Infertility can be an intensely distressing struggle for men, just as it often is for women. Men may feel a profound sense of loss, sadness, lack of belonging, anger, fear, uncertainty, and isolation because of their unfulfilled desire to be a parent. Men may also feel powerless, since they lack any obvious solution to the problem and must watch their wife go through heartache (and often countless treatments) without any ability to stop it. Or if they experience male factor infertility and are powerless to fix it, they may be ridden with guilt and shame. I have seen such suffering with male clients in my counseling office and I have experienced it personally.
Gentlemen, if you are suffering because of your infertility, I see your pain. It’s ok to admit that your pain is heavy and difficult to bear and that you’re struggling. The sadness, uncertainty, powerlessness, anger, loneliness, or other emotions you have are a lot to deal with. The world often suggests that you need to remain “strong” (in other words, unaffected and stoic), that you must “keep it together,” and that somehow you shouldn’t feel or show any emotions. Perhaps you’re uncomfortable with or afraid of those powerful emotions, or you worry that you can’t continue to protect and provide or support your wife if your emotions get too big. I’m here to tell you that you have every right- the same right as your wife- to grieve the child(ren) you hoped you would have at this point. There is nothing “unmanly” or weak about acknowledging and expressing your emotions throughout the roller coaster of infertility. If anything, you are stronger and better served by facing the pain instead of drowning it out with distractions, avoidance, or self-medication with unhealthy means.
Men, I encourage you to allow yourself to feel your emotions, as difficult as they are, and to share your experiences with your wife, a supportive family member or friend, and God. Although it brings more distress in the short term, sharing your thoughts and emotions, rather than stuffing them down, can bring you long-term relief. However, if you feel that you will become overwhelmed or lose control of your emotions if you do share them, consider reaching out to a counselor who is familiar with grief and infertility and who can help you learn how to handle these feelings.
It’s ok if your reaction to infertility looks different than your wife’s. It’s normal if you sometimes hurt more or less than your wife at a particular time or that the two of you feel pain at different times and for different reasons. It is also true that men experience infertility very differently than women; however, you both are impacted by your infertility. Without making assumptions about how either of you feel or “should” feel, I encourage you to talk regularly with your wife about how infertility is affecting you and learn how it is impacting her. Let her know if there is anything she can do to better support you through it. You may find that your wife greatly appreciates that you’re breaking out of your shell to tell her how you’re really doing. Sharing also can help combat the sense of isolation that you both may feel on this journey.
Wives, your husband may be in a different place with your infertility and pregnancy losses than you are. Do not assume he feels the same way as you; it’s ok if the two of you are not in perfect sync in your reaction to infertility. If he seems detached, removed, or less upset, don’t assume that he doesn’t care or feel anything. Men are generally less expressive and attuned to their emotions than women, so he may still deeply care about the issue but not show it. He may also not be impacted by infertility to the degree that you are, which again does not mean that he doesn’t care. Check on him and invite him to share how he is doing as much as he is comfortable. Ask if he wants a listening ear first, to make him feel heard and understood, and then clarify if he needs any help solving any aspect of the issue. I hope that he responds in the same way to meet your needs.
Cultivate friendship and rituals of connection with your husband. Do you know if he really appreciates you helping him with his chores or to-do list? Does he like undistracted time together or physical affection? Learn more about how he feels most loved and intentionally try to give him more of those signs of your affection. Engage in each other’s “love languages” if you are familiar with them (or take an online quiz to find out!). Work with him to have more frequent dates and “rituals of connection,” such as checking in with each other every day after work or going on a walk on Sundays. And invite your husband to pray with you for your fertility and for fruitfulness in your marriage.
Infertility is a difficult cross to bear, one that is hard for both men and women. Although it is not frequently talked about, countless men are struggling to navigate the pain of infertility. I hope that the men reading this post will feel seen and understood by a fellow man who also knows the pain of infertility and miscarriage. And I hope that the rest of my reading audience will walk away more mindful of the suffering of the men in their lives and empowered to help support them.
Edward Luersman, MA, LPC lives in Central Ohio with his wife Kate and is a Licensed Professional Counselor with Spirit of Peace Clinical Counseling. As a Catholic and counselor, his clinical focus is supporting individuals and couples in Ohio with grief, infertility, or miscarriage through online and in-person counseling. You may find him online at griefcounselingohio.com.