Facing fertility struggles can be a lonely and isolating experience. For both halves of a couple, shame can often stop you from reaching out for help when you need it the most.
Over the last few years, it’s been fantastic to see the TTC (Trying To Conceive) community grow considerably. Conversations around infertility are being brought into the light and people all over the world are connecting through this shared experience. On Instagram alone, the hashtag #TTCCommunity brings up over 760,000 posts, many of which offer advice and empathy, or direct you straight to a friendly support group. But scanning the posts you’ll notice one clear thing – the vast majority are by, or aimed at, women.
For men who need emotional support on the road to fatherhood, it can sometimes feel like a tumbleweed scene from an Old Western. But there are some incredible organisations trying to change that. The support is out there – you just need to know where to look for it. Here are just a few of the ways you can get the support you need – in a way that feels comfortable for you.
Your partner, friends and family
We know it’s not always easy, but we would always recommend reaching out for support from those closest to you first. If you and your partner are having difficulties getting pregnant, you might feel the need to be strong for them, and not show your vulnerability. But it’s ok, not to be ok, and the best way for you to be there for each other is to be open and honest about your feelings.
It’s very common for both men and women to find discussing infertility with friends and family hard. Sometimes it’s because you don’t want to let people know you are trying – and sometimes it comes down to shame and embarrassment. Whilst the decision of how much to share is definitely between you and your partner, try not to let the fear of stigma stop you from asking for help. Your loved ones will be there for you – judgement-free – and there is certainly nothing to feel embarrassed about.
If you’re struggling to open up to friends and family, you might find it helpful to speak to a professional counsellor. Not only are they completely impartial – so you don’t have to worry about hurting their feelings or adding to their stress – but they also have the professional experience to help you navigate your emotions and find healthy ways to manage them.
If you are going down the assisted fertility route, most fertility clinics will have in-house counsellors that they can refer you to. This might be something to bear in mind when picking your clinic, as this can be a useful addition to your treatment plan. Many men aren’t aware that you can also get counselling free through the NHS. If you speak to your GP about how you’re feeling, they’ll be able to refer you to someone who can help. Whilst the NHS will try to get you to support ASAP, there can sometimes be long waiting lists. If you would prefer to go private, The British Infertility Counselling Association has a directory of counsellors who specialise in helping couples on their fertility journey – and they can offer both over the phone or in-person support (once restrictions are lifted!)
Online Support Groups
After a year of Zoom calls, you may roll your eyes at the idea of another online meetup. But for men facing infertility, they are actually an incredible way to connect with other guys and feel less alone – without leaving the comfort of home.
Fertility Network UK run a whole host of online – and regional for post lockdown – support groups, and they even have one that is specifically for men. The monthly group is hosted by ExSeed partner Ian Stones and the awesome Toby Trice, and is a safe, relaxed space for men to discuss what they’re going through – or just listen in, with your camera off if that’s what you feel ready for. After the success of Rhod Gilbert’s recent BBC documentary, the group has since taken on his HIM Fertility Campaign, in the hope of raising even more awareness and support for male factor infertility. Rhod even popped into co-chair the meeting recently!
There are also a number of private Facebook Groups you can join, which are built around specific areas of infertility. Much like the online meetups, you can join the group and be as active as you want – it might be enough for you to read other people’s stories and feel less alone. We found a men-only group dedicated to IVF and ICSI – but there are lots of different ones you can find once you start searching.
If you’re a bit of an introvert or find the idea of chatting to other people about your fertility hard – you could always start by expanding your reading list. There are a surprising amount of books written about the experience of male fertility and reading them might help you feel less alone. We’re big fans of Ripping Up The Script by Charlie Druce und The Bumps Ahead by Nick Finney – both refreshing and relatable accounts of fertility struggles from a man’s perspective.
We also find that reading can often help you connect with your own feelings. When going through a fertility journey it can feel like an emotional rollercoaster, and sometimes it can be hard to even identify how you’re feeling, let alone communicate that to other people. With a book, you might find that seeing someone else’s journey down in black and white, allows you to understand what’s going on inside your own head – and could be a springboard for a discussion with your partner, family or support group.
The ExSeed App
Sometimes practical support and professional reassurance can also help you feel better about your fertility journey. When ExSeed was created we knew that our tests had to come with great aftercare support. We realised that so many men were being handed sperm tests and being left to figure out the next steps themselves. The world of fertility can be pretty overwhelming, so we wanted to make sure that support was available from the moment you get your results.
When you do an ExSeed test you can either book a phone or video consultation with one of our medical experts, or use the anonymous chat function to connect with them instead – it’s totally up to you.
Not only will they be able to take a look and give a more detailed explanation of your sample, but they will also be able to direct you to experts and resources which can help you with the next phase of your journey.
The important thing to remember is that you are not alone in this and there should be no shame attached to fertility struggles. It’s more common than you think and there’s plenty of support out there, so don’t be afraid to reach out.