There are many different routes to fatherhood – and not all of them are simple or easy. Many men find themselves on the back foot when it comes to their fertility journey, due to the lack of information they received growing up.
So how can we change that for the next generation? And what are the ways that today’s Fathers are approaching the topic of fertility with their own children? Ahead of Father’s Day, we spoke to three Dads about their fertility experience and how they’ll be sharing what they’ve learnt with their kids, as they grow up.
Emil Andersen is ExSeed’s Chief Scientific Officer and Co-Founder – and a father of one. Whilst nowadays, he’s a bonafide sperm health expert, thanks to his years of PhD research into the topic – that wasn’t always the case, and he actually had his own concerns about his fertility growing up. “I have always wanted kids, but before working in the fertility space I was actually a bit worried, as my parents had to go through IVF before they got pregnant with me and my twin.”
The nature of Emil’s work meant that he had the foresight – and opportunity – to take a proactive approach to fertility. He made the decision fairly early on to get well-informed about his own sperm health, even before he was thinking about trying for a baby. “6 years before I became a father, I had my sperm quality tested in the laboratory where I work” Emil says “I was happy to see my sperm cells swimming, but I remember initially feeling that I would have liked to see them moving a bit more.” Emil understood that external factors could have a big impact on the quality of his sperm, and by getting ahead of the game he was able to take his swimmers from ‘Ok’ to ‘awesome’.
Whilst on the road to parenthood Emil and his wife went through a miscarriage, he is now the proud father of a nine-month-old son. Whilst he doesn’t want to push him into starting a family before he is ready, he does want to help him understand that fertility isn’t something that should be taken for granted. “I think it’s important to educate every generation about the risks of infertility when choosing to have kids later in life,” he says. “Luckily technology is improving the possibility of getting pregnant when we’re older, giving us more freedom to choose when to have our kids – which is something I hope my children can benefit from, if they should need it.”
As for lining his son up to be part of the ExSeed team one day, he’s sure going to try and pass on his passion for reproductive health and biology! “I will definitely teach him about biology and what I am working with. I think fertilisation is one of the most astonishing biological phenomena – and I hope he will too!”
Tyler Christie is the father of three living children and two daughters that he and his wife Lina lost during pregnancy. Following their miscarriages, the couple channelled their grief into creating Parla – a platform helping to change the conversation around fertility and loss. The struggles he faced during his journey to fatherhood were not something Tyler felt prepared for at all. “I had absolutely no idea about infertility or miscarriage before our experience – which, in retrospect, made dealing with the challenges we encountered much more difficult,” he says. “We plan ahead and prepare for so many things in life but how had I not done the same for starting a family?”
Keen to ensure his children aren’t blindsided when, and if, they decide to start a family, Tyler is dedicated to sharing everything he has learnt with him, so they can make informed decisions. “Being curious and proactive is certainly a mindset I hope to encourage my kids to apply to all walks of life, including fertility and I want to help them achieve their dreams”. “If they dream of having kids,I will certainly encourage them to test and figure out where they stand,” he explains. “I think, this will become more common in the years ahead anyway and by the time they are in their twenties, I hope it will be commonplace for most people to get tested and understand their fertility.”
When it comes to talking to his children about loss, Tyler knows that the time is drawing closer to where those conversations can be had. “We’ll definitely tell our kids about their sisters that came before them. I wear a necklace with a pendant to remember them and the kids already notice that.” he shares. “I am not sure what age will be best but now, at ages 5 and 4, they are just starting to ask questions about life and death – so it’s coming soon and I’m preparing for that.”
You probably know Shaun by his social media handle @knackered_knackers. Since January 2021, Shaun has been sharing an open and honest account of his journey to becoming a father to twins, through IVF, using donor sperm. The account has become a go-to destination for thousands of people looking for support and inspiration around male factor infertility – and azoospermia in particular.
Whilst Shaun has now dived headfirst into the world of fertility, he feels it wasn’t something he received enough information on growing up. “Sex education at school, and in society in general, is all focused on how NOT to get pregnant,” Shaun says. “Even when I had mumps in my early twenties – which is what caused my infertility – there was no advice or guidance from medical practitioners on its potential impact on my fertility. If I’d known earlier, there may have been other – less invasive – options for my wife and I.”
The wealth of knowledge Shaun now has around sperm health and fertility, in general, is something he definitely wants to pass on to his kids. “We will be raising our children to believe that they can do anything they want – we already tell them they can rule the world!” he shares. “If that’s starting their own family, we want to highlight the importance of being conscious about the signs and symptoms of infertility and if there’s any doubt, get it checked out.”
The importance of a healthy lifestyle is something that Shaun also wants to share with his kids – for the fertility benefits and beyond. “There are many aspects of modern lifestyles that have a big impact on our everyday health – we as a generation deal with endocrine disruptors that our grandparents didn’t,” he explains. “As parents, we will be promoting health in general, and clean living (but still enjoying treats obviously!).”
Both Shaun and his wife want to make sure that their twins are not only prepared for their potential road to parenthood but that they also grow up with a healthy understanding of the amazing way they were conceived. “We don’t want there to be any kind of secrecy or shame on the topic of donor sperm,” he says. “We will be telling early, and telling often and have bought a few children’s books to help us find the best way of explaining it to them. We know we will find the right way for us to do it and believe that as long as they know about their story, they can own it and be comfortable with it.”