Lots of bloggers in our ALI community have been posting in honor of NIAW (that's National Infertility Awareness Week, dontcha know), and I love reading what they come up with. These women have shed light on some of the most pernicious myths anyone who suffers to bring home a child grows all too familiar with: myths about how to get pregnant, how to stay pregnant, how easy it is to adopt, or how having a baby makes years of pain and heartache disappear.
I love being part of this community that takes advocacy so seriously and thinks through some really tough questions in a calm, rational (mostly) way. And I love so many of the women I've grown to know over the last two years.
But that's also the problem with this community, and the myth I'm going to bust. The myth that:
Infertility is a "woman's issue."
Infertility is not strictly a problem of female biology. We all know that 1/3 of IF cases with a clear diagnosis are due to male factor issues and another 1/3 are a combination of male and female. It's important that we get the word out about this. So women don't always assume it's their problem when things aren't working right. So men don't refuse to get the simple testing that could diagnose a problem early on. And so men who do learn that they have male factor infertility are not left lonely and struggling, feeling like freaks in a world of super-sperminators.
Infertility does not only affect women emotionally. Women are (usually) more open about expressing difficult emotions like sadness, despair, and anxiety. They're typically better at communicating with each other about these things (hence the huge number of women in the online ALI community and the much smaller number of men). There's an image in popular culture of the "baby crazy woman" driving her husband insane.
But men suffer just as much emotionally from the inability to have a child. Men struggle with their sense of failure from a diagnosis of MFI just as much as women do who are diagnosed anovulatory or with other conditions. Even men who do not physically contribute to the IF diagnosis suffer as part of an infertile couple--they sacrifice privacy in order to perform embarrassing tests in hospitals and clinics, they wonder if they will ever get to be a parent, they suffer watching their partners undergo painful treatments and painful failures, they grieve miscarriages and infant loss.
Infertility is not only a woman's issue socially. As humiliating and difficult as it is for women to be open about their struggles to conceive or carry a child to term, I believe it is even more difficult for men to speak about this. I think this is partly because so much of the reporting, so many of the representations of infertility in popular culture, are focused on women. Are women waiting too long to have babies? Is surrogacy a great innovation or a terrible repudiation of nature? Do infertile women make better parents?
We need to bring more men into the conversation. Not only because, let's face it, politicians listen to men. But also because maybe having a more open acknowledgment of the male experience of infertility will help our husbands, brothers, and friends to find the kind of support we all receive from each other.
* * *
I wrote this post in honor of my husband, who went through more with me to achieve this pregnancy than he ever anticipated. I am so sad that, for the most part, he dealt with this alone. I wish he had some "fake friends" (as he calls all of you) of his own to help him through the past two years.
And I firmly believe that while he would have been an amazing dad no matter what, infertility and loss have helped him to appreciate my pregnancy tenfold. He's the most present, supportive partner I could ever ask for, and I love him so very much.
I'm back, and it's hopefully not a once-off!!
4 weeks ago