Monday, November 17, 2014

3: An Inarticulate Bunch of Neanderthals. Sponsor me for Movember.

Part Three: 'An Inarticulate Bunch of Neanderthals'

If you're reading this, the bottom line is that I want you to sponsor me for Movember. To raise awareness of men's fertility.

It's grown...
After the first round of IVF failed in May 2013, we had to consider what next. I discovered that a lot of people have more than one round. I was still hopeful. Although numbers had moved in the right direction, I was still having a crisis of masculinity.

Even before the first round, I kept thinking to myself that it would work. This particular life challenge would be over and could get on with Fatherhood. I'm a man - that's what I was meant to be doing. It is my purpose and destiny.

I wanted a valid reason to come into work tired. I wanted to be woken up by a baby's frustrated cry. I wanted to pass on my genes - all my grandparents lived past 80. Three into their 90s.

It's all about me dammit. I want life to go my way.*

So, we thought about it carefully - and chose to go for another round. There was no actual explanation for an embryo not implanting - but we thought it would definitely be worth another go.

Over July and August, Davina did it all again. I did my bit. We had all the visits to the clinic. The injections, breaking, measuring, disposing, checking.

And hoping.

And getting the news.

That it didn't work.


I remember really really really thinking it would work. And on finding out it didn't, numbness settling in.

We had a follow up meeting with the head of the clinic. Davina could barely sit in the room. I had set aside feelings to listen as the woman spoke of 'unexplained fertility' and 'it's difficult to know why' and 'we understand that it must be hard' and all the other nice things they're trained/ expected/ wanting to say.

I then remember being at home and eating a whole tub of Ben and Jerry's in about half-an-hour.**

As we started to communicate with those close to us, both Davina and I realised there was only so far we could go by ourselves. Counselling was the next step - recommended to me by Lyndsey (my sister) amongst others. So we did. Davina's workplace is enlightened enough to offer counselling services. I took advantage of the free session the clinic offered.

It was useful to be able to examine what I was thinking, how I was feeling and what I was doing. It was less about finding answers and more about asking decent questions to open something up.

I also found limited support on web forums. They made me feel less isolated. Fertility Friends and the Infertility Network were two I discovered. However, I've only posted on there two or three times.

I wrote something describing my situation - requesting a male viewpoint. What I got was 'I'm not a man but...' or 'My OH (other half) hasn't said anything like that, but I think...'

Now, over the years, I have trained, explored, challenged and pushed myself to open up deeper and more effective levels of communication. I am able to describe how I feel. I can get to the heart of what's going on for me very quickly.

But are most men really an inarticulate bunch of neanderthals?*** It would seem so. There is so much support for women. And so little for men.

IMHO there are a certain pressures 'society' puts on men to be a particular way. Of course 'society' puts all sorts of pressures on women and people in general too. But the silence is stifling around particular issues surrounding men.

My feelings come in waves: pain, regret, rage - smallest thing can set me off - seeing a colleague’s car with a baby seat, watching a young family go shopping, or making space on the tube for a woman with a 'baby on board' badge.

I’ve learned to ride the waves rather than attempt to shove it down.

It's not about a voice for the voiceless. It's articulating the inarticulate and emoting the emotionless. We want to talk. We are capable of communicating. I have male friends who are utterly amazing: the conversation will move seamlessly from an in-depth discussion about Star Wars, to debating the vagaries of the financial system, on to some terrible teasing and ending with us being able to say how much we love each other.

I'm not alone.

I build and maintain a brilliant support network of family and friends. They know who they are, what to say and how to say it. And even when they don't - the message gets through. I'm so grateful.****

We can communicate.

But awareness needs raising.

So sponsor me!

Thanks for reading.

* Throwing my toys out of the pram.
** Hey - I don't drink alcohol or smoke - but sugar is a drug.
*** Or maybe women are just far more self-aware and able to communicate?
**** There are some cunts too. They don't need to know who they are.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

2: Things. Just. Happen. Sponsor Me for Movember

Part Two: 'Things. Just. Happen.'

If you're reading this, the bottom line is that I want you to sponsor me for Movember. To raise awareness of men's fertility.

It's gone...
In January 2013 Davina and I made the choice to have IVF. We started researching and found out that in our area we weren't entitled to any treatment on the NHS.


That meant going private and paying a fair amount of money - which we were perfectly willing to do. So we began the process - which involved more tests for Davina.

In the meantime, I started taking a supplement in an attempt to improve my statistics.

Then in March 2013, we found out that Davina also had a fertility issue. Apart from the fact it meant it wasn't all my fault, it also meant the chances of us conceiving naturally were now *tiny*. It also began to make us think about members of our own family who didn't have children. I began to wonder if it was all a genetic jackpot and divinely determined.

When we told our families - they were wonderful. My Dad said he was glad that we had each other - whether we have a family or not. My Mum just said she wanted grandchildren. My Mother-In-Law said we should think about going to church...

It really helped put the whole thing in perspective.

We pressed on with the measuring, the timing, the paraphernalia. And Davina went on a physical, emotional, hormonal, and intellectual roller-coaster.

It was as much as I could handle just to listen and be there.

We went through what is often called 'The Two-Week Wait' amongst those who have had IVF.

And found out that it failed.

It was about this time that my emotional response kicked in: rage, upset, frustration, sadness and settling on indifference with occasional cynicism.

As we had all the trips to the clinic, I saw a book people could write words of inspiration, hope or pain. Every time I went, I would read a few notes. I didn't feel so isolated.

I noticed that every single message was written by a woman. For a woman. Men were undoubtedly going through stuff. I know I was (and am). But why so silent?

I'm grateful for the support of my friends and family.


But there were certain things started to come up frequently on conversation that contributed to my frustration like:
1) You need to stop thinking about it/ relax/ take your mind off it (or some other trite nonsense).
2) I've got a friend who  was about to have IVF when they found out she was pregnant (Just. Go. Away.)

Also - our contemporaries were all getting pregnant and having children. We'd find out in conversation through friends and relatives.

And on Facebook. A stream of grinning pregnant pictures. And then the babies.


Eventually, after talking with friends and family - and consciously letting go. Again and again. I've got to the point where I've *started* to stop taking everything so personally. I've realised it's not that good things happen to good people. And it's not that bad things happen to bad people.

It's simply: Things. Just. Happen.

So sponsor me!

Thanks for reading.

Click here for Part Three: An Inarticulate Bunch of Neanderthals.

Friday, October 31, 2014

1: It Doesn't Happen To Us: Sponsor Me for Movember

"Changing the face of men's health"

Part one: 'It doesn't happen to us'

If you're reading this, the bottom line is that I want you to sponsor me for Movember.

It's all going...this picture was taken on 22.10.14

Most people have heard of Movember - men growing a moustache through the month of November to raise awareness of male health issues including:
- prostate cancer
- testicular cancer
- men's mental health issues

I'm doing it for all of those things.*

But also to raise awareness of a problem that's close to me personally - men's fertility issues.

In the same way as men's mental health issues have a certain stigma and silence attached to them, so do men's fertility issues.

Men don't get mentally ill. Or have problems producing a baby. It's doesn't happen to us.

My wife (Davina) and I started trying for a baby in April 2011. It's been a journey that's still going. And it's still difficult. And we still have no baby.

But I've discovered a lot about myself, fertility and our marriage along the way.

I had my first test in April 2012. This is after a year of trying. We went to the doctor together and he explained the process. No I didn't submit the sample there and then - I had to produce it at home and get it to the hospital within a certain amount of time.

It turned out that I had enough of them (count), they moved well (motility) but only 1% were formed normally (morphology).  The normal level is between 2% and 6%. My doctor at the time said it only takes one - and that 1% wasn't a problem.

Davina had a bunch of other tests up until November 2012 - that turn up nothing. Based on the information we had - it was all OK. The medical professionals we spoke to said keep trying.

February 2013 I have another test. Again I have enough of them (count) and they move well (motility).

But 0% have normal forms.

This was upsetting for me. It doesn't happen to us. It can't be happening to me.

I begin to question everything and search for a reason for this - as do the medical professionals. I get asked questions like:
Do you smoke? No.
Do you drink? Nope.

I start to wonder if it was my diet and general health. Yet by all the basic measures (weight, waist measurement, body fat) I was in good shape.** 

In fact I'm in better shape and health *now* than I was in my twenties.


What I know now, is that there are a lot of men (and couples) who have fertility problems. But it's a Great Unspoken Thing. I think it goes to the very core of what it means to be a man if you can't have children.

But it's difficult to talk about.

I'm now all for men getting themselves tested to find out the state of their fertility: whatever their age, whatever their relationship status. It's just "expected" that we'll all be able to have children easily.

Or not.

Also - this week (from Monday 27th October 2014) happens to be National Fertility Awareness Week. When I found this out - I realised I had the perfect reason to participate in Movember.

So sponsor me!

Thanks for reading.

Click here for Part Two: Things. Just. Happen.

*And I'm really glad that Men's Mental Health issues have been added to the list - my Father-in-law lived with bi-polar
** The Movember website has a really good set of information on general health.