To this day, I can't hear the theme song from the TV show "Anything But Love" without reflecting on one of the most frustrating days I experienced as a husband.
My wife and I had been trying to conceive for several years. She went to a fertility specialist for several tests to see if conception would ever be possible. The answer from the doctor was very terse and sympathy-challenged — something along the lines of "You'll never conceive." It's probably a good thing I was not in the exam room, given the specialist's callous attitude toward my wife. We drove home without words, to the sound of her sobs, and lost in our thoughts of how our dream of having children was going away.
She cried for most of the day upstairs in our bedroom, and as "Anything But Love" came on the TV with its somber, sweet theme song, I never felt so sad, frustrated and helpless. One of the greatest blessings in my life had received devastating news, and I couldn't help, couldn't fix it and couldn't tell her it was okay.
We males are programmed to fix things. We find out what's wrong and do something about it. But in some cases, it can't be done, and that's devastating for men to go through. Month after month, the tests are negative; month after month, the doctor has "one more thing to try," which means one more thing to fail; and month after month, sadness makes another turn toward depression. The woman feels like a failure and damaged goods because she's unable to do one of the main things she's put on earth to do. The man feels like a failure because something is broken that he can't fix.
We finally tried in-vitro fertilization through a wonderful specialist — a very compassionate woman who understood how we felt. Just before my wife went in for the surgery, she mentioned all the things she'd had to go through to get to that point. The response from the assistant was, "Well, by this time, you'd sit in a mud pit if you thought it would help."
That triggered something in us, and we decided if that attempt wasn't successful, we'd make our family another way. It wasn't, and we did. We adopted two sons, and we're a strong family unit, but I've learned important lessons from that period in our lives.
First, it's hard not to feel shortchanged when it seems everyone around us is pregnant or not to feel cheated when couples tell delivery stories or proudly claim who their babies look like. It's hard wondering why life is so unfair when the media report a case of child abuse.
Secondly (and maybe a bit selfishly, even though I don't mean it that way), keep this in mind: infertility affects a family. It's natural to feel bad for the woman who longs for a pregnancy and finds out it will never happen. But beside that woman, there's also a man who wants to be a birth father and who will never get that experience. He's hurting too.
I know as well as anyone that there isn't anything anyone can say to ease that pain. Well-meaning people tried all the time, but more than a few came across like the cruel specialist earlier in this story.
Please don't struggle through infertility alone on an island. After a while, your friends may leave you there. Find a local therapist or counselor to talk with. Find a way to help children, either through adoption, fostering or a group like CASA, which helps children in the court system.
Most importantly, find someone who understands, so you don't feel alone. One of the best online resources for learning more is RESOLVE, which is hosted by The National Infertility Association. The site provides interactive information, ways to get involved, alternate ways to make a family and suggestions for support groups and resources. Infertility will test everything you have together, and it's too big to face alone. Wherever you decide to get help, please get help somewhere.