Using the Gospel to Help us Understand Male Infertility
When I talk about male infertility, I know I need to clarify. In my mind, there are two types of men dealing with infertility:
men who are dealing with male factor infertility
men who are dealing with female factor infertility
(and unexplained infertility).
You can instantly consider ways that these two groups would be different. They go through different experiences, emotions, and oftentimes, their focus is different. I also recognize that they need to be identified separately. And, finally, I recognize that the Gospel as we know it through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can heal, can offer peace, and can bring understanding to both groups of men.
In my post on Monday (which you can read here), I mentioned that I have a chapter in my book written to men. It is called “That He Might Become the Father of Many Nations”. I want to share excerpts from the chapter today and on Friday to offer men (and women) an opportunity to see infertility through spiritual eyes…
Excerpt from Infertility: Help, Hope, and Healing…
Historically, infertility has been considered a female problem. Think about it, even in the scriptures, it talks about women who are barren being reproached among men. In some ways, they were considered broken, and because of something beyond their control, they were said to have dishonored their families, and more specifically their husbands. Wouldn’t it be interesting to go back in time and perform the latest tests on these couples to determine what the true cause of a couple’s infertility was? I am sure the statistics would have been different then, but I wonder how many cases of infertility were caused by female factor alone.
In our world today, it is estimated that male factor infertility is the sole cause of a couple’s infertility in 20% of the cases, whereas it is a contributing factor in 30-40% of the cases (see James Borin and Natan Bar-Chama, et al, “The Workup of the Infertile Male”, infocus, Winter 2003, 5). Male infertility is better diagnosed, better treated, and the prognosis is much better now. Why? Men are beginning to be open to being tested and being a proactive part of treatment. Just think what could be accomplished if we can continue this trend in a positive direction!
As a general rule, when there is a problem conceiving after one year, doctors suggest both husband and wife be tested. It can no longer be assumed that infertility is just a female problem. From day one, it can be most helpful and efficient if both husband and wife are committed to walking the path of infertility together. That means being tested together, talking about infertility together, making decisions together, and even going to appointments together. Dr. James Borin and Natan Bar-Chama encourage us by saying that “for most infertile couples, pregnancy is most efficiently achieved following a comprehensive, coordinated medical approach involving both the male and female. Only by accurately assessing both partners can a physician recommend the most cost-effective, time-efficient, and least emotionally distressing treatments,” (“The Workup of the Infertile Male,” 29).
It seems that there are many men who are reluctant to take part in testing and end up being the last to be analyzed and diagnosed. Perhaps it is because men have a hard time talking about such a sensitive topic or maybe because they are less likely to take care of their health (see Pamela Madsen, “Message from the Executive Director,” infocus, Winter 2003, 2). Perhaps they are afraid that what they find will compromise their masculinity or sexuality or maybe they fear that “what was formerly private behavior now seems [to become] a very public event” (William D. Petok, “Male Factor Infertility: Its Potential Effect On Sex and Sexuality,” 10). Whatever the reason, we find hope that “there are more men in waiting rooms supporting their spouses through treatments; they are more proactive in seeking information about male factor [infertility] and pursuing therapies,” (Pamela Madsen, “Message From the Executive Director”, 2).
My perception of how men deal with infertility changed when I finally asked my husband to explain to me how he felt about our infertility. I regret not asking sooner. I must admit that all along, I truly wanted and even expected his reaction to be the same as mine—how naïve is that? I guess I was unrealistically hopeful. I was quite disappointed that he didn’t cry every month when I started menstruating, that he didn’t think about being infertile every day, and that he didn’t seem affected by comments made about the importance of fatherhood at church. I often felt alone and as though having a baby was not a priority to him. My belated conversation with him showed me that I was wrong in being disappointed.
It is important to remind you that male factor infertility was not part of our diagnosis, so our perspective of infertility may be different from a couple who experiences both male and female factor infertility or even from a couple who is challenged with male factor infertility alone.
From my husbands’s experience and perspective, I learned that infertility was much harder for me than for him. I wonder if it might have anything to do with the fact that from our youth, we are taught about the sacred roles of men and women, which are divinely designed to be different, but compliment each other so perfectly. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” teaches that “by divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children” (Ensign, November 1995, 102). This inspired declaration gives shape to our perspective of life and what we will become. Throughout our lives, we are taught skills that will help us prepare for and be more successful in these roles. If a woman could be a fly on the wall in an Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood classroom, she would hear a completely different perspective on life and ways to use gospel principles because of this role difference. The development of these skills is, of course, emphasized in family home evenings, Sunday lessons, and in the programs of Faith in God, Personal Progress, and Duty to God.
So, while “the nurture of their children” becomes a primary focus of women, men must prepare themselves to preside, provide, and protect their families. Having children, therefore, is a secondary role to a man. It would not be unusual then, for a woman to feel as though she cannot achieve her divinely appointed role when children do not exist within the family. A man, however, can achieve his primary role regardless of family size. With this perspective, he could easily argue that his job is done once he begins presiding, providing, and protecting his wife. In actuality, however, he must spend the rest of his life perfecting his ability to preside, provide, and protect.
I had never really looked at infertility through these eyes before, have you? With these new eyes, I could see why my husband did not feel as cheated as I did. He admitted that he was more discouraged and frustrated about my emotions and how infertility was affecting me than he was about his own feelings about infertility. When we experienced the monthly setbacks, it took me several days to put it behind me while his response was “Better luck next time” or “Let’s try again next month!”
In our tell-all conversation, he did share that his frustrations began to increase when the medical procedures began. The invasive procedures, injections, financial strain, and time commitment affected his emotions because they had become more tangible to him. Previously, the monthly periods were just an indirect and secondhand loss, experienced through me; he had not lost anything tangible. He was, however, supportive through our diagnosis and prognosis; he agreed to being tested, he was willing to attend appointments with me, he would counsel with me about decisions we had to make, and he did not complain about paying the bills.
As you and your spouse discuss your feelings about infertility, you may find that you share similar perspectives as my husband and me. Or, you may not. Open, honest, and respectful discussion, however, can be the key to unlocking and understanding each other more completely. Once you begin understand how infertility is affecting your spouse, your ability to be productive, supportive, and compassionate will increase. A whole new way to comfort one another may even come into view.
Come back on Friday for more about men and infertility from a spiritual perspective.