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A Woman’s Journey Through Male Infertility

How to stay motivated through treatment

Source: istock/noipornpan

“I was really worried that I’d have a fertility problem and need IVF because I hate injections and I get bad PMS. Now it turns out that I’m fine, but my husband has a fertility problem—and now I still need to go through IVF!”

Think that this scenario is unusual? According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, infertility is a problem evenly split between males and females. Each group represents about 30 percent of infertility, and the remaining third of the cases are either a combination of both or unexplained.

The first step of treatment is often IVF. If the issue is structural abnormalities blocking the flow of sperm, a vasectomy, a varicocele that may cause low sperm count, decreased sperm quality, or endocrine disorders, the sperm can often be successfully extracted from the testicle and injected directly into eggs for fertilization with micromanipulation. But how are those eggs obtained? You need to go through IVF!

When the need for fertility treatment stems from a female partner (an egg quality issue, PCOS, endometriosis, etc.) or is unexplained, she might have more motivation for going through all the inconveniences, stresses, physical and emotional discomforts of IVF. She might also feel responsible or even have misplaced self-blame. But when it’s due to a male factor, it may all be harder to handle the IVF side effects and fall-out, no matter how much empathy and team spirit you may feel.

Here are some ways to keep you motivated through treatment:

  1. Expect to feel some resentment at times, even though you know the fertility problem is not your partner’s choice or fault. Don’t feel guilty about feeling annoyed – it’s human nature, particularly when you are knee-deep in hormone injections and fertility medication. This doesn’t mean that you should let it all hang out and blame your partner, but it does mean that you should understand that your annoyance is not unusual. So, give yourself a pass for being less than perfect and remind yourself that sometimes no one is to blame and, “It is what it is”.
  2. Expect your partner to feel some guilt and self-blame of his own when he sees the physical or emotional side effects of the IVF treatment on you. Particularly if you have more than one unsuccessful IVF cycle. Remind him that it’s not late hours, hard work, worrying, or a bad attitude that causes male infertility. Even if his fertility were to be affected by physical stress (like a marathon) or emotional stress (like financial or family issues), the disturbance is usually time-limited and self-correcting. Let him know that you’re in this together, for better or worse and that all problems are shared problems. This will not only make him feel better, but it will get you lots of relationship points and will remind you that it is true!
  3. Don’t confuse virility with fertility. Reassure him that his sperm does not define him as a man, any more than your eggs would define you as a woman. One study by a University of Michigan found that men who had fertility issues reported not only general stress but also a decline in sexual confidence. So, ask for what you need from him while you’re going through treatment, from backrubs to reassurance. He needs to feel needed, especially now, and you need to feel appreciated. Try these opening lines:

    “When you ________, I feel so much better”

    “I know you’re good at _______, and I really could use some help.

    And remember, it does count if you have to ask!

  4. Remember that you have a choice in all of this. Use a cognitive-behavioral strategy and redefine you and your partner as consumers, not patients or victims. Look at it this way, you and your partner have decided to invest money in fertility treatment, and you both hope the investment pays off. Since IVF was a choice you both made, you can also choose to stop anytime. This helps because when your sense of choice and control goes up, stress goes down.
  5. Get physical together. Don’t let intimacy be only about making a baby. Since making a baby is now up to the doctor, you and your partner can forget about basal body temperature sex and just have fun again. Get physical by sharing exercise, too. It pumps up circulation, releases endorphins (the body’s natural mood elevators) and is an opportunity to get out and be with each other, even if it’s just to run side by side on a treadmill.
  6. Find someone you can talk to honestly, and not your partner. Find a listener who will not judge or second-guess you. Someone who will let you say everything you would never want to say to your partner. Talking will give you an opportunity to hear and listen to yourself, an opportunity to change or fine tune your feelings, and a chance to know and accept your feelings. You can’t address feelings you’re are not aware of. They may silently be coloring your vision and influencing your decisions without you even realizing it. Use this dialogue as an opportunity to make your feelings known, and to be kind and understanding with yourself. You need to be on your own side as well as your partner’s side throughout this journey.

Some days it might be easy, some days it might be hard, but you’re both in this journey together despite the cause. Each day is one step closer to building the family of your dreams.

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