There was a stage in my life when I thought that I didn’t want children. That was in my 20’s when I was renowned as being a party monster. I was fond of more than just the odd tipple and lived for the weekend. My social circle was extensive and I was usually the last man standing at every party. Oh, how the times have changed. In November 2014, I was diagnosed as infertile. When I discovered that I could not have children I started to really want a family. It is always the way, when you can’t have something then you want it more. The forbidden fruit of infertility was much sweeter now that having a family was just of my grasp.
Most men don’t really long for babies. Many women, on the other hand, have an innate biological broodiness that can only satisfied with a baby. Girls spend their whole life playing with dolls(of babies) and their youth is filled playing family. A woman’s life is also under a constant pressure from family, society and the media to have children. Women cannot read a magazine, watch TV or browse their favourite social media channels without being bombarded with ads, articles and cute baby updates. Women cannot leave their home without being surrounded by children and the abundance of children seems to be accentuated when dealing with infertility. My wife suffered almost inconsolably for two years with my infertility. She wanted a family more than anything. I did too, but not with such an insatiable longing that was further magnified by a ticking biological clock.
Men, on the other hand, don’t have to deal with the persistent pressure of having a family. It is usually only the man’s mother, mother-in-law, aunties, sisters, sister-in-laws and other women in his life that are guilty of the “so, when are you having babies” pressure. I am from Ireland, so this is obviously preceded by “so, when are you going to make an honest woman out of her”. For those not familiar with how older(51+) Irish women speak, that means to marry her. When men read magazines, watch TV or browse social media the landscape is much more shallow and unsubstantial. Men are under pressure to smell nice, drive German cars, drink beer and not drink beer while driving the German cars. We grow up playing with guns, cars and balls and can in most cases do the business until we are in our 60’s. Except for the pressure from the women in our lives we are brainwashed to be testosterone fuelled bachelors that are never ready to settle down. I was once this way but infertility really changed that.
1Getting the bad news
Seeing my extended family back in Ireland and my friends in Berlin with kids made me long for a family. After the initial week of depression following the infertility diagnosis, I decided that I would do everything in my power to have a family. What ensued was two extraordinarily difficult years. The fertility treatment was expensive but we knew that we had to give it a try. Looking back, we were very naive and didn’t realise how hard the whole process would actually be. Our fertility clinic recommended that we get married as then the whole treatment would be covered by the German health insurance. We were so lucky with the timing as unfortunately, IVF is no longer covered by health insurance in Germany. We saved around €18,000 in total. In hindsight, this was a small amount to pay for the two miracles that it brought into our lives.
2Dealing with the bad news
People deal with bad news in different ways. Finding out that I could not have children naturally knocked my macho manliness for six. My pride took a real battering and I became depressed for a while. This alpha male felt immensely inadequate. I quickly realised that feeling sorry for myself would get me nowhere. After the initial shock, it was time to go into all action mode and move mountains and make miracles materalise. We decided to get married and it was one of the best decisions of my life. I had something to look forward to, this took the edge of infertility. For me having plans to focus on was important and it helped me to deal with the bad news. Although our wedding was small, it was still the second best day of my life. Our marriage served a function – to make a family. If we were married then our IVF was free.
Fitness and nutrition became even more important parts of my life. I started running again, doing yoga and or hitting the gym five days per week. Meditation and mindfulness were something that I discovered 10 days after our wedding. Meditation has become staple parts of my daily routine. A simple ten-minute meditation practice every morning helped me to deal with the stress of IVF. Using the very popular app headspace I have found time to bring the voices in my head to peace. I also purchased a yearly subscription for the app for my wife. Meditation was one of the positive by-products of IVF.
3Why do men not talk about it?
This is an age old question. Why do men not talk about their feelings? We bottle things up for fear of being ridiculed. I am as guilty as any man of this. Being an Irish man made it even harder to talk about the struggles that we are going trough. Even writing this blog is difficult as it makes me very vulnerable when I feel I should be strong. There is nothing wrong with infertility. It is not my fault and it is out of my control. It took me having twins to come clean about everything that I had been through. If I can share one piece of advice is that you should have some people outside of you and your partner that you can talk to about it. I had my family and this made things a little easier. My coping mechanism was to try to get better at every aspect of my life. Maybe this was making up for the inadequate feeling of infertility. You don’t have to feel inadequate. Just do your best and work hard on your health and relationship and you will get through it.
4What do we feel?
We feel sad and disappointed but we feel that we s shouldn’t show it as much as women do. Showing feelings feels like a show of weakness and we are supposed to be strong. We want to be the rock when our partners are crumbling before our very eyes. My initial reaction was a period of deep depression. This was followed by an extended period of hopelessness. After a while, I decided to start focusing on solutions. We promised to devote the rest of our lives to having children. From the very first time that we received the bad news I had set myself up for the worst case scenario. Not having my own children. I explored the idea of adoption and really thought that this would be our most likely solution. Some of the greatest people that I know are adopted so this was definitely an option. Before we went down the adoption root we decided to give IVF a try. I assumed it would work like clockwork and we would have nippers in no time. We would breeze through IVF and have kids – EASY. Oh, how I was wrong. The next two years were filled with three IVF treatments and all of the emotions and complications that go hand and hand with it.
5Do men really want kids?
Not all men want kids. I once thought that I did not want kids. When I was young, footloose and fancy-free the responsibility of having a family couldn’t have been further from my thoughts. The infertility diagnosis flicked a switch inside of me and my life had to change if I wanted to fulfil my wife’s dreams of having a family. These dreams were initially hers and I am so grateful that I learned so share her dreams. My infertility turned my life into a quest to have a family.
Many men find it difficult to give up their freedom and polygamous ways in pursuit of monogamy. The finality of a family can be hard for many men to deal with. Especially in this day and age, when men don’t grow up until their mid-thirties.
6What is the treatment like for men?
Form a man’s point of view, physically the treatment is relatively easy. We don’t have to do much more than give a sperm sample. Women, on the other hand, have to go through hell and back for the treatment to be a success. From first-hand experience, the emotional and physical baggage that accompanies IVF can be hard to handle. First there is the nasty side effects of the drugs, then there is the financial pressure, followed by the expectancy of success and topped off by the fear of failure.
Men have to deal with some but not all of the side effects of the IVF treatment. It is so hard to see the love of your life struggling on so many levels with the treatment. As a man we are expected to be strong and protect our partners. It is hard not to feel helpless when everything is outside of your control. You have so much hope and all you want is to have a family. It is important to stay positive and not give up even when the IVF treatment fails. I know this is hard but you have to. There is no other way.
7What is failed treatment like?
FML. Where do I start? The two dark days when we found out that our IVF treatment had failed were worse than finding out that I was infertile. Failed IVF treatment feels like the devil has taken a dump on your soul. The utter disappointment was the hardest thing that I ever had to deal with. If it was hard for me then it was a thousand times harder for Olivia. She really struggled. I could not dwell on the heartbreak as I had to be there for her. She needed a shoulder to cry on so I had to man up and be her rock. This was really hard. Every time we went through a failed IVF treatment a little piece of me died.
8What is successful treatment like?
It is hard to describe the jubilation that successful IVF treatment brings. The only better experience than that positive pregnancy test was the birth of my twins. I have never been terminally ill but being told that I was infertile felt like I had an incurable disease that was ruining my life. That day when Olivia was too nervous to do the pregnancy test, I had such a good feeling in my belly. I knew that it was going to be positive. When those two stripes appeared on the clear blue pregnancy test stick, I felt like I had cured my incurable disease. We are ecstatic and that was the beginning of the next chapter in our lives. Olivia was finally pregnant and our dreams were beginning to come true.
I hope you have enjoyed my version of IVF from a man’s point of view. The whole experience was both the most challenging and most rewarding time of my life. Becoming an IVF success story is my proudest achievement to date. The amount of work that we put in to make it work was immense. For me, I had to change so much about my life and I came out the other side a stronger, more confident and healthier man. For those going through IVF, I wish you luck. If it does not kill you, which it won’t, it will make you stronger. For more helpful IVF tips and stories please subscriber to the scantily dad newsletter or follow me on social media. The links are below.