During my journey through infertility, there is one feeling that I experienced over and over again— that of being sidelined.
I get it.
As a male, I don’t have the private parts need to support the creation and growth of life. Really, the required role of my private bits was an infinitesimally small chunk of time relative to the attention and scrutiny afforded to my wife's bits. So, from this view, I get why asking me questions about how I am doing and feeling are not high on the list of priorities during our appointments at the clinic.
But I am not going to lie—this disparity can be disheartening and made me think on more than one occasion, Why the hell am I even here if everyone is going to act like I am invisible?
Guys, my message to you is to not see this as being slighted. Instead, see it as an opportunity to flex your ever-resourceful man muscles!
There are a number of ways that you can participate in the family building process and support your brave female counterpart through this daunting time. From being there for appointments (and getting on common ground with the necessarily phallic looking ultrasound wand), to administering shots and demonstrably exploring that great mystery positioned between your significant other’s ears, there are many ways to be involved and stay connected so that your relationship will be stronger on the other side of the two-week wait.
1. Be There—Literally
During a typical visit to our clinic, we would both get called back. Then, I would bid adieu to my wife while she got her vitals taken. She would be directed to a changing room and would then proceed to the room with the ultrasound wand. Already in that room, I always shared a sideways glance with Mr. Ultrasound Wand, mentally telling that bit of technology to not overstep its bounds. The ultrasound would happen, followed by some commentary on the status of my wife’s nether region, off she went to change back into clothes, then we would leave. The whole time, maybe 25 words would be shared with me.
You know what though, I went to every appointment I could. If any of our procedures had been successful, I would have wanted to be at the OB-GYN appointments during the pregnancy. I treated these the same way.
Even more so, some of these appointments were stressful as we anticipated what the results of a change in medicine meant for uterine lining thickness or the number of follicles or some other roll of the dice we took to try to achieve a successful pregnancy. If something great or bad was revealed, I wanted to be there to celebrate or lament.
The point: Even if I felt like just a fly on the wall, I wanted to be there to be as engaged in all aspects of our infertility journey as possible.
2. Don’t Fear the Needle
Be a Medicine Man
Your wife has a ton of things on her plate and is likely to be a bit emotionally disheveled. Enter her brave knight (you) brandishing a calendar and hypodermic needles. If you have a fear of needles, time to strap on some big boy pants. Besides, you will be giving and not receiving these shots.
By being purposeful about tracking and administering her medications, you can help to assuage her apprehension about getting shots and even make them slightly less painful.
Giving shots is one of the most tangible ways to be involved. And I had a whole system worked out. I was like a NASCAR pit crew with a neurosurgeon’s precision.
Prep for Shots
OK —almost with a neurosurgeon's precision, but I really embraced the idea that I could take on the role of medicines in general and shots in particular. I would have everything positioned right where I wanted for her progesterone in oil (PIO) shots. Two alcohol pads, a syringe with a smaller needle to get the dose out and a larger needle for injection, the vial of progesterone, paper towel for cleaning up, and a litany of other items.
I wanted to show her that by my attention to detail for this process, I was doing what I could to play a central role in this aspect of our family building process.
Help with Shot Recovery
There are other things you can do to make this process less traumatic and be engaged. Warming the progesterone vial before extracting the dose will help the oil disperse from the syringe more quickly. Whether your significant other wants heat or cool after the shot, have that ready. Encourage her to walk a bit afterward, maybe with you, for example, to get her PIO-saturated muscle moving. This will help to reduce the formation of knots.
By taking charge of shot time and arranging things that reduce the impact receiving shots has on her, you can be very actively engaged in your family building journey.
3. It's Time To Talk
Just as you are experiencing minimal attention at clinic appointments, your significant other is experiencing maximal attention and this can be very stressful. It is pervasive stress and will penetrate every aspect of your relationship.
A perfect storm of physical, emotional, and financial stress will likely be on the horizon throughout your family building adventure. What good is starting a family if your relationship doesn’t survive?
Have a Seat on the Couch
“Yes, this I can do,” you say with confidence. I can indeed sit on the couch. Hold on there, Jimbo. This isn’t just resting on your laurels. This is work time. If you want to be as engaged in this as possible, you will need to put forth some emotional effort. This means that it's time to talk.
I transformed my couch from a place to catch the game to a workbench for infertility journey engagement. My wife would sit on a heating pad for a while after she got a PIO shot and I would join her. I used this time to focus on our journey so that we could use other times to focus on the rest of the world swirling around us. I would ask engaging questions like:
- “How are these shots weighing on you?”
- “Was today’s shot easier or harder than yesterday’s?”
- "How has increasing X medicine made you feel differently?”
- “What did you think when our reproductive endocrinologist (RE) said X?”
This talk time is a two-way street. It can be really valuable to share what you are going through and how you are feeling:
- “It is hard giving you these shots and putting you through this pain for something that we don’t know will work.”
- “It worried me that our RE only counted 4 follicles on your ovary.”
- “I’m excited that tomorrow is our trigger shot.”
Asking questions and sharing how you are dealing with everything that the world of infertility throws at you is one of the best ways to be engaged. It is equally beneficial for strengthening your relationship during a time that is so demanding. Sure, you are involved in this process for the purpose of having a family, but wouldn’t it be great if you came out the other side of this voyage with an even closer relationship?
Be a Partner, not a Spectator
Although you are not the one getting poked and prodded, that doesn’t mean that you cannot be involved. By going to appointments, taking charge of medication schedules and administration, and discussing your emotional state, you can feel like a partner in your family building journey instead of a spectator.