Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It goes where?! A husband's thoughts on IVF

Mo says that most of the readers of this blog will be women. I expect she’s right but am not sure why us guys are not more interested.

Is it that we are not engaged. . .or are we just afraid?

This leads me to ponder one of my greatest until-recently unspoken and self-ignored feelings - the sense of somehow being "left out" of the picture by IVF. I hate saying it, but truth be told the whole IVF process leaves me feeling a bit emasculated. I know it isn’t rational and certainly not externally imposed but somehow deep down I feel a little sidelined by IVF.

We started IVF as a solid two-person team. I am an MD working in academic medicine, so my work side liked the structure of IVF - you have a calendar detailing each step of the process. At the beginning, I was intent on coming to each appointment to tackle whatever challenge – blood draw, ultrasound, SIS, HSG, surgical procedure - that Mo faced. We would do it all together.

My enthusiasm dampened almost immediately. The hormones started kicking in quickly, making Mo's temperament…um…somewhat unpredictable. And my internal dialogue began to change: When Mo said, “I don't need you to come to today’s appointment,” I heard, “I’d rather go without you.” When Mo moaned quietly during a particularly grueling PIO injection, I’d start to think defensively, “It’s not MY fault that hurt so much!” As the days passed, I started to feel a seeping guilt that Mo had to go through the wringer every single day, while I was relatively unscathed by the process. I also started questioning just what my role really was.

And what IS my role, really in this whole IVF business? It comes down to my producing a single semen sample. I realize it’s an essential part of things, but it seems so…mechanistic. And so removed from me as a person.

In case you aren’t intimately familiar with the sperm collection process in IVF, let me walk you through my first time:

The morning started early with a careful scrubbing of the family jewels with Dial soap. Note to self: Make sure to use the cleanest towel!

I arrived at the hospital with Mo and found about six other couples in the waiting room. The women wore hospital gowns and those dreadful treaded ankle-high socks and the men wore the usual weekend uniform of T-shirts, jeans, and baseball caps. A vague tension filled the room - no one was really talking and everyone seemed particularly engrossed in old copies of the New Yorker. Each man got called (separately, Thank God) to deliver his sample.

The collection room was small and cold and sterile. A vinyl La-Z-Boy engulfed one corner and a TV hung on the opposite wall. Next to the lounger was a small table with a remote control and a stack of well- thumbed porn magazines. A small sliding window was set into the wall where I was supposed to put my completed specimen. I could hear the lab techs on the other side of their sliding window. Good God, they sounded so close!

I settled in to the lounger and carefully balanced the specimen cup next to me with the cap nearly unscrewed. Sorry to be graphic, but trying to coordinate that "moment we are all waiting for" is a bit of a challenge – it’s not like guys routinely catch their sperm in a Dixie cup at home. I turned on the TV and noticed a VCR (when was the last time I saw one of those?!). There was only one tape and by this time it was nearly at the end. I rewound it and pressed play.

The title was something like Rear Entry. Huh. The video itself was somehow both slightly boring AND slightly disturbing at the same time. And the soundtrack was pure 70s and blaring. I tried to concentrate on the task at hand…but I couldn’t help it, I started thinking

Can the lab techs just beyond the wall hear this terrible music?

What about the kind motherly nurse who showed me in?

What if I can't orgasm?

What if, what if, WHAT IF???

Thankfully, I was able to focus and - ahem - complete my assignment. I returned to the waiting room to be with Mo. They called her name and approximately 20 minutes later she was done, groggy and saying weird things because of the anesthesia, but OK. I tried to absorb the few things the nurse was telling us since I knew Mo would have some degree of amnesia. We took a cab home.

After the grueling two-week wait we found out that we were preggers!! I was thrilled. There was still much monitoring to go…days of Betas and ultrasounds and my part already long over.

And I really hate to admit it, but I started to feel that the team was shifting from

me and Mo


Mo and the RE.

This was not Mo's fault but my own insecurity and lack of insight. When we were released from the RE's domain to start a new chapter with our OB, Mo went to the first visit alone since I needed to be at work - she didn't really need me since we had just been to the RE earlier that week and the fetus had looked great – perfect size, perfect heartbeat - right?

But then I got a call from my secretary saying my wife had come to the hospital and was waiting in my office. When I got there, Mo was distraught - I knew what had happened as soon as I saw the look on her face. My heart sunk and my mind went blank. I felt hopeless and helpless. We talked in my office and then slowly walked across Central Park, comforting each other. I'll always remember that. We left each other near Strawberry Fields. We had lost our pregnancy but we had each other.

So what have I learned? I have learned that I need to involve myself in every step, both physically and emotionally. I have learned that I am not truly present if I limit my role to just being a support to Mo. I have learned that I need to be open about my own dreams, fears, and expectations so that we can truly be a team. Turning my emotional firewall off has been enormously helpful in connecting both with Mo and in increasing my ability to feel part of this crazy IVF process.

So now I turn to you readers:

Ladies, what advice do you have to help me be as present with Mo as possible… and dare I say it, not be so…hopelessly male…about this whole process?

And any male readers lurking out there, what have YOUR experiences of the IVF madness been?



  1. Will,

    My husband and I never got to the IVF stage... our RE cut us off before then. But we did go through an injectable IUI.

    The most important thing my husband said to me was: "I realize this is so much harder on you than it is me." His understanding that it IS harder on me than him (even though we both have fertility issues) made me feel so much better. I'm not really sure why, but it helped. Another thing he did was take care of telling his side of the family about our fertility issues - my mother-in-law was always asking about grandkids. He nipped it in the bud because he knew how much it hurt and bothered me. Finally, his pampering me after injections (I have a severe fear of needles) and letting me watch chick-flicks when I was feeling down didn't hurt either!

    Not sure this gives you guidance with Mo, but it worked for me.


  2. I know it isn't in his nature, but I wish my DH was more aware of what is going on in the cycle. Sounds like you already do that - but simple things like the fact that I'm going in for b/w (which is always written on our calendar) completely escape him. I don't know if he is protecting himself or just uninterested, but it makes me feel like I'm alone. And maybe Mo doesn't need that, but I'm betting it wouldn't hurt.

  3. Thank you both for your comments. I have come to realize that I am often not comfortable with my own emotions and try to either suppress them entirely or cover them up with inward or outward pep talks. I found that this works in the short term but eventually the emotions surface one way or another. Furthermore, this means I am also trying to talk Mo out of her feelings which definitely doesn't work :). Mo and I have discussed this at length. Our communication is now frequent and honest. I can only be present with her if individually we are present with our own emotions. I understand that our relationship is a work in progress and will be for the rest of our lives. There is a greater sense of confidence and freedom because of our openness. This is a great feeling and gives me the courage to move forward without the fear of disappointment.

  4. I asked my husband, and he felt left out too. He felt the nurses ignored him and like his only job was to jack off in a cup. He resented how people didn't realize how much all of this stuff affected him too, and he was upset that most resources for men seemed to end at sports metaphors. Just make sure that he sticks his neck out and demands the attention that he deserves. Don't allow himself to be ignored by the nurses, etc.

    The whole thing sucks. Good luck. I hope it's successful for you.

  5. Here from LFCA.

    The single best (and funniest) post I have ever seen on this subject (though it may or may not be right for you) is this one: http://smarshyboy.blogspot.com/2006/09/happiest-infertile-on-block.html (by the male member of an infertile couple).

    Beyond that ... well, I'm a funny one to be writing about this; I'm an IVFer who (despite being married) does everything by herself (including my PIO shots, but excepting retrieval, for which I do need DH to be present as they knock me out -- though once he was out of town on a fishing trip and my mom took me. We're working (only) with frozen semen as he's had a vasectomy and failed reversal but had some surgically retrieved in the reversal, so there really is no need for him to be there). My DH just isn't "in" to this and I've accepted that and decided I can deal with it.

    But enough about me ... I'd say some of the big issues (and one we did actually have to work through, the above notwithstanding) do have to do with disclosure. I'm totally "in the closet" and it took a long time to get DH to keep his darned mouth shut. The more attempts we made (DS was conceived on IVF #4, and in addition to the 3 preceding fresh cycles there were 2 FETs), the less I wanted ANYONE knowing we were trying. You may be on the same page already (not as me, obviously, but as each other!), but if not I think it's good to get there if not 100% in theory (i.e. you don't necessarily have to FEEL the same), at least in practice (you have to DO the same -- more or less, anyway). Two, honestly whatever gets her through the 2ww and just in general keeps her stress down, triumphs, I think. If it's travel, make it happen ... if it's chocolate (or a good book) bring some home. There's so much more to the female part of IVF that this just seems to me to make sense ... the woman cannot take on more, so the man should pick up some of what can be redistributed (vacuuming, anyone?).

    Good luck with your cycle.

  6. Back to apologize; my post directly above this one should, of course, have mentioned that the blogger in question is dealing with SIF and mentions his DD at length in the post I linked too. Sorry, I've been around (far) long enough to know better.

  7. Alex

    No worries. It's ok to read about others successes. They sound well-earned in this case. But I appreciate your sensitivity. I LOVED the link - Smarshy hits it on the head exactly - what I want is to be validated, not fixed (and I certainly don't want things minimized!). Will hasn't seen your comment yet but will take a look later after I've pestered him about it some more. Apparently he's busy saving lives or something. : )


  8. I spent much of today in the pediatric oncology clinic (not my specialty)which instantly gives you some perspective and a chance to pause to re-evaluate how health is a gift. While I was there, someone randomly gave me a doll with Mo's name on it (a coincidence which didn't escape me).
    I agree that one of the most important aspects of being an active participant (all jokes aside) is to support Mo through the whole process. This gives us time to be together and appreciate how challenging the whole process is. From the outside, it seems like a fairly routine procedure, but the emotional roller coaster is only felt by the two of us.
    Thank you for the link - it is good to read another perspective!

  9. What a wonderful post- I think you did a great job of telling us how it is for you. I will have to get my husband to read this!

  10. Fianlly another bloke who write about his primary role role as belly button fluff (and just how useful is belly button fluff!) in this whole process. As you say we dont have a lot to do apart from "the money shot" so I ham it up and pretend I am a porn star, (why not - frik, there is not much else fun on this journey). Also - my job is as deflector to keep stress away from the pair of us during a cycle - now THAT is a full time job. (I also started a blog this time hoping to find more fellows out there... its hard.. IVF is a chicks world and fair enough I guess)..IVF men - come out and chat!

  11. Will,
    Great posting that I'm finally seeing. I just caught up with your guys's blog tonight.

    Paul and I were having a similar conversation on his blog at: http://adventuresinfatherland.com/index.php/2009/05/when-pregnancy-happens-to-someone-else/

    I've read the rest of your blog and so, so, very sorry to hear the outcomes. My very best to both you and Mo, as I can only imagine the pain you've felt. Hang in there.


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