Monday, 25 February 2013

Breaking the Silence

During this ICLW week, I am reminded how lucky I am to be connected with so many awesome fellow bloggers. I feel that I have gotten to know you all so personally, and I feel that we would probably be friends if we met IRL. Infertility is just the vector that brought us together online. I have a great support network to help me through IF, but going through this experience led me to reconnect with some old friends and meet some new ones along the way. I just wish our partners had the same opportunity to gain such support. We all know how different it is for men. Guys don't talk to each other about this stuff.

Maybe it's fitting as women must endure so much more physical pain during infertility treatments, pregnancy and childbirth that there are more avenues for emotional support, but it doesn't seem fair that there are such limited sources for men. There are a few male members on the fertility forum I joined, but there isn't an actual 'Just for Men' space. After my miscarriage, I googled, 'infertility and pregnancy loss support for men'. I found lots of webpages describing that dealing with these issues is hard for men as many men don't express their feelings...blah..blah...blah... but not many online communities for men to reach out to each other to say, 'it's tough, but you'll get through it, mate'.

When we were waiting to receive the results of Husband's semen analysis, I found myself pleading with the Universe for him not to be the cause. This is in contrast to what I tell my patients who claim, "it's my fault that we can't get pregnant!" I remind them that no one assigns any blame; you two are in this together. His semen analysis  are your results. Your ovaries and Fallopian tubes are his issues. However, I felt that my profession made me more equipped to handle any female factor issues, and I knew that Husband would buy into the archaic (and completely erroneous) notion that male factor infertility would be a reflection of his masculinity.

When we did learn of his semen analysis results, Husband asked me "did you tell anyone?" Immediately, I felt guilty about telling Myrtle. I had violated his right to patient privacy. After that moment, I started asking for his permission to share with my few friends IRL who know of our infertility issues. Meanwhile, I wished that he had some one to talk to.

During our trip back to England, I was hoping he would confide in his longstanding friend Leonard. Not only did Leonard serve as his Best Man at our wedding, but he and his wife Penny came to me with their own fertility concerns when they hadn't conceived in 6 months. For the record, they conceived the very next month and Penny didn't want to didn't use anything for birth control after their first, since it took them "such a long time" to conceive. She was pregnant again before her son was nine months old. Leonard seemed to be giving him an opening as he told everyone at our lunch table (which included my parents, my in-laws and our old hockey friends) about his emergency testicular torsion and corrective surgery, which turned out to actually be a ball lift. I asked him later if he mentioned anything to Leonard when they went off to get a beer together, but he reported that he hadn't.

I guess he wasn't ready to open up to anyone at that time. A month later, he went to San Diego for a stag weekend and divulged all to his friend Raj, another ex-pat. I thought Raj was an unlikely confidant as he and his wife (who many suspect was an agreed arranged marriage) have declared that they have no intentions for children. Not only was Raj a good listener, but he told Husband that two other friends back in England were dealing with infertility issues. I don't know if that reveal was breaking some kind of code of silence, but it was really helpful for Husband to hear that he wasn't the only one facing such challenges. I know he already knew that he wasn't alone, but having a familiar face within the anonymous other infertiles was especially comforting. It sounds silly, but I felt so proud of him for taking this step.

He was coping really well until I had the miscarriage. While I was embracing the positive aspects that it happened early and easily, he was engaged in the disappointment over the fact that he was no longer an impending father. He also started strategizing for the financial planning of infertility treatment, which included asking me detailed questions about my expenses. I felt as it I were being audited, but I understood his rationale. However, when he suggested that I should start looking for another job if I did not get a significant pay raise at my next contract negotiation, I felt that crossed a line. I was not going to put up with him trying to manage my career, and I let him know it. "Do you not understand how devastated I am?" he asked me while finally bursting into tears. I hugged him and let him cry on my shoulder as I felt so helpless, wondering if there was anything I could do relieve his suffering.

I suggested having him talk with his friend Sam, whose wife Diane, had two miscarriages. He thought it was a good idea, but we both agreed that it would be easier said than done. Sam is the last person in the world who is not on Facebook and his only email access is through the Outlook account at his work, which he seldom checks. Husband last spoke to Sam nearly two years ago. It's a bit awkward to contact someone out of the blue to discuss one of the most painful experiences in his life.

Sam and Diane married in the summer of 2006, just months before she turned 35. She was very keen to start trying to conceive right away, but he wanted to hold off until they had paid off their debts from the wedding and honeymoon. I'm not sure how long they had been pursuing conception, but in March of 2007 she got rip roaring drunk at a wedding just after her friend Vera announced her pregnancy. I was so far  from TTC at that time, but I could appreciate the frustration she felt. However, just two months later, it would be her turn. She sent out a mass email after getting her BFP. Unfortunately, her first ultrasound would reveal an empty gestational sac.

We visited with them a few months after the miscarriage and and just after Vera's baby was born. They both described their roller coaster of emotions, from the relief and elation of the positive pregnancy test to the heartbreak and anguish that followed after her ultrasound. They admitted that they were happy about Norm and Vera's new arrival, but it still felt like salt in the wounds that were still fresh from their own loss. "It just seems so elusive for us" Diane explained, but admitted that they were still hopeful as they resolved to continue their quest. I sensed she was holding something back. When we left, I gave Diane a long hug and told her that she would be pregnant within the new year. Diane closed the door behind us and told Sam, "She knows."

A few weeks later she made her official announcement; she was pregnant with twin boys. They waited the suggested three months post D+C and conceived on that first attempt. Diane had made it no secret that she longed for a girl and when the twins were two and a half, she announced to everyone that they would be trying for one. At home and in private, Norm and Vera discussed Diane's proclamation and shared their observations. Vera had noted that they seemed to have very little food in their house, and it was mostly kid food; juice boxes, dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets, cheese and cracker packages. Both naturally thin, Sam and Diane looked like they had lost a little weight themselves. Sam in particular looks like he has aged ten years in the past five. Norm commented that Sam's car is almost always on 'E' and when he fuels, he will only put in five or ten quid of petrol. Their house is tiny and they are already cramped with two growing boys. They have limited options to move in this declining economy.

Norm gently shared his concerns with Sam and asked, "are you sure you're ready for this?" Sam admitted that they are struggling financially, and confessed that he really wasn't too keen on having another baby, but he wanted to make Diane happy. Diane did become pregnant a few months latter, and suffered her second miscarriage. I can't help to wonder what Sam's perspective was. Did he view the miscarriage as a blessing in disguise? Or as a tangible loss that affirmed his desire for another baby? I am hoping it was the latter as their third child was born last Autumn. Another boy.

Anyway, back in California at the present time, Husband and I were getting ready to have dinner with our friends Amy and Sheldon. Amy and I used to work together, and while genuinely a nice guy, Sheldon is rather quiet and a little reserved. He and Husband can talk amongst themselves when we get together, but they wouldn't call the other up to go get a beer on their own. I mentioned to Husband that as Amy knows we are trying to get pregnant, I owed her an explanation as to why I was at her Planned Parenthood clinic getting birth control pills. As Amy and I aren't as close as we were when we worked together, I hadn't told her anything about our infertility or miscarriage yet.  "Go ahead and tell her everything." Husband instructed me. "You can even tell her about my issues". I was driving at the time, but I wanted to pull the car over so I could embrace him. At that moment, I sincerely felt proud of him. It was his declaration that he would break free from any stigma associated with male factor infertility. In the end, I didn't mention it. Sheldon looked uneasy just hearing about my miscarriage and my uterus. Besides, just knowing that Husband was comfortable  'coming out' about his male factor infertility was such a significant achievement.


  1. I often wonder how hard it is for our other halves to deal with all this in a world that sees them as somehow 'external' to the process of reproduction and loss. (After our first loss, my SIL said not.a.word. to my husband, and when he raised it with her, she said 'Well, it's not a big deal for the man' - too common, if misguided, a view). My husband himself was actually in denial I think about the fertility problems we face, and having him open up about it recently has made all the difference to our relationship.
    I agree that having friends and fora where they can air their feelings is so important. I'm glad your husband is opening up, and hope it strengthens your shared journey.

  2. Strangely, my husband has been more open with some of his friends about this than I have been with mine. I have not told many people at all. I don't know how much detail he gives them or if he just vaguely tells them we are doing IVF. But he does talk about it.
    I agree that I feel like I could be friends IRL with so many IF bloggers. I keep thinking it would be so fun to have a big blogger meetup. It's just too bad we are all scattered all over the world.

  3. My husband has a really hard time talking about things in general. I know that he really wants to be a daddy so much, and this whole journey has been hard on him. Sometimes I can get him to open up, and sometimes I can't. I'm very happy that your husband has taken that next step forward in being able to talk about it. Hopefully this will be a whole new breakthrough for you both!!

  4. M has been pretty open about things with his friends, and yet a lot of it is masked in humour. He calls his male fertility supplements his "boner pills". When it comes to the really heavy stuff, he is always there for me but rarely talks about his own feelings of depression and despair. I think he internalizes a lot. Either way, men deal with stuff a lot differently than we do. Hope your husband can find some way to deal with this.

    1. hahahhaha!! Boner pills! Totally sounds like something my husband would say

  5. Great post. Hubby was just telling me today about how there are two other guys in his office who have MFI and that both of their wives read my blog! I'm so glad my husband has people he can talk to about these issues, even though they are not close friends.

    I am glad your husband has broken his silence. It's also nice that you are worried about him. I think it can be so easy to get caught up in our own feelings surrounding our own issues and it is important to always think about our dear ol hubbies :)

  6. Love this post. It's so easy to embrace all this support from other women, but we forget that our men need support too, and not always just from us. My husband is open with a few people at his work, but I don't know if things would be different if he was the one that had problems. So far, everything for him has come back normal, so maybe he would be different if that wasn't the case. Anyway, I am so glad your husband is opening up :)

  7. hi from iclw!!! I agree, it's so nice to have so many other bloggers going through the same thing (even though I woudln't wish it on the world)

  8. I wish that my husband would open up more. I was shocked to hear that he told his childhood friend who has two kids on a recent work trip. I don't know how much he went into detail, but I'm glad that he finally made the decision to tell someone (he won't tell his parents).