It always warms my heart whenever I see men taking front and centre in their fertility journey, and asking questions, seeking clarifications, and such.
Sometimes, it shows the helplessness they feel at not being able to “fix” this infertility business. Sometimes, their comments show their uncertainty and the fear that, perhaps, this might not work out in the end.
I love the fact that they are showing emotions and concern, a trait our society has condemned as signs of weakness. Ultimately, what this show of emotion allows is the help that they are able to get, simply by opening up.
Some men don’t know what to do, or how to deal with infertility, and thus seek to know. Some get angry, lash out at their wives, when what they really wanted was to cuddle her and tell her, “It will be fine in the end,” or “I support you on this journey one hundred percent.” Yet due to the mixed signals, they end up doing the exact opposite of what they would have wanted to do.
This is not to absolve men who purposely maltreat their wives as a result of failure to conceive, but to bring to light the not-often-talked-about emotions that men feel when infertility rears its ugly head.
A case in point is Nonso, who has only been married for one year and already, everyone is looking for a solution on his and his wife’s behalf, for their purported childlessness.
Even though he admits that his mother is not so worried about this business, his older brother, who got married after he did and who now has a baby daughter, his sister, who lives in another state, but has now turned this issue to her bread and butter, have both taken the matter personal.
On his behalf, they are going from one prophet’s place to another, seeking for reasons their brother’s wife is not pregnant yet. They also seek solutions, and they have also brought back all sorts of reports. Some of which I would really not want to repeat, because they give too much credence to the devil and its cohorts.
Every time a report is brought back from their prophet’s round, he gets depressed, he is unable to sleep at night and his joy is stolen.
All of this would be after he has offloaded on his wife, who feels the pinch but refuses to tow the path of prophets seeking solutions where they are none.
So, while Nonso deals with not only his fears that he might be infertile (yes, he thinks that too), he also has to deal with siblings, who feel that they are doing him a favour by seeking solutions.
The notion of continuing a genetic line has strong emotional connections for many men, particularly those who are only sons. Infertility can mean not only the inability to pass along the family name, but also the family genes.
This could result in a man’s retreat into silence about his infertility. This is mostly a gender specific response to stress, not necessarily a lack of feeling about the situation.
That was the point Denola tried to put across to his mother, who had started to cry about wanting a grandchild, since his marriage clocked two years. Denola is an only son, the last born after four older girls.
All his sisters are married with beautiful nieces and nephews for him. Some of whom are almost as tall as he is, and served on his bridal team during his wedding. So he never expected to deal with infertility, but here’s the twist. Although, he is the last child of his mother, he is the first and only child of his father.
His father got married later in life, and then to a woman who already had four children, a fact which remains a point of discussion in his father’s family till date. It took a while before he came along, and there was all sorts of talk of his mother having given birth to all the children she ‘choose as her destiny.’ “There are no more children in that woman, ojare.” “What do you expect, when you marry an after-four?” “She don born all the children wey dey her body.” And the comments went on.
His mother still smarts from the comments from those days. When she discovered she was pregnant, it was a big deal, not just for her and her husband, but also the entire family. His naming ceremony was a carnival of sorts.
They started trying again after Denola clocked one, but it never happened again. So, when Denola and his wife, Binta, didn’t have any baby in the first two years of their marriage, his mother was patient, she gave them pointers, even though these pointers were sometimes embarrassing, but by the time two years rolled by, Mama was no longer interested in subtle hints. She came out to ask if anything was wrong and if it was, then, it how could be fixed.
It was during this time that the reason for the delay was revealed. It was a result of male factor infertility.
In our culture, where masculinity or machismo is very important, it is common to find the female partner taking public responsibility for the infertility as a way of protecting the man from the perceived shame of being the cause.
That was exactly what she did; Binta took on the responsibility for their infertility, in order to protect her gentle husband. More so, all questions were directed at her, it was expected that she was the one with the issue.
With Mama’s prompting, they visited a doctor, ran some tests and interestingly, while Binta was given a clean bill of health, while Denola was diagnosed with sperm issues. It was the worst fear of his mother, materialised. He was crushed and he just retreated into himself. He took his medication but refused to talk about it, not to his wife, nor to his mother.
With improvement in his sperm, they opted for IVF and it was a successful cycle, first time out. That was the best thing that could happen to Denola. He came out of his silence mood, treated his wife like an egg, almost like he was ‘apologising’ for his infertility. That white elephant they had still not talked about.
Years later, they had gone on to have two more children, all via IVF. Still, conversations on this subject have been sketchy, at best. Now that their family is complete, it almost as if they had never dealt with infertility, but his overprotectiveness with his kids tells a different story.
His eyes say he will gladly give his life for his children. But like his father before him, he uses silence to cover his emotions.
I cannot say it enough, it is important for TTC men and women to share their truth, especially during this year’s Global Infertility Awareness week themed “Listen Up”.
It helps on all sides in the long run.
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