Introduction Max Pemberton is a doctor, journalist and author. He lives in London and specialises in mental health.
Dolors Cirera is the clinical psychologist at the Eugin Clinic, Europe’s leading fertility clinic. She specialises in the applied psychology of assisted reproduction.
We’ve come together to create this guide because, while undergoing fertility treatment can be really stressful for couples, studies show that men are often so focused on their partner’s well being, they mask their own feelings. Because women are the focus in the process, men are too easily forgotten and their role as supporter often leaves them without support themselves. We want to provide some no nonsense information and support specifically for men who are going through fertility treatment with their partner so they can prepare themselves for what lies ahead.
You’re not alone Fertility problems affect about 15-20% of couples and this number is growing as more people leave it later in life to start a family while they focus on their careers. Britain now has one of the highest rates across Europe for women giving birth over 40, with the number of births in this age bracket trebling over the last twenty years. For most of these couples, they decide to seek help through fertility treatment, which can include exploring their options using donor eggs.
Although it’s increasingly common, fertility treatment isn’t easy for either partner to undergo. The important thing to remember is that lots of men have gone through this. You’re not alone. To ensure that you’re going to be strong enough to support your partner though, it’s important that you know what to expect, what it feels like to go through the process and how to look after yourself.
Be prepared It’s important to remember that only around 32% of couples going through IVF actually get pregnant per cycle of treatment and often up to 3 cycles of IVF treatment may be recommended, so the costs can really mount up. Financial worries can make physical and emotional stress worse for both partners. For many men, they feel the burden of the financial pressures on their shoulders throughout the treatment process. It’s important that you prepare for many possibilities that may arise, such as: •
Explaining what’s happening to friends and family
Other people not understanding what you’re going through
The side effects your partner might experience from the fertility drugs such as headaches, nausea and weight gain
Taking time off work for appointments, sometimes at short notice
The physical aspects of treatment, such as injections
General tiredness or feeling low, especially if this is not her first treatment
Emotional aspects of treatment, such as mood changes
The possibility that things may work out this time round
Changes to your sex life while focusing on fertility treatment
It’s a lot of to think about but doing so now means you’ll feel better prepared as you go through the treatment process.
How can you support your partner? Fertility treatment can be a taxing time for your partner. She effectively hands control of her body over to a fertility specialist. She will undergo many injections, which can have side effects and, often, appointments at the fertility clinic can’t be planned – they’re dictated by her response to the fertility treatment. This lack of control can be very difficult to manage. There are some practical things you can do to help. Prepare yourself If you are prepared, you will feel better and will be a more supportive partner. Here are some simple tips: •
Before each appointment, sit down with your partner and make a list of all the questions you want to ask the doctor
You should both try and keep to your usual day-to-day routine as much as possible, including keeping up with hobbies and interests
Play an active role during the visit to the doctor
Don’t be afraid to ask the doctors to explain something in more detail if you’re confused or concerned
If things are difficult, suggest you both see a counsellor at the clinic
Don’t forget to tell her that you love her
Find out from the clinic what to do if there are any problems out of hours
Don’t hide your own emotions in order to protect your partner. It’s important to share how you are both feeling
Express your ideas and concerns calmly and rationally
Be positive. Remember that you are stronger together and that you are on the right track
Take notes during the appointment as you and your partner are bound to forget some stuff that’s discussed
Don’t forget your relationship •
Try to remember that you’re both going through a tough time and don’t forget to try and find time for each other away from the clinic
How will fertility treatment affect you? Even though it's the female partner who undergoes the treatment, men can find it very hard to cope during the cycles. There are worries about the effects of fertility treatment on his partner's health and he may feel unable to help her. It's therefore important to consider your needs and to ensure that you’ve put in place some mechanisms for coping. Sometimes it’s things you wouldn’t think about. For example, many men are nervous about having to produce a semen sample on demand. You might also feel sidelined or redundant for much of the process. Some men say that they feel helpless, angry or guilty because their partners are going through something difficult and they can’t make everything better. These feelings are normal. If you’re prepared for them, it makes them easier to cope with. Having another point of view can also be helpful. Confiding in a close family member or friend can help to take some of the pressure off you. Alternatively, fertility clinics provide specialist counselling specifically to deal with the issues around fertility treatments and lots of men find this helps. Counselling can help: •
Allow you and your partner to speak freely without being judged
Get things that are troubling you out in the open
Come up with solutions and ways of coping
OF RESPONDENTS 05.
felt that undergoing treatment had left their relationship feeling strained
Problems conceiving can have a big effect on a couple’s relationship and this is different for each individual couple. Most are unprepared for the emotional upheaval of facing and accepting their situation and the subsequent treatment. It can affect couples in ways they’d never imagined, such as socially, financially and experiences feelings of isolated. Men tend not to be very good at talking about their feelings but it’s so important that you try and tell your partner how you’re feeling. Don’t bottle it up. If things are getting really difficult and you just can’t put it into words, try writing it in an email or letter to get the ball rolling. You can also get further support from infertility help groups, on-line forums and your GP.
MEN’S GUIDE TO FERTILITY
How will fertility treatment affect your relationship?
Tips from those who have been through it: We decided to have a special night in once a week and take it in turns to cook for each other. I can now make a mean spaghetti bolognaise,” Nick, Newcastle It’s important that you remember you’re human beings, not machines. Don’t let sex become too mechanical. It’s not all about making babies,” Peter, Southampton I used to write lists of everything we had to do so I didn’t feel too overwhelmed. I had lists everywhere!” Sanjeev, Glasgow I found my wife’s friends were good to talk to as they were detached enough from it all but cared and gave a woman’s perspective on things,” Sandy, Liverpool Get a calendar and put it up somewhere like the kitchen. It helps to avoid missed appointments and double bookings, which just make things more difficult,” Robert, Maidenhead The process is stressful but being a dad is worth every minute of it,”
General Information The Eugin Clinic has helped over 16,000 families see their dreams come true since 1999. The Eugin Clinic website highlights the statistics associated with each treatment, depending on age. The probability of pregnancy occurring naturally following intercourse is 17%. All success rates exceed Europe's average: 49% instead of 32%. In the case of IVF with donor eggs, the probability of pregnancy is 61%. At the Consultation Centre, couples can meet with a qualified Patient Liaison Officer to understand the treatment process and ask any questions free of charge and with no obligation. Eugin London Consultation Centre 17 Cavendish Square London | W1G 0PH T: 0203 178 8332 www.eugin.co.uk
Eugin London Consultation Centre 17 Cavendish Square | London | W1G 0PH T: 0203 178 8332 www.eugin.co.uk
Eugin Clinic Men's Guide to Fertility