Barring some unexpected scientific breakthroughs, pregnancy will always be a woman's job. A man can feel a baby kick and love it before it's born, but he can never truly know what it feels like to have a life growing inside him.
Likewise, men often have trouble understanding the pain felt by women who are struggling with infertility, says Diane Clapp, RN, a fertility counselor and director of medical information for Resolve: The National Infertility Association. "[Infertility] is particularly intense for women," she says. "It's hard for men to resonate with the loss."
The emotional gulf between men and women can have serious consequences. A study of 525 infertile couples presented at the 57th annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine found that women were more likely than their partners to be depressed. Female depression was especially common in couples in which partners feel different levels of stress.
Understandably, Clapp has spent much of her career helping men support their wives through this difficult time. Every couple is different, but certain issues pop up time and time again. Here is some of her tried-and-true advice for men:
- Respect her feelings. Your partner may want to stay away from parties (especially baby showers) or any gathering where other people's little ones will be crawling around. She knows what she can handle. Support her decision, even if it means staying home over the holidays.
- Don't hide your own grief. While women tend to grieve openly, men often keep their sadness bottled up, Clapp says. They may think they're protecting their loved one, but they end up making their partners feel even more alienated and alone.
- Don't rush to "fix" things. Too many men commit themselves to finding doctors and researching the latest fertility treatments before their wives are ready to think about such things, Clapp says. "When she's in the bedroom bawling because another friend is pregnant, she doesn't want a plan. She wants support."
- Do your part. When it's time to seek medical help, be sure to schedule an appointment with a doctor or a urologist for yourself. Men are at least partly responsible in as much as 50 percent of cases in which couples struggle to conceive. If you do have a fertility problem, your doctor may recommend medical treatments or lifestyle changes to boost your chances for fatherhood. Many causes of male infertility are treatable and curable.
- Get your own emotional support. Male infertility can turn the tables -- you may be the one who needs the most encouragement and support. Don't hesitate to ask for it.
- Talk it out. Know what she needs, what she fears, and what she's willing to go through to have a child. And make sure she knows where you stand. Whether you decide to undergo fertility treatments, adopt, or remain childless, you should do it together.
For more information on coping with infertility, visit Resolve's Web site at http://www.resolve.org
Interview with Diane Clapp, RN, a fertility counselor and director of medical information for Resolve: The National Infertility Association.
American Society for Reproductive Medicine. In couples with incongruence in stress related to infertility, women are more likely than men to experience depression. October 2001.