Progyny is launching a three-part webinar series to focus on men and infertility. For our first webinar, we explored the emotional impact of infertility on men. Infertility is often mischaracterized as a female issue, but it affects men too. And because of the stigma around it, men are often left to suffer in silence. We thought it was time to open the conversation about men and infertility. In this webinar we discussed how to ask for support, talk about the journey, and recover from a loss.
Journey to Fatherhood: Finding Support in the Journey
- Dan Bulger, Producer and Host of This is Infertility podcast
- Will Rivera II, Co-founder, Fertility in Colour for Men
- Denny Ceizyk, Author of Almost a Father
- Arthur J. McGrath, LCSW, CST, BCN, MPA, Psychotherapist
Introduction to the World of Infertility and Insurance
Although 1 in 8 couples experience infertility, one-third of infertility diagnoses are female-factor, one-third are male-factor, and the final third are categorized as unknown. This breakdown might be surprising since there isn’t much coverage of infertility in the news, and even if there is, the story often focuses on the female and leaves out the male. Receiving a diagnosis of infertility, sorting insurance if you don’t have Progyny coverage, and treatment itself can all emotionally challenging—for men and women. That’s why it’s important to hear from others about their journeys and find a community in which you can share your story.
Denny found dealing with a diagnosis of infertility very hard, as the romantic notion of having a child morphed into a clinical procedure where his only role was to provide a sample in a cup. He didn’t know how to support his wife through the procedures, as she was the one going through treatment and the physical pain associated while he was relegated to the side. On top of that, it was difficult to understand all the medical jargon, and the science behind it was overwhelming.
However, Denny made it his mission to be as involved as possible and took over handling the conversations with insurance. As he was self-employed, he had very little insurance coverage but that he did have was very hard to understand. It was especially difficult differentiating between what was a diagnostic exam and therefore covered, and fertility treatment and not covered. If the diagnostic claims were related to fertility, the insurance would try and deny the claims. For example, when his wife got a hysterosalpingogram (HSG), which is part of a routine exam, they would try and reject the claim based it being for fertility, so Denny spent a lot of time battling them. Understanding the insurance jargon itself was difficult, but it was even more complicated when insurance was unwilling to cover anything, even when it should’ve been covered.
Progyny members never have to worry about what is and isn’t covered. If you’re a Progyny member, call your dedicated Patient Care Advocate to understand the full extent of your coverage.
Finding Emotional Support
Men are taught from a very young age to suppress their emotions, but particularly their negative emotions like sadness. This behavior is not something men grow out of—in fact it can be even harder to open up as an adult—but as a result, it’s hard to find support when going through something as emotionally trying as infertility.
Noticing your emotional state is very important when going through the family building process. If you feel yourself starting to get resentful or upset, that’s a good time to stop and talk with yourself or your partner and check in with your emotions and see why you’re feeling that way. If you have a partner, it’s really important to share your feelings with them on the journey and let them know if you’re having trouble. Your partner is also a support system for you on the journey just as much as a support person for them. Feeling heard during this process is extremely important.
Denny found the support on his family building journey sorely lacking. The first support group he visited was clinic-run and featured a psychologist who didn’t understand fertility and combined those suffering from primary and secondary infertility into one group. The next group he attended was female-focused, and Denny felt he was invading the process and didn’t address his needs. Instead, he and his wife started a couple’s support group in their hometown. Denny saw the change in couples that arrived. At first the body language suggested they were not getting along, but when they left they did so as a united front, holding hands and sharing affection. For the six years, he went through infertility, Denny found the support group a huge lifeline. Sharing as a couple helped develop a team approach and helped him feel an important part of the journey. To this day—18 years later—he is still in contact with some of the people he met in that support group.
Will and his wife waited three years before they felt ready to seek any support from a group. Originally his wife went to one but had such a bad experience that they decided to start their own couples’ group that featured a few breakout sessions for men too. It was vital for Will to be in a group of people that had normalized infertility and understood his struggles, and he immediately found a sense of support. Infertility is incredibly isolating, especially when you bury your emotions, so speaking with men who’ve had a similar experience is incredibly empowering and reassuring.
Even those who are not ready to share their stories or speak up themselves, support groups are a great tool. Showing up to a support group is a huge step forward and an immediate way to create a community. It’s a great opportunity to absorb information and learn from others who have already been through it. For those going through this with a female partner, joining them at a group session can help you feel a part of the process and shows your support.
Taking a Break from the Family Building Journey
Sometimes everything can be too much, and you may feel you need to pause your family building journey to allow yourself some time to reflect and heal. If you feel very overwhelmed by the process, it is important to talk with each other about the big topics: finances, treatment failure, burnout, loss of hope, resentment about individual genetic material being replaced by donor gametes, and physical exhaustion, among other things.
Takeaway Tools to Use
The window of tolerance is the window we can handle thoughts, feeling, and emotions without withdrawing or going into fight or flight. It’s important to check in on basics like hunger, anger, loneliness, tiredness, as they shrink the window of tolerance and can compound negative feelings. Addressing these basics is important so you have the energy and window of tolerance to face your infertility battle.
Going through the treatment process can be complex and challenging. It is particularly difficult for women and as a result, men can feel lost and not know what to do. It can often be too overwhelming for women to try to educate partners about a fast moving and complex process. There are things you can do in the process if you’re feeling vulnerable or alone.
- Look for opportunities to connect with and get support from other partners or friends.
- Join a support group.
- Take advantage of the informational resources at your fertility clinic.
- Ask questions during your next doctor’s appointment.
- Take advantage of organizations like RESOLVE and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and their user-friendly fact sheets.
- Consider therapy or counseling if the experience is too overwhelming.
Make sure to check in with your relationship and check-in with how you’re doing as a couple. You’re a team. The longer you need to stay in the process and the more cycles you do, the more TLC you build in and plan for each other and yourself. These could include:
- Periodic breaks from treatment.
- Quality time together.
- Taking a trip or time away—even for a day to do something different.
- Supportive counseling if necessary.
Although Progyny members have unlimited access to a dedicated Patient Care Advocate (PCA) who can offer emotional support throughout the journey, we know not everyone has a strong support system. Please feel free to share this resource with anyone who may feel alone on the path to fatherhood.
Progyny is always here to support you on your family building journey. Be sure to check out additional resources on our education page.
Please stay tuned for the next webinar in the series, which focuses on male-factor infertility and its different treatment options. Register here today.