Heterosexual couples dealing with infertility may have several options, depending on money and access. They also have a lot of expectations, grief, anger, blame, and guilt.
Many of the men I work with who are struggling with in vitro fertilization (IVF), intrauterine insemination (IUI), and other types of fertility treatment often have nowhere to go with any of those negative feelings. That isolation hurts them, their partner, and makes a difficult situation so much more unbearable. But moving towards compassion can go a long way.
Separate Pain Disguised as Strength
A regular occurrence in my office is a guy whose female partner is going to doctors, fertility clinics, and attending all kinds of appointments in hopes of becoming pregnant. His sperm may or may not be a contributing factor to the infertility. However, his view—and that of most of the doctors—is that the onus of getting pregnant is on her. He tries to go to the appointment with her when he can. Sometimes, he makes all the appointments. Sometimes not.
He sees her struggling. He sees her crying. He sees her getting angry. He sees her in pain. He sees her exhausted. He is doing all he can to support her.
That means he’s doing his masculine best to provide a show of strength for her even as she may blame him and express lots of anger towards him—that he waited too long to marry her, too long to decide that he was ready to become a father, that his body doesn’t need to go through these procedures again and again and again. Yet, he continues being present and being strong.
Sounds like our masculine model male, right? Except no one is really being helped by this.
How the Masculine Box Let’s Us Down During Times of Crises
Often, he is also feeling all the anger at not being able to conceive naturally. He’s feeling the guilt that he’s not able to “get her pregnant” like he always assumed he’d be able to do. He’s feeling annoyed and fakes congratulations for all the friends announcing their baby showers and the getting-ready they’re doing, especially the ones who say, “We weren’t even planning to get pregnant—it just…happened!”
He’s feeling a ton of stuff but without the physical, hormonal, body shifts that she’s going through.
He’s feeling it emotionally and he has nowhere to go because, when couples are struggling with getting pregnant, they usually are not telling all their friends and family that they are trying and struggling (maybe they are telling her mother or sister at the most). So this guy who normally doesn’t talk to friends or family about emotional stuff anyway (he’s a stereotypical non-talking-about-feelings guy) now really isn’t talking about the things that are causing him the most stress.
He’s not even talking to his partner about how he’s feeling because the last thing he wants to do is burden her. He thinks, how dare he talk about his pain, guilt, and anger. It’s not his body that isn’t getting pregnant. Maybe he’s tried to talk about it a little bit and she gives him that message as well.
All of that pain goes inward and he goes quiet. His silence is interpreted by her as uncaring. He’s seen as not having any feelings and she’s feeling even more isolated.
He is more isolated.
All this couple wanted to do was to have a child together and they are now suffering very separately.
Seeking Help Inward and Outward
I appreciate when a guy in this situation finds his way into my office—any therapist’s office, actually. This means he’ll get at least 45-minutes a week to tune into all of those feelings he spends the rest of his time masking because of the fertility secret, or because of protection.
It may be because he’s so not used to having those feelings so close to the surface. In that case, it can take a while for him to note that he has all those feelings. He thought he was just more irritated by everything or that everyone in the world just started being more annoying. He thought it was just his stomach acting up or this unexplained back pain that “came out of nowhere.”
Maybe it’s those things, plus unexpressed, unaware of, emotional pain.
As we are reconnecting him to himself, he receives a lot of encouragement to find ways to connect with his partner through this pain.
The word “compassion” literally means “to suffer together” and doing so is a powerful thing. It’s not saying that my pain is more or less than yours. It’s not comparing who’s struggling the most.
It’s an acknowledgment that we are in this together. It’s an understanding that it all sucks right now. It’s saying that I’m lost and scared and sad and I think you are too and I know that we can still lean on each other. That we can suffer together in order to move through this wherever it goes. Sometimes the guy gets to a place where he can have that conversation with his partner on his own, although I often offer to have her come into his session to begin it together, which can be a game changer.
As the couple moves toward pregnancy and having a child it won’t be the last conversation a couple will have about hard issues neither can control. however, if you start now during what may be the most painful and scary time together, you’ll be setting up an amazing foundation for your partnership and an amazing model for your future children to learn from.
Photo credit: Pixabay