There are many valid reasons why women tend to be centred in the trying to conceive (TTC) space, and in conversations around pregnancy and childbirth more generally. There are facts that drive this focus: cisgender women are typically those who become pregnant, those who give birth, and those who have a more pressing biological clock.
But there are also myths behind this focus: like the idea that female factor infertility is far more prevalent than male (it’s not—in the roughly 15% of couples who experience infertility in Canada, about 50% of the time there’s a male factor).
The truth is, when we solely consider women in discussions around conception, we’re doing both male and female partners a disservice. Not only does it put the burden of expectation to conceive on women, but it also perpetuates the harmful belief that cisgender heterosexual men should hide their vulnerability, that they shouldn’t talk through their issues, and that they should be ashamed if it turns out they are unable to conceive a child.
Considering this, women in heterosexual relationships with cis men may wonder how they can support their equally supportive partners to provide a mutual sense of trust, where they are both free to express their vulnerability.
Here are some tips on how to facilitate this openness.
In an article for Nova IVF, the author writes the following:
“The failure of one’s basic biological functions can be equally devastating for men—they can often feel that they have let their wives down or feel insecure about their masculinity.”
Men are traditionally taught to suppress this devastation, which can cause depression and anxiety on an individual level, as well as ruptures in the relationship with their partner.
Communicating one’s expectations, goals, and boundaries around fertility and conception is incredibly important for both individuals in a couple. It helps for everyone to feel seen and heard at all stages of the journey. There can be plenty of difficult talks, paperwork, stress, and doctor’s appointments through it all, so make sure to touch base with one another regularly.
Do Away with Gender Expectations:
Socialization is a powerful thing, especially in a patriarchal culture that encourages men to hide any feelings of disappointment and shame that may rise up. But it doesn’t have to be this way. While easier said than done, if both partners actively work against this outside pressure, a more trusting, supportive relationship can emerge.
In an article for Shady Grove Infertility, Sharon Covington, MSW, LCSW-C writes that men “often struggle with a great deal of private anguish, not only for how it makes them feel about themselves (i.e. less of a man, impotent, etc.) but also what they feel they are putting their wife through (i.e. infertility treatment, sadness, others thinking she is “the problem”, etc.) as a consequence.”
When men feel like they can’t acknowledge these feelings and fears, it only compounds the problem for both partners. Making a consistent attempt at challenging harmful ideas around gender can help.
Face Treatment as a Partnership
If infertility is an issue (whether it is male factor, female factor, or a combination of both) there are treatment options.
For cisgender women, these include medication, surgical procedures, or assisted conception like IUI and IVF.
For cisgender men, the diagnosis process includes a general physical examination and a semen analysis, as well as other tests.
As a first step, our at-home Male Fertility test offers initial insight into sperm count.
Treatment can include surgery, treating infections, treating erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation, hormone treatments and medications, and assisted reproductive technology (ART).
Going through any sort of medical treatment can be scary and overwhelming, especially when the idea of family hangs in the balance. It’s important that both partners get checked out, ask questions, and attend appointments together, as a unit.
Promote Healthy Behaviors:
Even when infertility isn’t a factor, stress is likely going to be a part of the TTC process. There is a lot to consider when trying for a baby.
Looking at the journey as something you embark on together can help ease some of the stress.
Limiting alcohol, cigarette smoke and caffeine consumption, trying to quell psychological stress (like men “holding it all in” to be “the rock” in a relationship), eating nutrient-dense foods as much as possible, relaxing together, and making sex fun as well as practical are all ways to help your pregnancy journey be more enjoyable, potentially more successful, and less anxiety-provoking.
Help Each Other Come to Terms with the Possibilities:
Although it’s the last thing couples trying to conceive want to think about, becoming pregnant isn’t always an option. While there are other ways to create a family, this can be a difficult reality to accept, and may require counselling or therapy on top of communication with one another.
In an article for Illume Infertility, fertility expert Lisa Rosenthal recommends prioritizing the relationship outside of one’s TTC struggles.
“You may both feel completely alone and unable to communicate your true feelings about the experience because you’re worried you’ll upset your partner,” she says. “But remaining a united front and remembering what brought you two together in the first place can be a powerful exercise.”
Trying to conceive is uniquely difficult, but often a rewarding experience. Whether infertility issues are a factor or not, all people deserve to be kept fully aware and educated on their own health journeys, and should be encouraged to express their specific needs, desires, and apprehensions. When both parties in a couple feel comfortable doing this, a truly supportive partnership can emerge. Regardless of the outcome in terms of pregnancy, being there for one another as family can help create a sense of peace amid the struggle.