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The Art of Infertility and Creative Non-Fiction

A few days ago a new issue of Exhale Magazine came out. In a departure from the narrative of my column, Monica published the piece of creative non-fiction that got me started with Exhale. It’s called “Sticking It In My Wife’s Ass,” which isn’t nearly as dirty as it sounds. For those who’ve gone through IVF, I think you might enjoy this rather unique male perspective on “unnatural” bedroom acts. :-)

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Paul Exhales…

Well, I’m back from my brief trip to Washington, D.C. This month is going to be a whirlwind of (business) travel, followed by our planned annual (vacation) journey to London in early August. I actually have a lot to bring you up to speed on: telling the fam about the pregnancy status (and IVF history); first “normal” OB/GYN appointment; update on the PIO shots, etc.

However, I don’t have the time or energy for all of that tonight. I just need to relax… and unwind.


That’s what I need! To take a breather, which we all need from time to time.

This seems especially apropos, as my first column at Exhale Magazine came out today! Yup. That’s right. I’m now one of the regular writers for this smart online magazine for people who have either lost babies or struggle to make them in the first place.

So, I’ll have more to say tomorrow. But, in the meantime, why not go Exhale with me tonight?

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When pregnancy happens to someone else

Baby on Board

I’ve noticed a common theme in reading other infertility blogs (written mostly by women) over the past weeks and months: a keen awareness of, and emotional reaction toward, other women’s pregnancies.

Obviously, there are the shared congratulations and excitement when a fellow member of the infertile sisterhood trips the BFP light fantastic.

That’s not what I’m talking about…

No, I’m talking about the—often emotional—reaction to pregnancies by seemingly uber-fertile sisters, cousins, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. Or, more generally, any “bitch with a bun in the oven” shopping at stores like Babies ‘r Us, Pottery Barn Kids, or Pea in the Pod.

That’s what I’m talking about…

In terms of emotion, I’ve read reports of everything from depression to jealousy to anger. (Anger: especially in the case of said mother-to-be handing out well-intentioned, but dumb-as-fuck advice). That said, the overarching theme seems to be a poignant sense of “why not me” and the enveloping sadness associated with that emptiness.

A little closer to home…

L and I have never talked about this particular aspect of infertility.

But, it got me to thinking: does she have a similar reaction?

I was now curious. So, I explained my observations to her the other night.

She confirmed a similar set of feelings:

She sort of shrugged. “Yeah. It makes me sad. It’s sort of like when I was young and other girls had boyfriends before me. I’m not unhappy about their happiness. I just want my happiness too. I think: when will it be my turn?”

My perspective as a man…

I can’t say I share a similar response—or really any response—to other pregnancies or childbirths. I try to look interested and act pleased. Heck, sometimes, I genuinely am happy for them or really do think “it’s the cutest baby ever!”

But, I mostly don’t give a shit.

Maybe it’s because I’m less exposed to this sort of thing as a man? No, I don’t think so. For example, at my office, I recently had three co-workers go on paternity leave for their birth of their children. We also have at least six more “blessed events” slated through the remainder of the summer. I’ve looked at ultrasound pictures (mostly alien-like). I’ve seen the baby pictures (mostly cute). I’ve not touched any bellies—because I think that’s just creepy. But, suffice it to say, I am fully aware.

Yet, I really just don’t give a shit.

Are most men (in infertile couples) like this: blissfully unconcerned?

Is this a fundamental difference between women and men?

Am I crazy?

I have no data points. So, I’m left wondering.

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Men & Infertility

As I’ve mentioned previously, one of my goals for this blog—as we chart our course through “Infertilityland” and beyond—is to add a male voice to discussions of these topics and to encourage other men to participate likewise. In particular, I’m interested in going beyond issues of “male factor” infertility, which is somewhat but not adequately covered. Rather, I’d like to explore more the role of men in cases of “female factor” infertility too.

Just say “no” to gendered infertility…

Why? Well, I don’t really believe in the concept of a gendered infertility.

That’s not to say that I’m some sort of scientific wacko without a shred of basic medical knowledge. In clinical terms, I understand that “male” or “female” factor infertility (along with a more specific diagnosis) is important to conducting an appropriate treatment course. So, yes, in that sense I believe in gendered infertility.

But, in emotional terms, I see little benefit in gendering the infertility in a relationship.

As a couple, we’re infertile. We’ve gotten into this together; we’ll get through it together.

Of course, together doesn’t mean that we start by sharing the same thoughts, fears, or perspectives. No, I think together means building a shared understanding and then executing on those plans to achieve a goal. I’ve always believed that, in the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking together in the same direction.”

To that end, I’m trying to chronicle my journey. In doing so, I hope to help other guys in going to the optometrist, and I hope that someone will be there to help my put my contacts back in if (or when) they pop out along the way too.

Talking to men about infertility…

Here’s an article on talking to your partner about infertility. I thought it did a pretty good job of addressing some of the concerns a “prototypical man” might have when initially facing the prospect of infertility.

I know it raised some of the issues—such as the possibility of having to perform in the collection room—that initially worried me.

This man walks into an infertility clinic…

Here’s another issue bought up in the above article that resonated with me:

I sometimes feel, especially at the infertility clinic, that I’m not a real “partner” in the process of infertility treatment. Mind you, it’s not the big things… just little things.

For example, our clinic doesn’t have a chair in the exam rooms for men to sit in – just the doctor’s wheeled stool. So, I wait… standing until I’m/we’re ushered off to somewhere else. A minor annoyance, yes, but it was a huge pain in the ass when I broke my leg earlier this year.

Sometimes, the staff at the clinic doesn’t even acknowledge my presence and often they don’t speak directly to me. Here’s what a typical welcome for an appointment seems like to me:

“Hello, L. How are you doing today? Oh, I see you brought the sperm production machine with you. Please stand it in the corner over there.”

One time, I even had a physician refuse to give me the results of my semen analysis over the phone. She insisted on only talking to L. Why? Good question: I wasn’t the patient of record! I’ll happily grant that L’s an amazing woman, but did the doctor really think that she produced the sperm sample by herself?

Good luck explaining that one to the medical insurance company.

My message to REs: I’m a fragile flower too.

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Are all (other) men fucking crazy?

After her afternoon nap (and my afternoon of ongoing home improvement projects), I found L engaged in one of her favorite pastimes of late: reading IVF blogs. She was especially in a twitter over Murgdan’s recent post regarding her husband’s desire to not have children (update: this has subsequently been removed from her blog after touching off a number of unwelcome comments from “assholes”—including presumably yours truly—with opinions on fatherhood).

This is my summary of the story as initially related by Murgdan:

It seems that Mr. Murgdan, having never wanted children, relented and agreed to having kids. No success. Infertility diagnosis (male factor). Off to the IVF races, of which fresh cycle #1 failed. After this let down (and on the very night of the failure), Mr. Murgdan saw fit to remind Murgdan that he never wanted to have kids in the first place.

What the fuck?

In a comment responding to Murgdan’s post, Sarah—the blogger at Bottoms Off and On the Table—shared her fears about what the failure infertility treatments might portend for her marriage. I can only hope this is an overreaction. Remember: for better or worse.

I really don’t get either of these mens’ actions or reactions.

For my part, I’m totally committed to our infertility treatments. If those fail, we’ll pursue other options (unless we both conclude otherwise). If things go well, I’ll be the best father that I can figure out how to be. If things don’t work out and we end up childless, I won’t be crushed or devastated.

No, we’ll just pick up the pieces and continue building a meaningful life together.

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