Men affected by trauma of infertility too

from The Irish Times, March 15, 2011

THAT’S MEN: Men need to talk about their pain too, writes PADRAIG O’MORAIN

INFERTILITY is an increasingly widespread problem, but it affects men and women differently. Knowing this can be of help to couples facing this all too common challenge.

Men have a tendency to keep their feelings to themselves as the couple goes through the often distressing experience of fertility treatment. This is partly because they don’t wish to add to the emotional pain of their partner. It can also be due to the male tendency to seek solutions rather than expressing emotions, in this case “getting on with” the fertility treatment.

And because so much of the medical work of dealing with infertility is focused on the female, the man can feel marginalised, and this may leave him still less likely to express his feelings.

To the woman it may seem that the man does not care, but that isn’t so. Still, one can see how she might feel unsupported and isolated. If it is she who is infertile, she may feel that her body has let her down. She may drive on with a desperate search for a solution regardless of the physical, financial or emotional cost.

Needless to say, these differing reactions affect the relationship between the man and woman. Fertility treatment can be very costly, with a uncertain outcome. Each person in the relationship is under stress, whether it is spoken of or not, and of course this stress can create a distance between the two people. And with both of them hurting, they may talk less and less to each other, and may even end up separating.

During the treatment itself, the woman needs plenty of emotional support. As counselling psychologist Jo Perkins points out in an excellent article in Therapy Today, there are other critical points at which the woman needs plenty of support from the man and from others.

These include miscarriages and the anniversaries of the due dates of the foetuses that miscarried. The news that a friend or relative is pregnant creates another painful pressure point. So, when it happens, is being told that the woman’s own eggs are not suitable for the fertility treatment.

Many men need to be able to talk to someone about the pain of the experience they themselves are going through, and indeed about the effect of all this on the relationship with their partners. I say “many” men because not all feel a need to discuss their feelings even in this most stressful situation.

When treatment has ended – even when it has ended successfully – problems may still remain. This is because women focusing on getting through the treatment may “park” dealing with other issues which affect them or the couple. When the treatment is over, these issues remain to be resolved. Men need to be aware of this, as do friends and family.

Infertility is a tough, tough challenge for any couple. Many couples will hide the effects of this challenge from family, friends and colleagues. But family, friends and colleagues should be aware that however calm and settled everything may appear on the surface, sensitive support could be a blessing to those going through this very distressing experience.

The Therapy Today article at categories is well worth reading if you’re involved with the infertility issue in any way.

Finally, on a completely different note, I’m afraid I did a disservice last week to the good Dr Jekyll. In my column, which dealt with unconscious influences on the choice of marriage partner, I referred to a cartoon in which a woman complains to a counsellor that her husband is just not the man she married. The name Dr Jekyll is printed on the man’s briefcase. In the article, I managed to mix up Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, treating Dr Jekyll as the bad guy and Mr Hyde as his virtuous alter ego. In fact, it was the other way around in Robert Louis Stevenson’s story as some readers spotted. Apologies and mortification.

Padraig O’Morain ( is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind – Mindfulness for Daily Living , is published by Veritas. His mindfulness newsletter is free by e-mail.