Battling infertility from a male's perspective, and now a proud father's perspective is a strange thing indeed.
[Editor's note: This story is from a man about his journey with his wife. While this is one example of one type of relationship, we understand, appreciate and celebrate that relationships come in all forms and configurations.]
Odds are that someone in your life either has dealt with or is currently dealing with the challenges presented by infertility, but something that some people might overlook is that oftentimes at least one of those people is a man. While women bear the physical and emotional brunt of the fight against infertility, men are often there, too.
We suffer as well but in very different ways. My wife and I fought infertility for seven years. Thankfully, after multiple approaches to having children on multiple continents, we emerged with three beautiful, healthy children.
Here are some struggles I went through and what I learned through the process.
1. Who should I tell?
When my wife and I found out that we were going to struggle to have children, it didn't take long for me to realize there was no clear-cut option available in terms of talking about all of this. I leaned on friends and family throughout my life when big decisions were in front of me, but who would understand this exact situation? My parents and friends weren't familiar with IVF, IUI or anything related to assisted reproductive technology.
I decided to just come out with it to friends I trusted. It took a lot of explaining at first, but thankfully everyone was as understanding and compassionate about it as they could have been. After a while, it didn't feel so uncomfortable talking about these things. It was a lot like talking about any other medical challenge, I'd imagine. It was okay, and my support group was vital. It was worth the effort to educate them on the process.
2. How do I help my wife?
Not feeling like I could talk to anyone about this only made it harder to relate properly to my wife. After all, she was the one who was having to endure daily injections of hormones. She was the one who had to take pills and deal with powerful substances running through her body, and she was the one who had to experience surgical procedures such as implantations of embryos. Her lot in all of this was harder than mine.
Ultimately, I became someone I wasn't naturally before we faced all of that. I became Captain Optimism, but also Captain One Step At a Time. I tried more than anything to make her laugh as much as possible. I was always good at that, but it seemed more important than ever during this period. I also tried to remind both of us that we could only control what was directly in front of us, so that's all we should worry about at any given time.
3. I worried about the odds
Every time we encountered a new attempt at IVF, IUI or we had some appointment soon after implantation, we'd immediately start hearing about odds. There were times post-implantation that we heard that we had at least an 80% chance of completing a successful pregnancy, but those never panned out. When we had our daughter, we were told there was a 2% chance we were pregnant.
Our doctors were wonderful throughout this process, but over time I learned that the odds were utterly worthless to us. They didn't even help us make decisions because they never applied to us. I stopped paying any attention to the odds. To us, every attempt at having a child would either be 100% successful or 0% successful. I didn't want to hear about them anymore.
4. How much is too much?
We attempted to get pregnant multiple times before our daughter was born, and we did the same between the births of our daughter and our sons. Overall, we went through more than a dozen IVF cycles and lost several pregnancies along the way. It was horribly difficult from an emotional and financial standpoint, and especially a physical one for my wife. How long was long enough? I began to lose hope after a particularly treacherous miscarriage.
The answer is different for everyone. For us, it came down to: "When you're both convinced that there's absolutely nothing more you can do, and not a minute earlier." As it turned out, I was ready to move on and accept that we weren't having any more children. She wasn't ready to quit—we have twin sons thanks to her dogged determination.
5. When is it okay to celebrate?
We had our daughter via successful IVF, and we had our twin sons by way of a gestational surrogate in Kyiv, Ukraine. We understand that we've been extremely successful considering the nature of our enemy, and we're certainly more fortunate than we would ever have guessed when we got into all of this.
Even now, though, I sometimes wonder how much we should tell people. Is it weird that we had our kids in such unconventional ways? Is it strange that every time I see the three of them playing together, my mind wanders to what we had to go through to get them here?
Personally, I've dealt with this by not hiding it. I don't volunteer this information when we talk to people, but when it comes up, I lay it all out for them. Why should we be anything but proud of what we were willing to do to have our kids?
Battling infertility from a male's perspective, and now a proud father's perspective is a strange thing indeed. A male partner doesn't suffer physically, which is a lot like a traditional pregnancy or childbirth. We don't have to go through the physical pain, but it's still painful. In the end, I'm thrilled to have my wife and kids and that's all that matters.