There are a great many things in this life I have struggled with in recent years, but none so difficult as my own infertility. Based on my own personal struggle to square societal-driven notions of manhood against my inability bear children with the woman of my choosing, I’d like to offer up five profound struggles men who face infertility deal with on a daily basis. There are a ton of websites out there supportive of the female end of the equation, but precious little for men. I figured I’d offer my own insights and story, in the hopes it can comfort my brothers who are unable to help conceive.
- Constant feelings of inadequacy. Men who are infertile face a fundamental problem in their lives, even if they put up a brave face about – we feel inadequate. We live in a society where adoption is offered as an alternative, but it never completely substitutes for the feeling of joy knowing a baby is on the way. Also, for those fathers whose adopted children have so many mental and emotional scars from being in “the system,” being called “Dad” is often elusive, if it happens at all. That leaves us with the trauma of feeling “close, but no cigar” on so many occasions. Yes, some men feel happy they don’t have children to tie them down, but many of us really would have loved the opportunity to have a family.
- “What did I do wrong?” A man who cannot conceive often has no clue why. If it is something easily correctable, such as a blood vessel wrapped around the ducts leading from the testicular region, that’s one thing. In many cases, young boys suffer physical trauma at the hands of pediatricians who are either poorly skilled or, worse still, hostile towards the issues facing young boys. For this reason, examinations of reproduction areas frequently cause damage which is either irreversible or requires extremely expensive and risky surgery. No amount of herbal supplements, boxers, ice or fertility enhancement can make the testicles produce more sperm if they are either damaged or genetically abnormal. This leaves a man who is clinically, not functionally, infertile wondering what could have been done differently. The answer is, sadly, nothing. It’s what it is, and it hurts deeply.
- A pervasive feeling of unattractiveness. Scientific studies have shown women emit more pheromones when fertile, making them more attractive due to their “Scent” among men. There are very few studies done with men when it comes to fertility and attractiveness, but any man who knows he’s infertile will tell you this – we feel a distinct disadvantage in the dating and mating pool. We could be the most physically and mentally attractive person on earth but, when it comes down to it, “missing out” on that one person we really care for will always raise that question in the back of our minds as to whether our inability to conceive is something a woman can sense. It’s not uncommon, at least for me, to see a pregnant woman and be happy, but also wonder if I’m lacking something and that’s why I struggled socially growing up and into my early twenties. Yes, it does affect confidence, and that can cause myriad issues for a man in today’s world well beyond relationships.
- Profound sense of loss. Losing the ability to bring new life into the world is more than just a death, it is the feeling of never being given the opportunity. There is no way to compare it to the death of a living being because, rather than being able to bring that life into the world, the option was seized from a man before he even had a say in the matter. Learning one is infertile can only be described as having a rite-of-passage stolen from under your nose in the night while you slept. You wake up, and you know that, deep inside, you’ve lost something and there is absolutely no way to get it back. Grieving requires constant support, and many simply do not know how, or lack the ability or patience, to offer that sort of support.
- Legal and moral dilemmas. Catholic Canon Law is specific – impotent and infertile men cannot be married. Many states and other faiths allow for uncontested divorce by the wife if the man is found to be incapable of bearing offspring, and many women choose to divorce their husbands when they learn they cannot have bring life into the world. To these individuals, adoption is not an option and for the men who love them, it’s a wound which cuts so deep, it’s often takes a lifetime to recover. In a society which prizes nuclear families above all else (at least on the surface,) this sort of thing is like a thermonuclear device being set off within the psyche.