Tuesday, November 25, 2014

4 (of 4) A Very Fixed Idea of What It Means To Be A Man. Why I'll Do Movember Every Year.

Part Four: A Very Fixed Idea of What it Means To Be A Man

This is the fourth post after 'An Inarticulate Bunch of Neanderthals. Sponsor me for Movember'.

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.

After discovering the fertility issue with me, then the fertility issue with Davina and then two rounds of IVF that failed we were somewhat bereft.

It made us reflect on what was important to us. We spoke, discussed, argued and debated.

We also discovered for ourselves that creating a family is what’s important for us. We began to realise that there is no set form to what family is. It can be created in many ways: adoption, surrogacy, and donor eggs/ sperm to name three. Family means many things and we have energy and love to give.

January 2014 then, we began to look into adoption. We attended an information evening, had a call with a social worker and then a visit from one.

All the way through, I felt a certain trepidation and nervousness amongst the couples. But there seemed to be a greater sense of partnership. In beginning to examine adoption, the differences between men and women were less apparent. With fertility treatment it was much more stark.

Was it resignation on the part of men?

As it happened, we didn't choose to start the adoption process: they requested we use contraception for two years as it started. This is to protect the children being adopted. Many come from an already traumatic background and coming into an adopted family - only to be playing second best to a new baby - would likely be too much for them to handle.

And too much for the adopted family to handle.

The request to use contraception and commit to adoption felt like a door slamming on the possibility of conceiving another way.

So, we took our attention off all of it.

Perhaps it was resignation on our part.

Throughout last year, I found myself less and less willing to share with people what I was dealing with. Through this year, it's been the opposite. I've become more and more willing to share, culminating in my participation in Movember.

This year, I also discovered I had a very fixed idea of what it means to be a man.

It was a standard. An ideal.

I had to be strong. I had to be a provider. I had to have chiselled features. A lean body. A rock.


I was meant to be a father.

And I decided that it was unreachable.

Through this year, I've realised all I've done in my life is rebel against that made-up, inherited, 'standard' of masculinity. It's informed so many of my actions: the way I prefer the company of women; the way I find it hard to be around lots of 'traditional' male-macho-nonsense; the way I feel I have to stand out in order to get attention; the way I'm perfectly at home expressing my feelings; the way I don't enjoy participating in competitive sport.

If there was nothing to rebel against, what then?

A new thought presented itself to me: perhaps masculinity could be my ongoing creation.

Growing my moustache has been a reminder of my frustration, sadness, and anger at not demonstrating my masculinity by having children.

The issue is constantly in my face. Literally.

However, there could be a more empowering way to look at it.

Growing my moustache has been a reminder of the possibility of men sharing, communicating and supporting each other.

Perhaps that's what Movember is really about.

A biology teacher called Sam at the school where I teach told me that women learn about the symptoms of testicular cancer and how to spot it.

Because men avoid the issue and don't want to talk about it. The women nag, push and make the appointments.

It's the same with men's mental health.

It's the same with men's fertility.

So please, sponsor me.

Thanks for reading.

Click here for the beginning of the story: Part One: It Doesn't Happen To Us

Monday, November 17, 2014

3 (of 4) An Inarticulate Bunch of Neanderthals. Why I'll Do Movember Every Year

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.

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.

Click here for Part Four: A Very Fixed Idea of What It Means To Be A Man

* 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?

Sunday, November 09, 2014

2 (of 4) Things. Just. Happen. Why I'll Do Movember Every Year

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 for 2015!
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.