The silent battle fatigue that is crushing men.
It’s taken me a year to muster the courage or to wire this blog because of what readers may think of me. But I’m not perfect, I’m an infallible man with struggles and I have come across dozens of men and women who are struggling alike with this unique battle. I hope my story encourages others and start a conversation. And COVID-19 has made it increasingly difficult to bury under a rug. So bear with me.
Odds are that someone in your life either has dealt with or is currently dealing with the challenges presented by infertility, but something that some people might overlook is that oftentimes at least one of those people is a man. While women bear the physical and emotional brunt of the fight against infertility, men are often there, too.
We men suffer as well but in very different ways. My wife and I fought infertility for ten years. Hence the reason I refer to this suffering as infertility battle fatigue.
The Britannica defines battle fatigue as a neurotic disorder caused by the stress involved in war. In social settings it is an anxiety related disorder resulting from prolonged exposure to emotional conflicts. Battle fatigue reaction is an acute reaction that includes a range of behaviors resulting from the stress of emotional battles that decrease the combatant’s fighting efficiency.
Infertility is brutal on men
Few men are willing to talk about the struggles we face in impregnating our wives. Husbands and dedicated men alike are silently battling infertility. We live in a culture that venerates parenthood for a married couple above all else. The literature says one in eight couples have trouble conceiving. My wife and I were one such couple for more than a decade. We suspected that we were struggling with infertility about three years into our marriage when we were not conceiving.
Medical tests pointed to poor sperm quality. These revelations were emotionally crushing and devastating for me, me especially, since men are expected to be virile. My wife and I sensed that there were going to be difficult years ahead. It also meant, ironically, that the previous three years of contraception use was pointless and a waste of money on condoms. Nonetheless, we followed our faith and the teachings of the “church” (with lots of prayers and the laying of hands, fasting for a miracle, prophetic utterances), invested tens of thousands of dollars in fertility testing, multiple medical opinions, the medications and health supplements and unorthodox sexual techniques to aid conception. But never did I contemplate the emotional and psychological price it would cost both myself and my wife to pursue our desire for children. Infertility is isolating, painful and discouraging and no one talks about – except to silently whisper that “like the husband firing blanks or like she barren“.
I lived for thirteen years treading the line between the hope that keeps us going and the despair that month after month, and year after year of failure brings. We married in 2007 and beginning in 2010 we settled on pursuing IVF treatment – an unimaginable expensive venture by Guyanese standards – opting for a treatment clinic in the Caribbean, though expensive by our standards I was committed to my wife and would pursue this relentless desire for a child and to start a new generation. The process and treatments became my life’s preoccupation and I was earning a living year on year solely to pay for the process (in hindsight we could have bought several house lots and built houses). It became my obsession. Time was getting away from us as we were aging every year.
The disappointment, frustration, guilt, shame and depression was setting in. Little did I know that the years ahead would be brutal on our marriage. Little did I know that infertility can ruin a couple’s sex life and threaten a marriage. We pursued IVF treatment for seven years conservatively costing million over seven years.
All the while the costs mounted – the cost of the treatment and the cost on our marriage. I took each drip of a failed implantation as a personal failing, and both of us were more and more separated from family, friends and each other. Instead we felt trapped, bitter, and unfairly persecuted by our God for a promise that is enshrined in the scriptures. And I was burying myself in my career as my way of escape. My job became my crutch and I became the best as what I did – top of my game. People from all strata of society were seeking me out for advice, help, ideas and solutions to socio-economic, political and development challenges in our society but I had none for my own infertility dilemma.
How much is too much?
To put the emotional, mental, physiological and financial cost into perspective consider these; my wife underwent a medical surgery in Guyana in preparation for IVF treatment. At the Caribbean facility she endured the extraction of 16 eggs on three occasions over three years. Seven IVF implantation cycles, 5 failed cycles over 5 years 1 successful cycle that subsequently resulted in premature birth and subsequent death of our 1st child after 1 month of life (spent in excess of G$1 million for hospital charges to keep Amarie alive), with only two embryos remaining, we bit the bullet and decided to implant both embryos hoping and praying for the best and a miracle as we were on the verge of financial bankruptcy with no more embryos remaining.
Several flights to and from the Caribbean several times a year for treatment including hotel accommodation, 2 trips to Canada for medical treatment following the death of our 1st child who died 30 days after premature delivery as a result of a botched intervention at a local hospital by the attending Medical doctor. We discovered my wife’s placenta was not properly removed resulting in vaginal bleeding for one month.
After a successful pregnancy test from the last two remaining embryos we implanted, my wife left her job and we opted for immediate travel to Canada with family who graciously agreed to accommodate my wife for 9 months to protect her health and gave us a fighting chance at a successful live and healthy birth – we are eternally grateful to them. But we were now a one income family with me returning home to continue earning to pay for the Canadian expenses associated with pre-natal care and delivery.
Infertility Distress and Depression
This stress compounded over five failed IVF cycles and the premature birth and death of our son, and the many years were wearing me down, made me want to escape many days, made me weak and vulnerable, and I allowed other influences into my life including ruminating about suicide. As Christ would have it, a friend from the UK reached out to me just when I needed encouragement and implored me seek professional therapy. I sought out more that a dozen social workers in Guyana who were unable to help, even some of my christian elders disagreed that I need professional help when “Jesus ” was the answer. While not discounting the value of my family and belief in God, my experience with professional therapy brought me through the darkness days of my life and I’m ever thankful for my therapist Latoya Buckles who worked with me.
The struggle to call its quits
I was tempted to quit the IVF process on many occasions. I felt as though I was leaking money that could have built us houses rather than pouring it into a process that had no guarantee of success but my love for my wife told me to never give up and keep hope alive. It became increasingly difficult to engage or associate with friends who were getting babies. While I was secretly happy for them, I was avoiding them to not deal with my own disappointment and failure. Very few people knew my wife and I were pursuing IVF. Though I knew I wanted to talk to someone who would understand, I resisted doing out of caution that I would be judged and further, I thought by not talking about the IVF stress, it would shield us from embarrassment if it was not successful. I recall talking to my line manager Sophie Makonnen who I hold dearly as a mother figure, confidant and mentor about my struggles. She absolutely did not judge me. I came away from that conversation feeling she was the only person I could confide in about this struggle. I felt she was the only person I can bear that burden to.
Thoughts of regretting pre-marital unsafe sex.
in all of this, I thought many times, maybe my decision not to have children out of wedlock as a young man was a mistake or that practicing safe sex to prevent unwanted pregnancies with my girlfriend was a mistake. The again, she was of East Indian descent and her parents would never accept this young dougla boy who had his roots in Linden and Hope Town – predominantly black communities – to be with their only daughter. This is not to say children out of wedlock is something I subscribe to because I practically grew up without a father and for all intents became an adult at eleven years old taking care of myself and sibling. I was determined not to repeat that cycle and to be actively involved and available in nurturing, caring and raising my child/children every day with love and affection – to be a hands on dad. Though I was committed to staying with my wife even if we were a childless couple, I was struggling with not being able to become a father or for my wife to become a mother. I felt my mind was not open to adopting a child because we would have no genetic connection to that child and it meant the loss of our lineage.
Where was my God?
I was conflicted and wrestling with the devil and God on the inside but my image had to be maintained. After all I was a Christian with a successful career. In 2017, in the midst of my depression, I became more desperate for help and saw a dozen Christian counselors who though well intentioned were not equipped to help as my problem was spiritualized and kept compounding until I began ruminating with suicidal thoughts one evening in my home. But through all of this I had determined that it was not another woman I needed and that my wife means everything to me, but I struggled to re-engineer a fix of myself. After 7 failed IVF cycles and only two embryos remaining, I was not optimistic. If there is no chance of conceiving a child, I felt like my life was basically over at that point. There was no more writing on the pages of my life. All I saw was blankness. It meant that I would just be a childless memory in the earth. I knew I was spiraling into depression, anxiety and acting out with unhealthy coping mechanisms. Sadly, my wife felt the brunt of my emotional instability which in hindsight, I regret. No. I did not blame her. None of this was her fault. She unfortunately, happened to be the person caught in the crossfire of my struggles and for that I take full responsibility.
In hindsight, I wished I had the good sense to know or for someone to advise us to work with a therapist through the IVF process and the death of our 1st child to cope with the mental trauma of infertility distress, (I am now learning that therapist skilled in inferility issues is effective in reducing infertility distress where I believe my faith community and my own ignorance failed me.) I have suffered increased social infertility distress. This infertility stress, psychological distress, financial burdens of treatment, and depression over the course of six to seven years can be predispose a couple to un healthy social lifestyles. Overwhelmingly, it often places their marriage under pressure.
But as God in his faithfulness intervened, I am delighted that my wife and I now have healthy beautiful daughter born in late 2019 who is a miracle. My message is that there is hope for many but as a society we have to desist from shaming and stigmatizing men and women who are struggling with infertility. If you’re struggling with the inability to conceive, please, please, talk to trusted medical professionals – travel abroad if you have to and see fertility Specialists. always enlist the help of a good therapist in the process. Our friends nurses Mandy LaFlur, Paulette Alstrom-Peters, and Sabrina Phillips who are excellent medical professionals are owed life gratitudes by us and have become our daughter’s spiritual aunts. Without them standing by us, we might still be childless. PS. On a side note, I do sometimes miss the simplicity of my previous life………lol. But she brings such joy.
Yes, the inability to conceive has taken a toll on our marriage relationship but I’m on to the next fight to rebuild it and to build back better. Everything I thought I couldn’t handle, I kept handling.
Blessings to all of you who are struggling to convince. I SEE YOU MY FRIEND. DO NOT GIVE UP. YOU. ARE. STRONGER. THAN. YOU. THINK.
You can judge me, hate me or love and support me if you get through this blog. In the meantime, I will continue to fight for my family as the most valuable resource in my life and to support and encourage those who are struggling.