“You get to have more sex … what are you complaining about?” That is the response I've often received when talking about infertility with other guys.
Really though, it is anything but awesome. I have likened it to being a visitor versus a safety inspector at a theme park. As a visitor, you run from ride to ride experiencing all of the thrills the park has to offer. As a safety inspector, you visit all the same places. But, instead of a pretzel and beer in your hands, you have a clipboard, a schedule, and an ulterior motive. You don’t experience the thrills, you check boxes.
You don’t experience the thrills, you check boxes.
So then what is the next line in this conversation with “the guys”? The conversations I've had would often rapidly move to another topic. There were two reasons for this:
- My audience was honestly not sure what to say.
- I did not get the response that would suggest these gents were interested in a meaningful conversation about how my life was impacted by our struggle with infertility.
Talking About Infertility—With Someone Who Isn't Your Partner
Although I am not one to actively seek to share my emotions and feelings with others, infertility is so all-pervading and taxing that I often found having someone to talk through issues and emotions with was incredibly therapeutic.
Conversations with my wife were great, but I often found myself encumbered with the desire to focus my mental efforts on addressing her issues and not what was going on with me. Beyond my wife, it was incredibly hard to find the right person(s) that I could develop a relationship with to the point that I felt comfortable discussing my inner feelings and fears as our journey through infertility continued.
But I do think that making the effort to build these relationships can become an invaluable part of your voyage to have that family you want.
It starts with identifying a person that is willing and comfortable to play this role in your life. The next step is recognizing how to unpack your story in a way that you both remain comfortable. Finally, and this is especially true if your newfound confidant is on a similar journey, learning about their story and relating it to your experiences will build comfort and confidence in you. Here is how it works.
From my experience, there is a high likelihood that men will still respond as if we were in a locker room if a sensitive topic comes up and we don’t know how to respond.
Finding A Confidant —Separate Genuine Interest from Bravado
OK, it's likely that most guys are not going to talk about anything that would threaten their masculinity in a locker room. From my experience, there is a high likelihood that men will still respond as if we were in a locker room if a sensitive topic comes up and we don’t know how to respond (see above).
This likely means that finding someone you can talk to about everything you are facing with your mission to have a family is likely to require a bit of investment.
The best place to look for a like-minded individual is within the world of infertility. Although this may seem obvious, I never considered asking my wife if she could ask the people she is talking with if their husbands wanted to go out for a beer or something. This could be a remnant of the reality that I have rarely exercised my “seeking someone to talk with” muscle before.
The next place is to look within the friends you already have. For guys, or at least the ones I know, we have a finite number of male friends. We keep them close. This is a great resource to mine for support. However, even very close friends may squirm or simply still be in a “sowing wild oats” stage of their life. They are not thinking about sex for family building so it might be a stretch for them to act as that stoic sounding board you are seeking.
It is awesome if you do have someone within your inner friendship circle. No need for any icebreakers or trepidation about treading in new waters of conversation if you have known your buddy for 20 years.
The Support Group
The final place I will mention— the support group. For guys, or at least from my experiences, this kind of feels like being the only dude salmon swimming upstream with a litany of chick salmon. What I mean is that every support group meeting that I have attended has had a gender imbalance in the number of attendees. There is more chick salmon than dude salmon.
Second, the people within the group always seemed far more comfortable sharing their struggles than I was and I would quickly find myself simply nodding my head during conversations instead of participating.
Still, there is no question about why the people are at that meeting and they have all already demonstrated some level of interest in actively discussing this sensitive topic. I have met a few great male resources through these interactions. We would typically take our deeper conversations up at a different location that was not quite as “public” as a support group setting.
Unpack Your Story in a Way You Are Comfortable
Now that you have found “that person” with whom you are comfortable sharing your inner feelings, fears, and frustrations with, how do you share them? Emotional regurgitation of everything you have felt since you were three years old is probably not the best choice. This “spill the beans” approach might leave you with a huge mess on the floor and exchanging dumbfounded glances about what to do with all those beans.
Instead, consider your conversation to be like exploring a new planet. You made it there safely and are comfortable staying within the confines of an initial conversation on family building. Now, take your first step into that unfamiliar terrain.
If you were exploring a new planet, your first step would not be into a volcano or off a cliff. Your progression with your infertility confidant doesn't need to be any different. Share something that you are only slightly unsettled about sharing. This can help prevent you from feeling overly vulnerable by giving your emotional liaison the opportunity to take that step with you.
Just like our planetary explorer, if that first step quickly leads to inhospitable terrain, it is best to retrace back to your home base and start in a different direction. It could be that something you shared did not result in the feedback you expected or it elicited a response that made you uncomfortable. Whatever the reason, the best way for this interaction to become more meaningful, and for you to develop this person as a resource, is to make sure that everyone remains comfortable.
If that first step leads to a promising landscape though, use it to encourage you to forge ahead. Maybe your audience responded with something that demonstrated sincere empathy, maybe they had a similar experience, maybe they not only could relate but took that next step in their response. Regardless of the reason, stay on the path until you either come to the end of it or you start to develop discomfort.
Feedback is key. The audio-heads out there would say that feedback is highly undesirable. But in developing someone to act as a resource for your soul, you will likely find that their feedback is imperative; you can glean so much from it. You can tell how comfortable they are with your conversation, how closely that topic bearing down on you relates to their experiences, and maybe even learn how they dealt with similar emotions.
Certainly, talking about your feelings is beneficial. Equally beneficial though is to see how those feelings you are expressing have been interpreted, also experienced, and dealt with by your infertility confidant.
Worth the Effort
Talking about what we feel without feeling vulnerable is hard. It is a portion of my being that I have not often exercised. As with any muscle though, the more we use it, the more it develops. Finding the right workout partner and learning the exercises are critical to developing our emotional muscle.
As I have gone through my infertility journey, I have been very fortunate to realize this and even more so, to have people to confide in, my workout partners. If you look, you can find these people and you will quickly realize how incredibly different your journey through infertility can be.