Supporting Your Partner During IVF
For over 30 years, the doctors of RMA Long Island IVF have been helping infertile couples and individuals build their families. Taking countless couples through this very personal journey has taught us so much about the emotions infertile men and women experience, and has given us insight on how to help them and how to show them how to help each other along the way.
Because so much of the in vitro fertilization (IVF) experience – – injections, bloodwork, sonograms, retrieval and transfer procedures and the intended pregnancy – –involves the woman’s body, much of the attention and support is focused on the female partner. Even the male partner is encouraged to get involved and support her.
But what about him? How can a woman support her male partner during IVF?
Establish that you are a team
The best time to do this is at the outset of treatment, before the first reproductive endocrinologist appointment. While it’s natural to wonder whether the cause of your infertility as a couple is related to female factors, male factor, or a combination of factors, it cannot be stressed enough that couples should avoid outwardly or subtly blaming each other for their infertility. Get the answers and move forward without assigning blame. Infertility is a disease and treatment is available.
Male factor infertility
Generally, early on in the diagnosis phase, the male partner will undergo a semen analysis. The test evaluates several aspects of his ability to biologically father a child. Fortunately, many roadblocks due to male factor infertility can be corrected or bypassed through surgery and/or the use of assisted reproductive technology.
A semen analysis will test the volume of sperm, the motility/movement of sperm, and the morphology/shape of the sperm. All of these factors determine whether there is enough healthy, properly-shaped sperm with the ability to swim to and fertilize the egg. If not, IVF with or without intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) may be indicated. With ICSI, an embryologist can isolate a single sperm from a sample and inject it into the egg to help fertilize it in the lab after the IVF retrieval, bypassing the need for the sperm to reach the egg itself. Even men whose semen analysis indicates little to no sperm might be candidates to have sperm retrieved from their testes in a procedure known as Trans-epididymal Sperm Aspiration (TESA).
After the first doctor’s appointment, the semen analysis will likely be a difficult step for most men. That’s because it requires him to produce a semen specimen for testing. While it may be possible to produce the sample at home if your doctor allows it, the sample generally must be produced at the doctor’s office in the collection room. One might be tempted to dismissively equate it to a nurse handing him a specimen cup and sending him off to the bathroom to produce some urine, but for many men, the thought that everyone in the office knows what he’s doing in there is enough to distract him from the task.
Don’t downplay his embarrassment over specimen production
Unfortunately, a man’s distress is often met-- intentionally or not-- with a “this is the least you can do after all I am going through” response from his partner. While it’s true his 15-minute contribution pales in comparison to the many hours over many weeks of injections, bloodwork, sonograms, and other procedures, the collection room embarrassment and pressure to produce a “good” specimen is unbearable for many men. Resist the very real urge to shrug off his anxiety and embarrassment and support him as you would want him to support you.
While producing the initial specimen for the semen analysis and the first time in the collection room is difficult, future specimen productions are not likely to be any less stressful.
On IVF retrieval day, the female partner gets prepped for and undergoes the retrieval while the man is sent off to produce the specimen that will be used to fertilize the embryos. Failure to produce the specimen on demand on the “big day” would be disastrous and the pressure to perform under those circumstances is intense. For this reason, many couples choose to produce and freeze a semen sample in advance of the IVF procedure so it can be thawed and used as a back-up if needed on retrieval day.
Realize he may feel guilt or shame, too
Women often suffer guilt and shame at not being able to meet society’s expectations. Those same feelings and societal pressures affect men. Their ability to impregnate their partner can be seen as an integral part of their masculinity. In addition, the inability to protect their partner from pain or fix the situation for her can make them feel helpless. Men are less likely to open up to friends and family about these concerns, and may also be reluctant to vent to partners for fear of upsetting them.
Encourage his involvement in the process
In addition to keeping the lines of communication open, let him be as involved as he wants and is able to be. Invite him to come to appointments. Encourage him to overcome the initial fear, discomfort, or nervousness over giving you injections. Some of the greatest bonding between couples can happen when a partner rises to the occasion and participates with giving injections.
If you feel you need help with the emotional toll of your infertility journey, or with supporting your partner, RMA Long Island IVF offers individual and group counseling with nurse and licensed psychotherapist Bina Benisch, M.S., R.N. All are welcome and new groups are forming now. Contact our office for more information.