the misfortune of experiencing the sharp sting of an ovulation suppressor or the waxy penetration of a progesterone pessary. But still, they’re on the same rollercoaster that women are; enduring all the ups and downs, twists and turns, long waits and dead ends, just from a different vantage point, and maybe even with a heightened sense of helplessness.
And whilst one person's natural instinct on a rollercoaster might be to scream bloody murder for the duration (me), their partner might be someone who sits nonchalantly beside them, without making a fuss, staying cool and collected and vehemently denying the hellishness of the ride until long after it’s all over. It's for this reason, I'll confess, that I sometimes forget that my husband is dealing with the same things I am. I know, I know, I'm an awful, self-absorbed little gremlin but it's true. Amidst all the appointments and adrenaline of IVF, I forget that I’m not the only one this process is hard on. But every so often, I'll catch him looking at the man on the train with a dribbling baby strapped to his chest or I'll I notice the way his voice changes when he tells me that so-and-so from work is expecting another child... and suddenly I’m reminded of how much this affects him.
No matter how chilled they may appear and no matter how convincing their locker-room bravado is, we simply cannot assume that men are OK. We cannot assume that they are any less affected by infertility than women are. We cannot compromise their mental health by not providing them with the advice and support they need and we cannot focus all our attention on the female and allow male fertility and wellbeing to decline even further. If we assume men are OK, what we're actually doing is telling them that 'not being OK' isn't what we expect from them.
So these are the hard facts:
• Male factor issues account for 40% of all cases of infertility (London Centre of Sciences);
• Studies have reported a 50-60% decline in sperm count in the last 50 years (NHS);
• High rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies and a strong conceptualization of grief affects those dealing with infertility (World Health Organisation);
• Men are far less likely than women to seek support from professionals, friends, family or social communities. (Men's Health Forum); and
• In the UK, suicide remains the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 (Mens Health Forum)
And if you take one thing away from this piece, let it be this: be an ally to your male friends, family members, colleagues, patients, clients, students, acquaintances and strangers. Remember that stigmas around male infertility and male mental health still exist so don't fan the flames by ignoring them. Ask them how they are. And then ask them again.
The irony of me writing about these sort of issues from the viewpoint of a woman isn't lost on me so please let me point you in the direction of some male-led, infertility and IVF focussed Instagram accounts, blogs and podcasts:
Mans IVF view
B*llocks to infertility
For more information on male factor infertility click here or for information on where you can get support click here.