The time I found out I was, um, shooting blanks was the same time my wife, Julie, and I started looking into fertility treatments. That’s what most infertile men will be doing when they discover it. Going through those treatments is an experience many of them won’t talk about much, so I’d like to throw a few bits of info out there.
It’s actually more common than you may think
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the reasons for infertility are pretty much an even split: one-third of the time it’s due to female problems and one-third of the time it’s due to male problems. 10 percent of it is a his-her combo plate, and the remaining 20 to 25 percent is completely unexplained. So take heart, any XY-chromosomed infertile friends who might be reading this, you’re in good company.
We know nothing about what we're about to do
Once a guy is diagnosed with male infertility, the first thing he should do — after beating the crap out of his pillow, I mean — is to get himself educated. And since Maxim isn’t likely to be publishing exposés on male infertility in between pictorials of Mila Kunis and advice on the best places to drink during Spring Break, he’s going to have to do a bit of searching. (Seriously, when I asked my wife if there was a book for me to read about the subject, she looked at me as if I’d asked her to cook me a platypus egg omelet.) Trust me guys; once you’ve done your research, your partner will thank, appreciate and admire you, and you won’t sound quite as dumb at those doctor appointments.
We feel responsible for our partners’ pain
No matter what infertility treatment a couple ends up going with, part of it is most likely going to involve the guy injecting his wife or girlfriend with massive amounts of hormones. And no, it doesn’t matter if she’s not the one who’s infertile; she still needs to get the shots. Remember, guys: She will be pissed off at you. A lot. Let’s face it: you’re going to be the cause of what amounts to a weeks-long PMS session. Plus, you will be stabbing her nightly with a needle. Neither of those make a man look like Prince Charming in his wife’s eyes.
There are tricks to making love to a plastic cup
It doesn’t matter if he’s a Fortune 500 executive, a champion bull rider or a test pilot on a stealth fighter. No matter how powerful he may think himself, no man is prepared for that moment when he submits his sperm for judgment. A few little secrets:
He’ll chafe. Badly. The rules say no lubricant to contaminate the sample.
He should bring his own, ahem, reading material. Without getting too graphic, let’s just say the bargain basement “inspiration” that many doctors keep in stock may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
He doesn’t have to fill the whole cup. It seems self-explanatory, but double check that he knows that.
We don’t want to talk about it — but we really should
While women often have a large, extended support system of girlfriends who will sit with them, listen to their woes and comfort them, we men are sadly lacking in this area. It’s just not in our nature to talk about our feelings with each other, unless it’s about how much we hate the Patriots. (Sorry, Tom Brady fans. Go Niners!) The point is, strong, painful emotions about infertility can’t be denied, and a man needs to talk them over with someone. I say, talk to your partner. Talk to a therapist. Keeping the pain and sorrow bottled up will just make the arduous fertility treatment process harder.
Sometimes we have no choice but to get creative
Even in an age of amazing scientific advancements in the fertility world, IVF simply doesn’t work for everyone. That doesn’t mean they can’t be parents; it just means they’ll have to get creative. This is when you need to consider alternative methods, such as egg, sperm or embryo donors, or perhaps a surrogate or adoption. While you may not necessarily be having a child the traditional way, you are taking a hand in creating your child.
One day, it will be a distant memory
As I mentioned, I’ve been through all of this. Four times. Yep, there were a lot of full Sharps Containers around the old Wolfe homestead for a few years. And finally, after IVF number four, we were blessed with our son, Connor. And the truth is that once you’re holding that child in your arms, all of the frustration, the anger, the doctors, the shots, the disappointments — they all seem to disappear from your memory to be replaced with... this baby.
Infertility is definitely one of the trialy-ist trials anyone can go through — and the most important thing to keep in mind is that if you really, truly want a family, you will have one. It may not necessarily happen in the way you’ve always imagined, but it will happen.
And in the end, that’s all that really matters.
Greg Wolfe is a father of one and author of How to Make Love to a Plastic Cup: A Guy’s Guide to the World of Infertility.
Plus, more from The Bump: