Guest blog by Naomi Shaw.
Infertility can be an extremely emotionally sensitive time for people who want to be parents. The news is devastating for both partners, and can cause the infertile partner to feel worthless or like less of a person for not being able to reproduce. However, it is a common misconception that only women deal with these feelings about infertility.
Recent studies of infertile men suggest that it is even more challenging for a man, due to social stereotypes and pressures. We tend to fall into the trap of not being supportive because we have preconceived ideas about how men deal with emotions and life-changing events such as male infertility. In fact, we have so long belabored the idea that it was a man’s duty to produce and provide for children that many men feel inadequate if they can’t reproduce. What can be done to help men cope more efficiently with male infertility?
Emotions Are Key
Strong feelings of disappointment and helplessness can accompany infertility, and when it is a woman, our society tends to be understanding toward her. When it is a man, however, he can be the butt of many jokes because of social standards that have been set for thousands of years. He or those mocking him might question his masculinity, embarrass or humiliate him for crying or grieving, or even be suspicious of past behavior such as drug or alcohol abuse. It is traumatic for anyone to experience infertility, but when we are not sympathetic to men, they suffer. With social norms calling for men to be “strong” by not sharing emotions and by only using logic in reasoning, many men are lacking emotional intelligence, or EQ. This is the ability to discern one’s own emotions as well as those of others, and is vital in helping a man cope with infertility.
He Has Feelings, Too
Not all men lack EQ, but many people rate it as less important than other qualities. This creates circumstances where stress and emotional suppression affect both one’s relationships, and one’s physical health. Societal norms have downplayed the importance of men sharing emotions, calling on men to be stoics and labeling emotions irrational and feminine. With this upbringing being nearly universal, our men are taught that sharing emotions, especially about traumatic events, is an undesirable trait. Combatting this mindset requires EQ not only from the man but also from the people around him.
A Note for Wives and Doctors
A common complaint among men receiving treatment for infertility is that the focus seems to be centered on the woman. This includes all of the support and much of the time in doctors’ consultations. Outspoken men who suffer from male infertility have brought this issue to the fore by calling for more research to fill in the sparse knowledge we have now, and also by forming support groups. However, the two most important people involved in coping with male infertility are a man’s wife, and the doctor administering the actual treatment. Emotional support in this stage is imperative. Listening to infertile men and acknowledging their feelings and hardships regarding their inability to conceive can go a long way to helping men cope. It is such an easy thing, yet many of us fall into the trap of assuming our men have it handled and do not need our support.
Tire Sadness Away
One more constructive way to cope with the negative feelings associated with male infertility is to be physically active. It can help the man relax by relieving muscle tension from stress and depression. Mindful workouts, such as yoga or tai chi, can also help the brain relax. Meditation, especially mindfulness, can not only help release the tension in the muscles, but can also help build EQ. Here at Circle+Bloom, we offer a variety of mindfulness meditations designed to promote your health and targeted toward reproduction. Circle+Bloom even offers a program specifically for men, called Relaxation for Men, that offers short sessions of 15-25 minutes and focused on positive self-esteem and calming stress. All of this helps reduce the amount of the hormone cortisol, which is released when a person is under stress, but whose long-term effects can create health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Infertility is a huge challenge for many couples, and coping with the helplessness and frustration of trying to conceive can seem a daunting task. It is an emotional and sensitive issue that requires support and understanding from everyone around the man. The suffering is real, and our attitudes about men’s emotions need to adapt so we can give men suffering from infertility the kindness and dignity they deserve.
Naomi Shaw is a freelance journalist residing in sunny Southern California with her husband and three children. She is a work-at-home mom that enjoys writing on fashion, beauty, jewelry, and health. She loves to garden, craft, and revamp furniture, making it look very much her own.