Written by Guest Blogger: Keegan Prue, Ed.M, is an educator and author of The IVF Dad.
When my wife Olivia and I started on our infertility journey, I quickly learned that the messages and expectations I’d heard as a man over and over throughout my life were NOT going to help with our infertility struggle. In fact, those messages only made it harder.
And that’s a shame. But here’s what I know is true: every man going through infertility wants to be a supportive and empowered partner. I could easily tell how difficult it was for Olivia to grapple with each cycle without a positive pregnancy test, and I was feeling sad and disappointed and frustrated myself. I wanted to support her as best as I could, and had to learn the best ways to do that. I know the millions of other men experiencing infertility with their partners feel the same.
So how can men feel more empowered, supportive, and successful? A great first step is to reflect on the stereotypes and beliefs that society pushes on men, and work to start challenging those beliefs and retraining our brains. Here’s one major and pervasive stereotype that can really be a challenge during fertility struggles: “Men take action and fix things.”
During our second IVF pregnancy (which ended in a miscarriage), I had a lot of difficulty with this stereotype.
How did it show up for me? Enter our friend Dr. Google. During that pregnancy, I went Google-crazy trying to read every study and piece of research I could get my hands on about topics that had to do with our situation: thyroid issues, Hashimoto’s, diminished ovarian reserve, AMH levels, and on and on and on. I felt like if I was just proactive and kept reading, maybe I’d find that magical piece of information we could bring to the IVF clinic and say “AHA! HERE’S THE SECRET! This study says if we take vitamin X in conjunction with treatment Y, we’ll be guaranteed success!”
Of course, nothing is that easy with infertility. Nevertheless, consider these common messages/questions/reactions that we men (and women too of course) so often hear from ourselves and others :
- “So what are you gonna DO about it?”
- “Isn’t there anything you could do?”
- “Are you sure you’ve tried everything?”
- “You just have to keep at it. Keep working.”
- “You gotta commit. Take action.”
If you’re going through infertility, I’m sure you’ve already had a lot of action. Probably months and months, if not years, of “action” trying to get pregnant. And it hasn’t worked yet.
So why is this stereotype such a problem? The reality of infertility is that a lot of time is spent waiting, and there’s very little you can do to have any major effect on the outcome. Are there things you can do to improve your chances? Sure. Should you advocate for yourself and ask questions to ensure your treatment leaves no stone unturned? Of course. But if you and your partner live a reasonably healthy lifestyle, enlist the help of a knowledgeable fertility clinic, and speak up and ask questions to advocate for yourselves, you’ve done most of the important work to give you the best shot possible. Being stuck on the “hamster wheel” worrying about what other things you should be doing will just stress you out more.
This can be really hard for us to accept–men and women! We live in a time where almost everything seems to have an easily Google-able solution.
So what are some ways to tackle this belief and be more supportive of yourself and your partner when you’re smack in the middle of an IVF cycle and feel that urge like you need to be more active and ready to fix something?
I have two suggestions–both of which really helped me.
1. Suggestion 1: Do some deep breathing/meditation to help let go.
- Sometimes when we get in “fix it” mode we really just need to quiet our brain down to stop it from saying “WHAT ELSE CAN WE DO? GO FIGURE THIS OUT!”
- Deep breathing and meditation can really help. Don’t overcomplicate this–and I highly recommend using an app or searching for guided meditations online if you’re new to meditation.
- Simply notice when you’re getting revved up about feeling like you want/need to do more, and see if you can take ten deep breaths or do a 5 minute meditation. The point is just to get your brain off the hamster wheel.
2. Suggestion 2: Try a mantra (I know it sounds woo-woo, but bear with me).
- I get it, this might sound wacky. But again, when we’re in “fix-it” mode, we need to quiet our brain down–or change what it’s saying. A mantra can help.
- Again, keep this simple. A mantra is just something you say to yourself. It can be a simple gentle reminder or something you stop and say to yourself 5 times.
- Try these out to stop the “hamster wheel” of feeling like you need to take action/fix things:
- “I trust that we’re already doing everything we can.”
- “I notice I’m feeling anxious. It’s ok to let go and relax.”
- “I give myself permission to let go.”
I hope these suggestions help you become a more supportive partner–and that they help you support yourself too!
Keegan Prue, Ed.M, is an educator and author from upstate New York; he and his wife Olivia went through two rounds of IVF and suffered two miscarriages before welcoming their daughter. Keegan wrote his book, The IVF Dad, to share their story, provide clear explanations of infertility causes and treatment, and offer tips for men and couples to support their mental wellbeing through the family-building journey. Keegan’s articles, interviews, and guest posts on men, couples, and infertility have appeared in a number of online and print publications.
P.S. Catch Keegan’s interview in this week’s episode of The Hormone P.U.Z.Z.L.E Podcast – Male Fertility and IVF for Dads. You can also find the episode on this podcast page as well as Spotify, and Stitcher. Don’t forget to subscribe, follow, and write us a review on Apple Podcast (if you LOVE it).