Fertility can be a touchy subject, especially for anyone who is worried or concerned about being able to conceive. We’ve rounded up some ways to approach the conversation with your partner in a meaningful and open way. If you’re struggling to bring it up, think about talking to a professional, like a therapist or doctor, beforehand. When you’re ready, here are some tips that can help.
Reframe the topic.
Most of the time, the talk about family planning turns into an “infertility talk.” Even though it’s unintentional, it takes on a negative connotation. However, Dr. Alan B. Copperman told Bustle that calling it a “fertility talk” can be a great first step.
"The 'infertility talk' does not just need to be for those in serious, committed relationships, but there should not be pressure to discuss infertility when starting a relationship or when you’re not ready to do so,” Copperman says. “Everyone has a different comfort level with this topic and while openness and understanding is important in relationships, it shouldn’t feel as though this conversation is a make or break situation.”
Don’t point fingers.
It can be hard not to use words like “you” (“Why aren’t you more concerned about this? Why haven’t you looked into it?”) when speaking about fertility with a partner. It can feel accusatory. Rather than having a “you vs me” mentality, try to to focus on the goal of conception and getting to the root of the issue. Registered clinical counsellor Mary Gillis, who focuses on reproductive issues, told Today’s Parent it’s better to use “I-messages.” For example, “I’m starting to feel nervous because it’s not working out the way I expected and I’m wondering if we can talk about this more.”
Start with the facts.
Male fertility is not something many of us learned much about growing up. Discussing some of these lesser known stats can be a good way to spark the conversation about male fertility.
- Sperm and semen aren’t the same thing. Just because a male ejaculates semen, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there are any sperm (or enough sperm) present in the semen. That’s because sperm are really, really tiny and not visible with the naked eye. Without a microscope, an at-home sperm test, or further examination from a medical professional, it is impossible to know if sperm is present in semen, just by looking at it. A big “load” of ejaculate does not necessarily mean more sperm and a small “load” does not necessarily mean fewer sperm.
- 50% of difficulties conceiving are related to sperm health. Unfortunately, the burden of infertility has fallen disproportionately on women, despite nearly half of issues getting pregnant being linked entirely or in-part to sperm health. Sperm concentration, motility and morphology are among the top three indicators of sperm health.
- Lifestyle choices impact sperm health. Unhealthy diets, excessive alcohol consumption, drug use, smoking and other lifestyle choices negatively impact sperm production. The good news is that new sperm is constantly being made, so lifestyle improvements can have a big impact on improving sperm health and therefore male fertility. To learn about this, check out this article we wrote in October.
- Sperm health declines with age. Although the fertility decline with age happens later for men and is not as steep as it is for women, many studies have shown a gradual decline in sperm health, particularly for males over 40. For more on this, check out this article we wrote in September.
- 1 in 7 couples struggle with infertility. The sooner any barriers can be identified (on both sides), the sooner those can be addressed and the higher the chances are of being able to conceive. There is still a lot that doctors don’t know about infertility, but one fact is unanimous: a proactive approach yields better outcomes.
Find the time.
Rather than starting a conversation when you’re in a rush, schedule a time that works for you and your partner. Let them know prior to the conversation what you intend to talk about so they don’t feel ambushed. Bringing up your concerns is completely valid, but also making sure the other person is comfortable can make a huge difference. Keep in mind that you might need to have more than one conversation. Make sure to set up times to follow up afterwards as well. “Both partners need to be open to the other changing their mind,” Liz Colizza, a licensed marriage therapist told The Bump. “To keep communication open, check in with each other frequently and freely offer your thoughts and feelings in a respectful way.”
Take a step forward.
Whether it’s planning to touch base in a month, booking a doctors appointment together, speaking to a therapist, or buying a male fertility test (ahem—like the one available now by Ovry), it’s good to have a positive direction after discussing fertility. You don’t have to have all of the answers, but having a few next steps planned out can make the process easier.
Remember to practice some selfcare (together and alone) after your discussion. Take time to do more research, relax and regroup. If you’re looking for more information or support for your partner, try helping them find a Facebook group or message board to make connections with others who may be going through a similar journey. You can also check out organizations like Canadian Men’s Health Foundation and support groups listed by Fertility Matters.