A BBC article highlighted how infertility care can be a very different experience for men and women, noting how various sources feel that men should be treated with the same sensitivity.
Gareth Down, 31, felt he had nowhere to turn to when he needed help; so much so, he set up a support group for men who have fertility issues. He believes that male fertility should be handled in the same way as any other medical condition.
Fertility Network UK concurs, stating that infertility care for men ‘can be insensitive and one-sided’. The charity has surveyed men looking for help to fulfil their dreams of becoming fathers.
Findings revealed that ‘Men can feel excluded, with female partners being the main focus of attention in clinics’. And the organisation says that things must change; men’s needs must be taken seriously.
With the ever-increasing emphasis on equality, and quite rightly so, men should experience the same level of care and sensitivity, when it comes to infertility matters, as women do.
Gareth’s journey began following ‘a blunt conversation with his GP’ when he was just 20, which was when he found out that he had no sperm.
He and his wife Nat welcomed their son into the world last year, after eight long years which saw them endure ‘nine cycles of treatment and four miscarriages. He knows only too well the effects that infertility can have – from a male perspective – and the levels of support available.
Sharing and caring
He reflects on his feelings throughout that time and says that ‘a men-only space for sharing experiences was important, and would have made him feel much better’.
Explaining: “I just wanted to rant sometimes, but I didn’t feel my thoughts were valid”, he goes on to say: “Women are the ones having to go through it all and I felt I didn’t have a right to talk or complain.”
Gareth touches on the subject still being quite taboo and describes how it can be “made even worse when you’re made to feel like you’re wasting NHS time and resources.”
There is not a lot of information on how men cope with infertility, Fertility Network UK confirms. Men are often ‘reluctant to share their experiences’. The research undertaken highlighted that men often feel “excluded”, “marginalised”, confirming that they felt they had been “treated insensitively”.
Almost all of the forty-one men who responded to the online survey – put together by researchers from Leeds Beckett University – said that their wellbeing had been affected and many said they felt ‘worthless’ or “less of a man”.
One man’s extremely telling comment: “The whole experience has been focused towards my wife… even consultants’ letters about my genitalia are addressed to my wife. There seems to be no equality” which gives an indication to the importance of the issue.
Fertility Network UK’s chief executive, Susan Seenan, urged men to talk about their experiences and noted how ‘clinics should pay extra attention to the care needs of the men they see and treat’.
She went on: “Men are half of the fertility equation. When they cannot create the family they long for without medical help, they suffer and struggle physically – and mentally – just as women do.”
Male infertility can be attributed to a number of reasons, the most common being poor quality semen.