Understand the process. Don’t be embarrassed. Remain positive. Participate. Don’t be afraid to seek outside support.
This advice is from a dad who has been there, done that: “that” being going through the process of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) with his wife. It was stressful and terrifying, but, ultimately, successful.
The Waiting Room
The thing that really struck Bob Marovitz, of Chicago, Ill., when he and his wife were going through fertility treatments, was how differently men and women interacted with the other patients. “The first time we went into Dr. Kaplan’s office there were three men in the waiting room, and when I walked in no one looked up at me,” says Marovitz. “They weren’t looking at each other, and they almost seemed to be embarrassed to be there with their wives. They didn’t want to acknowledge what they were going through.”
Meanwhile, throughout the process, Marovitz noticed that the wives were constantly discussing the stages they were in and giving each other support. That’s when he decided it was time to speak out about what it means to be a man in that situation and to encourage other men to be more forthcoming about their feelings.
Marovitz, founder of RIM Enrichment Coaching, says his experience as a personal life coach makes him worry that if they keep their feelings in now, it will blow up later, affecting their marriages and their lives.
Experts say this lack of communication – even embarrassment – is common, and it’s something that many infertility centers are actively working to combat. Traditionally, the problem has been that there is so much focus on the woman that the man begins to feel as if he’s nothing but a sperm donor.
A Female Problem
According to Dr. Brian Kaplan of the Fertility Centers of Illinois (FCI), the irony of the whole situation is that regardless of whether the infertility can be traced to the man or the woman, insurance companies see it as a female problem, because she’s the one that undergoes all the procedures. “Even if the guy has a low sperm count, the treatment is in-vitro fertilization,” says Dr. Kaplan. “What we’re trying to do is refocus that perception and make sure the couple realizes that this is a couples issue.”
Dr. Kaplan says that it’s important for men to have a sense of ownership in the process, and they encourage that from the beginning by suggesting the men be part of every consultation from the initial visit. “We want to emphasize that infertility is multifactorial and is a combination of etiologies,” he says. “The male is also an integral part of our consultation process and becomes very important once we have embryos and are doing the transfer. One thing we’re trying to do at that point is make a decision on how many to put in. Male input is critical at that point. That can have so many repercussions on pregnancy rates and multiple pregnancy rates, so they have to know how they feel about selective reduction and the possibilities of multiple births.”
At FCI the husband sits beside his wife during the actual procedure offering her both emotional and physical support, an experience that Marovitz calls “life altering.” However, he says, this support has to continue beyond the procedure room, especially when the procedure is unsuccessful.
In the Marovitzs’ case, the first two times they underwent IVF, it failed. After the first IVF, Deb, his wife, was devastated and cried all night. Marovitz says that he just held her and tried to be there for her, but was terrified that she had crossed some kind of emotional line. She finally fell asleep, and when she awoke the next morning she was fine and ready to try again. He realized that she just needed that emotional release. However, he said the partner has to be aware if that line has been crossed into a depression that may require professional counseling.
A woman has to go through a lot when she undergoes IVF. In addition to the emotional pain of infertility, the medical procedures can be harrowing. Her hormones and cycles are manipulated to the point that her emotions are often at a tight stretch. This is the time, says Marovitz, when a man has to put aside his own needs in favor of his wife’s.
Based upon his experience and in talking to other husbands, this is what he suggests a man needs to know about supporting his wife through IVF:
- Understand the process and don’t be shy to ask your doctor a lot of questions.
- Don’t be embarrassed if pregnancy doesn’t happen naturally. Separate your own anxiety and be supportive of your wife.
- Remaining positive for your partner is very critical throughout every step. If you’re not, you will only add more stress to an already stressful event.
- Participate in the process as much as possible. It’s a two-way street and you need to be in a prepared state to do what your wife needs you to do.
- Don’t be afraid to seek counseling or emotional support – either as a couple or for your own peace of mind.
- Be careful who you tell. Prior to their first procedure, the Marovitzs told everyone about it. Then, when it failed, they had to tell their story over and over which made it much harder. On subsequent tries, Bob told no one and Deb told just a few select people.
The one thing that Marovitz couldn’t seem to overcome was the fear that they would have twins. Looking back, he realizes that it was almost irrational, but it was also very real.
“I couldn’t fathom what my life would become if we had twins, and it terrified me to try again, but Deb was even stronger and more determined than she had been the first time,” says Marovitz. “One thing that helped was that we had counseling and that’s something I recommend. It may be hard for some men to accept outside emotional support like that, but if a man goes into this with a closed mind in the beginning, it will be that much harder for both of them. He has to be able to recognize that at this time more than any other he has to open up his reservoir of feelings, and it will help him and their marriage in the long run.”
And then, nine months after their third IVF procedure, they welcomed twins into the world, a boy and a girl. Now, busy with his 14-month-old children, Marovitz marvels that he ever lived without them.
“I was over my fear almost the moment I saw them born and saw that they were perfect,” he says. “I can only describe myself as overjoyed. I look forward to seeing them every day and can hardly believe I’m so lucky to be a father of two.”