• Alexa Adamo Valverde

Future Dads: Infertility Deeply Affects Men Too

Atlanta Fertility Support Alliance (AFSA) is working to raise awareness that infertility and pregnancy loss are men's issues, too.

“Devastated.” “Angry at God.” “Helpless.” “Guilty." “Anxious about a future without kids.”

These are some of the ways men experience infertility and miscarriage. Yet, conversations about men’s emotional response to infertility and pregnancy loss are rare.

Ample research explores the emotional toll of miscarriage on women. Some studies say 40% of women who had a miscarriage report feeling alone. Up to 20% struggle with subsequent depression and anxiety. Research on the impact of infertility on women is growing. But very little is known about the impact of infertility and reproductive loss on men.

A 10-year old Harvard Mental Health Letter described the psychological impact of infertility and its treatment. It made the (then novel) suggestion that medical interventions may exacerbate anxiety, depression, and stress among women and men. “When men learn that they are the ones who are infertile, they experience the same levels of low self-esteem, stigma, and depression as infertile women do.”

Yet a September 2019 article in Counseling Today discusses “the invisibility of infertility grief” with a focus almost entirely on women. Two sentences in the article acknowledge men. “Infertility can affect both men and women, despite a common misconception that infertility is a woman’s condition.”

It shouldn’t be surprising. When men lose a baby or find out it is not going to be easy to have a child, it impacts them deeply. Especially when infertility is due to a “male factor.”

Male factor infertility means sperm production is low, sperm function is abnormal, or there is an absence of sperm altogether. Up to 50% of couples struggling to have a baby experience male factor infertility. Other sources suggest 12% of U.S. men ages 25 to 44 are infertile - that’s over 400,000 men.

While the mental health resources around infertility are growing, they are offered almost exclusively to women. Why? Because the demand for mental health services dealing with infertility among men appears to be low.

One of very few men-only infertility support groups, Men's Fertility Support, is online. It doubled in size in recent years, yet still has just 1,400 members.

It isn’t yet socially acceptable for men to acknowledge infertility, let alone their pain about infertility and reproductive loss. As a result, men who want a baby, who hope to pass on their family heritage to a biological child, men who desperately want to be fathers, suffer in silence. Some call this silent suffering “disenfranchised grief.”

Public Kiss Photography
Infertility and the pursuit of fatherhood is an emotion-filled journey for men.

This issue is connected to the larger societal issue of how we expect boys and men to express (or not) their struggles, fears, and emotional pain. It is tied to how we teach boys and young men to value nurturing a child and preparing to have a baby. It is tied to how we historically have dealt with grief.

Yet we do value fatherhood as a society. We are starting to release stigma about seeking mental health support. And we are starting to understand that infertility is difficult for women and men. Only when we create space for men’s pain about infertility will men seek support for their healing.

Atlanta Fertility Support Alliance invites men experiencing infertility in metro Atlanta to reach out for emotional support. Whether that means individual or couples therapy or just learning more, AFSA is here for you. Contact us at 770.410.8870 or email info@AtlantaFSA.com