In a three-part series, guest blogger James Horrax charts his and his wife’s journey through infertility…
My wife, Lara, and I are that irritating (almost traditional) couple who plan everything to the last detail. We have a life plan. House, dog, engagement, marriage followed by a baby. We married in 2013 and could not understand why despite our efforts, we were failing to get pregnant.
There was a brief (ultimately dashed) hope in the summer of 2015 but aside from that, nothing. Every month another reminder that a sand timer, somewhere, was draining.
We decided to check under the hood so to speak. Despite what you may have heard, these tests are not fun. Quite aside from the magnitude of the act you’re performing – which depending on the result could fundamentally reshape your relationship and any plans you have – the challenge of ‘collecting’ in a tube the width of a child’s little finger is not exactly conducive to recreation.
When we entered the Doctor’s surgery for our results, my wife ironically (in hindsight) said “If it’s me, please don’t leave me.” Perish the thought.
It turned out the ‘fault’ was mine. I know our society flinches at this sentiment. No one is to blame. The bald facts in my mind said otherwise. I had no idea sperm was graded across ten metrics. But I was down across three markets – volume, motility and number.
I have never failed a test in my life. Ever. My world stopped. My heart broke. The stereotypical British stiff-upper lip wobbled. My wife looked devastated. I hate disappointing her – anyone really. But particularly her.
I do not think I have ever been as emotionally volatile in my life. On the surface life continued. Work and home life went on as if nothing had happened, but underneath, I was a swirling tempest. I was angry. I was not, am not, unhealthy. I worked hard. I did the ‘right’ things in the ‘right’ order. I barely drank. I didn’t smoke. I had not even dabbled in drugs in my youth.
It then occurred to me, that despite my foulest of moods, my wife was still there. She was not only nursing my emotions; she was mending her own. Quietly. Without me.
I will step back from the story here and advise at this stage – infertility, regardless of where the challenge lies, affects you both. You must avoid the temptation to do as I did initially and internalise or personalise it. Your partner will have the same questions you do. Do you still want a family? Should you look in to fertility treatment? Adoption? Can you imagine life without children?
Working through these questions together is draining. Almost unbearably so. I remember we would talk until the small hours, only to then snatch three hours of sleep and then bounce to work.
Infertility is tough on couples and in heated moments, the hurt and upset would bubble to the surface, but like a diamond, pressure and temperature can also harden resolve and the bond between you. Our stubbornness would not let us fail one another when we most needed each other.
One day, I decided that talking was no longer enough. I had to act. I signed up for personal training (having read somewhere that increased exercise led to higher levels of testosterone production) which could help with volume. I located supplements which promised an array of benefits including motility. I located a counsellor. I told my immediate family. Breaking the silence around our infertility transformed our understanding of it.
All of a sudden, it was no longer two people fighting the world and each other. It was #teambaby. Everyone who knew was there, prompting, cajoling and encouraging.
There’s a famous proverb which says ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’. In our case, it could quite easily be ‘it takes a community to have a child’…
Next month, James will look at fertility treatment.