When a couple is struggling to have a baby, the male partner's feelings are often given little attention or overlooked entirely. There are several reasons why this happens.
Our cultural bias commonly assumes that men are not as focused on having babies because they can’t carry a pregnancy. Therefore, assuming that they didn’t have lifelong dreams of parenthood. This bias is not necessarily true.
Men also want to stay strong for their partner, so they deny or close off their own feelings of sadness and pain about the roller coaster fertility journey they never signed up for.
Male partners have different coping strategies than their female partners. They are more likely to escape into their job or hobby, or distract themselves by spending time with male friends. They are much less likely to talk about infertility because it doesn’t help them the way talking about it helps their female partners.
However, men staying quiet about the journey to parenthood doesn’t mean they don’t care. Men do suffer. Silently. They suffer as they witness their partner’s obvious pain. They suffer because they want to be dads. It may take a man longer to feel the emotional impact of infertility. Men tend to maintain optimism longer and and not get discouraged as quickly as their female partners. The male partner's level of upset grows more slowly but they are struggling, too; the sadness and frustration always catches up.
Years ago, I spoke at a Resolve meeting about how couples differ in emotional responses. I discussed how male partners often experience pain after their female partners. At the break, a man came up to me and said, “I am so glad you mentioned that. For a time, it seemed my wife was a mess and I was the rock, but over time it shifted. As she learned to cope with the ups and downs, I was starting to feel worse. And then I just about lost it at my nephew’s Little League game. That’s when I knew I was feeling as terrible as my wife had over a year ago.”
This Father’s Day, let your partner know that you both share not only the goal of parenthood, but the disappointment and sadness that comes with the struggle to reach that goal. You are a couple first, and that deserves care and nurturing. Here are some things you might do for your partner around the holiday:
- Acknowledge his support of you. He may be trying his best to help the situation but unsure of whether he is making a difference. A little acknowledgment can go a long way and he may be quite surprised to find out that he makes you feel better just by listening.
- Ask him how he is doing and feeling. Asking him shows that his emotions and are experiences are important to you, even if he doesn't have a lot to say about it.
- Ask him how he would like to be supported. We all need to receive support in different ways. Some simply want an ear to listen and a hug while others would like advice or a sounding board for a different view. Don't assume he wants the same things you do - it's very rare that two partners have the same needs.
- Take him out on a special date. Before you were trying for a baby, you were a couple in love. Go back to the restaurant of your first date, go see a band you both love, or pick a fun activity that can take your mind off treatment and on each other.
- Buy him some flowers. Father's Day isn't really a big day for florists, but giving your partner a sweet-smelling bouquet that you can enjoy together is a great way to say you care.
- Dr. Marie Davidson, fertility counselor with Fertility Centers of Illinois
Dr. Marie Davidson is a licensed clinical psychologist and patient educator. She specializes in counseling individuals and couples who are coping with infertility, and has provided counseling services to patients, donors, and surrogates since 1992. She facilitates patient education seminars on numerous topics such as considering egg donation and cracking the door to adoption, leads several women and couples support groups, and is widely published in the fertility field. Her personalized care and detailed understanding of the treatment process have been a welcome and supportive resource to many couples and individuals as they seek to grow a family.