Men and Infertility

I know this is going to be a controversial post. I want to start it out by saying that infertility is a problem for BOTH men and women. I am not speaking about the actual health issue of men’s infertility here, nor do I think I can or should because A) Because I am a woman and B) My husband has not suffered from MFI and C) I don’t know much about it. Although, I’d like to say that I would like to see more written about it, to demystify it for everyone. I am specifically speaking about the education (or lack of education) about infertility in general that men receive.

Women’s fertility decreases with age. Starting around age 30, it declines. Yet, we seem to be prepping our children for marriage and children at an older age. I often think about what to tell both my children, my son and my daughter, about the realities of infertility.

I met Darcy when I was 25. He was 24. I’d be a liar if I said that I didn’t want to marry him within a year of meeting him: I did. I was madly in love with him from Day One. (Although, of course, I postured wildly that I wasn’t. This was hard.) He was everything I had ever dreamed of as a girl and a woman: he was romantic, dashing, handsome, challenging, intellectual, funny. We got married four years after meeting. It was challenging for to me to wait. It was. But he needed to have adventures, he needed to figure out that I wasn’t Jewish (and was I worth marrying anyway?) and those adventures and that decision-making process I don’t regret at all. I lived in London with the man I loved. I had a super romantic relationship with my boyfriend for three years: we flew in a single engine plane over Africa, we drove all over the South of France with just an old-fashioned map to guide us, we ate incredible pastries, we stayed in the house F. Scott Fitgerald wrote “The Beautiful and The Damned” in, we chased our desires for good food and culture all over the globe. Will I regret these experiences on my death bed? No. And when he proposed to me, it was so magical and not at all expected and so, so, so his decision. He was a man who was more than ready to marry the woman he loved. That night in Paris, on the Pont Neuf, when he pulled a diamond ring out of my favorite Jane Austen book, I knew I was the luckiest woman in the world.

I have lived a romantic life, in part. My twenties were a dream: a cinematic, lovely story. Had I blogged about my life then, it would have been insufferable. Yet, you would have noticed my underlying desire: my desire for marriage and kids. I wanted what I didn’t have. Don’t we always.

Well, the comeuppance: it happened. My thirties were an utter nightmare. After the dream, perfect wedding, a few weeks after I turned 30 and the honeymoon in Tanzania spent on safari and then on the private island Bill Gates himself commissioned for his own honeymoon, I gloried in my excellent choices and thought how wonderful my life was BECAUSE of my choices. How foolish. And…the fall from grace. It was incredibly painful.

I tell this story because: what if. What if? What if Darcy had NOT needed adventures? What if Darcy had married me on the spot? What if my battle through infertility had never happened? What if I had married when I was 25? Would I have gotten pregnant? Would I have gotten pregnant again? And again? Would I have regretted not pursuing a life of adventure? I don’t think that some of the experiences we had (the safari in particular) would have happened if we didn’t marry later. And I think about that safari every single day of my life. Sometimes the memory of driving in our jeep through the migration of wildebeests suddenly, after a long, flat road: the feeling of driving into the moon, essentially, sustains me when I am bored.

There are cultures that promote young marriage: the Mormon religion, and certain orthodox Judaic traditions (Darcy’s friend had an arranged marriage with a woman who he’s had six children with upon last count: she was 20 when they wed) and others I am not familiar with. But I think the “average” story America tells is: go to college, get your degree. Have fun, then get married when you are ready. Or, don’t, if you don’t find that specific person.

Let’s talk specifically about the heterosexual male perspective.

There have been articles about the delayed and immature young male. We do know men are less likely than ever to go to college, or graduate, or pursue a graduate degree. What’s up with men, and their postponement of marriage?

I don’t know. Is it that marriage is valued less? Is it the economy? Is it that there are more choices? Is it that 50% of marriages end in divorce?

I am asking you, my readers, because I know that you are so, so smart. Way smarter than me.

What should I tell my children? Should I tell them to pursue a life of adventure, or should I tell them to settle down early? Is it a choice?



Filed under Parenting After IF, What Say You?

28 responses to “Men and Infertility

  1. This is a great post – I love the insight into your previous life and the way you put things.

    I don’t think it’s a choice. No matter what we tell them our children will make the decision based on who they fall in love with, when they meet that person, and what’s right for them. I think the best we can do is educate them, hope the decisions they make lead them to happiness, and support them through the rough patches. I also wonder what to tell my children in regards to infertility. It will definitely be something we are open about but I also want them to know that just because we struggled with it, doesn’t mean they will.

    There are trade-offs no matter what road you take. My parents married young, they had four children while they were young, they struggled financially and gave up their own adventures to nurture ours. Now they are both retired, they have been able to enjoy a lot of time with their grandchildren while still young (my siblings all followed in their footsteps so they have lots of grandchildren) and they are traveling the world at this later stage in life. As a kid I wasn’t aware of how much they gave up for us but when my father came to visit me when I was in the Peace Corps he was so clearly living vicariously through me. He thanked me over and over for bringing him on this adventure and admitted that he had always wanted to do something like what I was doing and that he was so happy for me and a little bit envious. Now that I live in Africa he has had numerous safaris and he treasures those experiences but I don’t think he regrets the choices he made.

    I married later for a number of reasons but because of that both my husband and I feel that we had full lives before we “settled down.” I treasure those years – they have contributed immensely to the person I am. I do wonder if we would have had the same problems with infertility if we had married when we were younger but I don’t think I was ready for a family then. I think the fact that we married after we “found ourselves” has made our marriage stronger than it would have been if we were still trying to figure out who we were as individuals and at the same time we were trying to figure out who we were as a couple. We needed that strength in our relationship to get through infertility. If we had jumped into it earlier there is no guarantee that babies would have come easily and maybe our marriage wouldn’t have survived the knock we both took while we were trying. It was right for us but there have certainly been (and will continue to be) trade-offs.

    This has turned into something much longer than I planned to write but just want to end by saying I love the way you write about your safari. Look me up when you are ready to bring your kids on one. No reason why they can’t start their adventures while they are still small.

  2. chon

    Fantastic post! So much of it mirrors my 20s and 30s. If its ok I would like to also write a blog on this since my brother has recently broken up with his long term g/f and mirrors much of what you have written. I am incredibly upset about it and writing might help me

  3. I love the photos, and your amazing story. You look so beautiful!

    This is a really thought-provoking post, especially for me. Like you, I was madly in love immediately, and ready for marriage; but he was the same way. My husband and I started TTC three months after our engagement, when he was 20 and I was 27 (yup, cradle robber). He was 21 when we learned it might be a long, crappy road. Even now, after six and a half years, I realize sometimes that he still doesn’t always understand how short time is getting, with every passing day.

    I tell myself that I had to choose adventure, hundreds of thousands of miles and years of road trips, so that he could settle down early, but I agonized over whether or not I was taking his choice away. In the end, all we can do is make our children aware of the consequences of their actions, something which will at least be easy to demonstrate in this crazy family we have.

  4. Thought-provoking as usual! My husband was ready to settle down way before I was. When I finally agreed to marry him, he said “well, I’m glad you finally figured it out, because I’ve known for a long time.” But he’s not from this country. It’s hard to imagine an American man being that way (at 28, no less).

    Like Mud Hut Mama, though, I think a lot just depends on when you meet the person you want to marry. I never thought i’d be one to marry at 25. I do think something is off, though, when you have people at age 29 who won’t even consider settling down because they’re not done being youthful. Call me judgmental, but I do think some people take it too far.

  5. We were the first of our friends to leap into parenthood because I was older than them (and B) by 3 years. We got married when I was 31 and he was 28. At 32 and 29, we started trying to have a baby, and while we were doing it in our early thirties (he was essentially 30 – he’s always been mature beyond his years), our male friends kept telling us we were too young for kids. In our 30’s! And B bought into it. He wanted adventures, to move to an unfamiliar city, a master’s degree, to focus on career, etc. None of those things happened, and not because of me. He didn’t even attempt them. I truly believe they were simply excuses for not having children right away.

    And now he regrets not starting sooner. He wants more children, and he wants them NOW.

    He does regret not going on adventures, and this is something I can’t really identify with because my 20’s were fantastic! I travelled to Europe, Australia, and New Zealand several times and moved away to a city in which I knew ONE person. I loved those years in Chicago. I made lots of mistakes, and BIG ones, but I think they defined me. Without them, I would not be where I am today.

    B grew up in Iowa and has worked almost full time since he was 14. He put himself through college without a single dime from his parents, and without student loans. He moved from a small city in Iowa to the biggest city in Iowa, all the while wishing he could leave Iowa. He never left the country until our honeymoon, and even then, we just went to Mexico.

    We talk a lot about what we’re going to tell our kids. But before we TELL them anything, we think it’s our job to help them pay for college as much as possible so that they can do things like exchange programs, extra-curricular activities, get involved in their OWN political beliefs, etc. College is when you start sorting out who you are and what you really think, and if we don’t give our kids the chance to do that because they’re working their asses off to pay for school like B did, then we’ve done a terrible disservice to them.

    Our hope is that they will leave college with a love for adventure, a craving to keep learning, and an enthusiasm to keep discovering themselves. We hope that they love themselves and their potential future so much that they will wait a little while to settle down. If they want to settle down at 25, there’s not much we can do about it. But if they’re busy living their lives, then maybe they’ll wait until their late 20’s and will be able to say, “I’ve lived some crazy adventures, let’s start thinking about having kids soon.”

    As much as we struggled to have a baby, I would not trade in my adventures and mistakes to have done this sooner. Afterall, I’d be doing it with someone besides B and that thought chills me to my core. There are a lot of things we can do to try to have children – science is on our side (and so is adoption if science fails us). There are not many things we can do to help us meet the right person.

  6. Ooh, ooh ooh, I think about this often! My path was somewhat parallel to yours (without the awesome living in Europe, flying over Africa experience). We got married when I was 28. I had too many things to check off my to-do list that I knew would be exponentially more difficult with children and so we put it off. Even 2 years after we got married I still wasn’t “ready”. And so it dragged out to 5 years post-marriage. And then all hell broke loose and nothing has been easy and I’m freaking tired. Funny thing about what-ifs though. If we had started TTC when I was 30 instead of 33 or even right after marriage (not really possible between a master’s degree and studying for the P.E. exam, but I suppose….) we may have been in the same boat. it may have just sucked ass earlier. We may have made decisions that landed us in the same exact spot we are today. We may still be living in S’s shitty house in the burbs instead of in an urban neighborhood we love. We may be in financial trouble, instead of financially stable. (I don’t care what people say, money at least helps happiness, if not buys it). There’s too many unknowns!

    We mistakenly think that we have plenty of time especially when we’re surrounded with fertile family members and friends. I think I’ll just be more education-minded with my kids when it comes to fertility. I don’t think you should jump into marriage by any means, and the right person could come along much later than you would like. But once they find the right person and know they want to have children, then they should know what they are up against. Now, how to couch that so I don’t sound like a desperate grandmother-to-be….that will be the trick!

  7. What a beautiful love affair you and Darcy have! It’s the stuff fairytales are made of!

    The questions you pose at the end of this post (well done, btw) are similar ones currently being posed by sociologists. I’ll be honest, a lot of their explanations are mied and jumbled too. There is one point that make the most sense to me: the decision to marry is cultural, being that marriage and family are something that is valued and part of their identity. For some, this means marrying early; for others, sowing one’s ‘wild oats’ first is more of the norm; finally there are those where marriage is such a broken institution that some couples are choosing to forgo it. This last one is evident by the huge increase in single -parent households where the mother was never married to begin with.

    Grey and I were strange, as we were married when I was 25 yrs and he was 27 yrs. We did hold off on expanding our family until around our 5 yr anniversary as most of our peers were pushing ‘adventure’ and ‘career’ instead of family. Looking back now, I think a lot of it was due to the mentality that after one sows their wild-oats, children will come. No one wants to face the reality expanding one’s family may not be an option without intervention and a lot of grief.

    Like you, I struggle with the ‘what ifs.’ What if we had started trying when we were first married? What if I hadn’t chosen career over family? Etc, etc. But then I wonder ‘if I had become pregnant, would I be the mother my children deserve? Would Grey have been ready to handle the demands of an expanded family (remember, divorce rates are still high)? Would sacrificing those years of adventure resulted in anything differently?

  8. I love so many things about this post. Your bedecken photo. Moonlit safaris. A proposal on the Pont Neuf. The deep and abiding love you for Darcy you can read in between every word of this post. The lionness watching out for her cubs in between every sentence.

    I have wrestled with these questions, too – and I don’t even have kids (yet). But as someone who didn’t really understand the way her body worked until she was 25 only to be shocked into discovering it really wasn’t working right at all at 26 – and as someone who’s doctors just kind of pat her on the head and nodded – I come from the perspective of a cautionary tale. I want to raise my children to be aware of their bodies and the signs it tells them, but w/o being hypocondriacs. And I want to be honest with them, that yes – fertility declines with age.

    But ultimately (wearing my imaginary “if I was parenting kids old enough to tell these things to” hat): all I can do is give them the information the through the lens of my experience, and let them decide how to lead their lives.

  9. Such a beautiful post. 🙂

    I think about these questions often. If I had met my Beloved earlier, if we hadn’t wanted to wait even one year to start trying for kids, would we have gone through the pain and heartbreak of IF and RPL? And what will I tell my kids about infertility and loss, without scaring the tar out of them?

    The only answer that I have, for right now, is that I will be honest with them. Yes, there are choices to be made in life, and it’s great if you can take some time when you’re young to travel and have adventures and establish your career. There is a trade off. You may not meet the person you want to have children with until you’re in your thirties or older, and that’s totally ok. There is a trade off. The idea that we can ‘have it all’, particularly women, is nice, but it can come with a price.

    One of the toughest lessons of being a grown up is that choices we make have long lasting consequences, no matter how right the choice was at the time.

  10. How absolutely fantastic. I got swept away in your tale of love, romance, and adventure. More please! I’m for educating my kid(s) and then watching as they choose their own adventures. Whether it’s IF or something else, he/she/they will struggle and grow and mature and be amazing because of it.

  11. EmHart

    To be completely honest I am not sure it is a choice. I think that we can aim for the things that we want but sometimes life just takes us where it is going anyway. I personally was ready to settle down in my early 20’s but I did not meet the right man until I was 28. Now I would not give up that freedom I had for anything, but I don’t think I chose it. It chose me.

  12. Great food for thought. I started dating my husband when I was 26 and he was 22. We got married at 29 / 25. Started TTC at 31 / 27. I could have made other choices. Been married to my earlier long-term serious boyfriend… but I guarantee that would have ended in bankruptcy and divorce. I would not have gone to law school. We would not have had our less-exotic-than-yours-but-still-nice vacations. If I had it to do over again, would I start earlier? No. I was busy doing other important things and I don’t ever want to make choices based on an assumption that things will go wrong (though I do have that paranoia, cough cough). I will tell my daughter to find the right guy first. One step at a time.

  13. Me, too! Love the pix and the tales of your life of adventure and romance.

    My hope is that my kids grow up with a strong sense of self worth. From that, I hope that good decisions will flow regarding education, relationships, adventure, and family, which are really all in the pursuit of happiness.

    For me, it worked well in that order. But my kids’ priorities may be different than mine. I know several couples who got married right out of high school and are still going strong decades later. Their paths were more like relationship,family, education and now adventure.

    It worked for them, though it wouldn’t have for me. And vice versa with my path for them.

    Unlike adventure or education, you can’t control when relationship comes (or at least have less control).

  14. I love this post. I didn’t ever think about TTC until my husband and I were ready to get married. I didn’t think we’d have trouble, at least not due to age. I got married at 27, and he was 29. Turns out though, he had severe MFI, so the whole thing would be a struggle regardless.

    I read an interesting article on Jezebel the other day about male infertility, and how in the last century, sperm counts have greatly diminished in quality and quantity. It really hit home for me. In a study from the British Medical Journal published 20 years ago, it reported that between 1938 and 1990, men’s sperm counts had halved, going from 113 million per/ml to 66 million per/ml. I couldn’t believe that! It seems so drastic. The study didn’t determine if it was environmental, or due to our crappy Western diets and sedentary lifestyles, related to cell phones, etc, but it really made me wonder. If those studies are accurate, combined with the fact that people wait so much longer than they used to to start a family, it’s no surprise that infertility is such a huge problem.

  15. Such a good question, and a great post, as always!

    My husband does have MFI, so I knew from the start we would require ART, most likely IVF/ICSI. I was 25 when we met, 28 when we got married, and 33 before we were able to start his treatments. It’s been almost a year, and we still have yet to start IVF because we’ve been spending all this time just trying to get sperm! It’s to the point now where I worry that we’ve finally got him going, and now there will be some problem with me.

    I think kids need sex education of all kinds, and that includes the realities of women’s reproductive abilities as they age. Still, your kids will make their own choices about whom and when to marry. All you can do is know that you’ve given them the knowledge and values to make good choices. (And that goes for everything, not just making babies!)

  16. Oh what a gorgeous story of life you have. We’ve got to teach our children to appreciate each moment with gratitude for what is right in front of them. We can “what if” until we’re blue in the face, but there will always be more what ifs. What if you did try to have a baby right away? What if you were infertile then and instead of enjoying life adventures, you were in stirrups? What was it Lori was saying? Life isn’t something that happens to you? You have to make choices based on what’s in front of you, not on the “what ifs.”

  17. Pingback: Two thoughts, one post | Life Begins

  18. Esperanza

    I have to admit, I didn’t even recognize you in the first photo. For a minute I was like, who is that?

    What an incredible love story and what an incredibly decade of adventure. I’ve heard pieces of all of those stories but I feel like I could hear them a million times more and never tire of them. 😉

    I had some good times in my 20s but they were nothing as fabulous as yours. And that’s okay, I wasn’t looking for that much amazeballs, in fact, I was looking for love, because I was desperate to start trying because I KNEW how hard and bad it could be.

    I think I am in an interesting place to comment on this because I’m one of the ones whose parents DID have troubles, so many, many troubles, and I DID grow up thinking about all the things most people never think about. And it DID make me want to start a family sooner and it DID make that a huge priority for me in my life, a much bigger priority than adventure ever was. But the thing was, I couldn’t find the man I loved, so I just sat on the side lines, waiting desperately to find someone. And then when I did, my wanting to start a family COMPLETELY defined our relationship, in as many negative ways as positive, probably more. I think we would be HAPPIER if it weren’t for my fear of TTC and my desire to get started before it was “too late.” I’m not saying that I would do it another way, because at 28/27 we didn’t exactly have an easy time of it, and now at 32/31 we wonder if we’ll be able to complete our family.

    I think what previous posters has said it right, we need to educate our children while fostering in them strong self-awareness so they can make the choices that are best for them in the circumstances they find themselves, so that no matter what happens, they have no regrets.

  19. L

    As an OLD grandmother I think the most important thing is to raise your children to know their own self. To be independent and happy with, and by, themselves. THEN, IF they want and can they will add children, IF they want and find their right partner, these people are additional joys in their lives, not requirements for happiness.
    Not everyone will find a good partner, not everyone will have a born or adopted healthy dream child; but choosing to know yourself, to honor and enjoy your life is open to all.
    Not everyone gets their dream wishes …. but we can value who we are, be our best selves, and share the miracle of our individual lives with the world.

  20. There are so many points worthy of discussion in this post. I hope you continue to expand ideas and discussion on each. If you think about it the only time we are forced to learn about our bodies is in middle school or high school health. After that, we’re on our own. Some of us may have doctors who address the subject of age and infertility, but it seems we are more likely to learn on our own, often through what’s going on in our friends’ lives or perhaps our own. As to what to tell your children, the woman who said that it won’t matter what you tell them, they will live their own lives, is right.

  21. I don’t think it has to be either/or. However, I think children should be educated about the possible consequences of both options.

    I love this post.

  22. Argh! I cannot believe how long it has taken me to comment on this fabulous post! First of all, what an amazing love story and adventures you and Darcy have had!

    I almost replied that what I would tell a daughter would be different than what I would tell a son, but then I decided that no, both need to know the reality of how our bodies work, the problems that can occur and perhaps most importantly, that tradeoffs and sacrifices may need to be made. Infertility may happen and they and their partners need to factor that into their equation of 20s = adventure; 30s = babies.

    I married pretty young. I met my husband at 19, and we married when I was 24 and he was 25 and will be celebrating our 11th anniversary this year. He’s really the only person I ever dated. We knew we wanted children eventually but put it on hold for a few years. We had a few adventures – tame ones. I went to the UK for two weeks with a friend after graduating college. He and I went to France in 2004. I don’t regret not having more adventures, but sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have experienced the 20s in a city or even living in a different state. Believe it or not, my life is fairly exotic to my family who has spent generations on the same land.

    We started TTC just shy of my 28th birthday. I never dreamed we’d encounter the troubles we did or that it would take 4 years before we had a child. If we had conceived without difficulty that first year, I might have a 1st grader this year. Wow. That’s stunning. Instead I’m listening to my exuberant 3-year-old not napping. What I did in those 4 years was graduate school. My career might have been different too.

    Great post.

  23. Great stories, great questions. : ) I was 24 & dh was 28 when we got married. At that time, it didn’t seem very young (a lot of my friends were already married or got married that year or shortly afterward) — but when I look back now…!! We waited 10 years before we started ttc — in part because we were broke ; ) in part because I wanted to establish my career, my bank account and my marriage before tackling children; and also because I didn’t have a mother or mother-in-law around to help me & I knew I’d be on my own, for the most part. We didn’t have as many “adventures” as you have before we started ttc — sometimes I look at how quickly time has gone by & wish we’d travelled more (especially since we don’t have children — although there’s always retirement…!), but we have a paid-off mortgage, a healthy bank account & early retirement still seems do-able. Tradeoffs, indeed.

    I’m not sure anyone can ever really be “ready” for kids, but I’ve seen too many young couples (including my own parents) struggle when the children came too quickly. I’m not sure starting earlier than we did would have made a difference in the outcome but it would certainly have given us more time to play with more options. I think it’s a very personal decision and while I wouldn’t advocate having a baby when you’re very young, if you think you want to have children, you should know you can’t wait around forever.

    I do cringe when I hear stories about men who won’t commit to marriage or a child… the women breaks up with them & remains unmarried & childless, while the guy finds another woman & — surprise! — winds up with kids. It just doesn’t seem fair somehow. 😦

  24. Thank you for sharing that, a wonderful post. Growing up I expected to settle down quickly and have a family however things don’t always go to plan. I fell in love and with married my wife knowing that we may not be able to have children.

    After 8 years of adventure and her going on a healing journey which resulted in her having her fertility for the first time in her life we thought this is it, now is our time to settle down and have what we dreamed of – only to find out I was infertile.

    After a painful couple of years (after the rollercoaster of the previous 8) we came a place of peace and decided to pack everything in to storage, leave my job and go travelling. Again, things don’t go to plan. We found out my wife was pregnant naturally after 2 months of me resigning from the job I found unfulfilling.

    So, a long answer to the question, I think there is no answer. Follow your heart, your wisdom and not your head/thinking. Your heart will take in to account you inner most desires and the facts of life (body clock etc.) – your head/thinking is too unpredictable and is coloured by limiting beliefs. fears and stories we tell ourselves which at the end of the day we just don’t know are true.

  25. I am glad you’re bringing up this subject. It’s time to honestly consider the ramifications of not preparing a whole generation for marriage or committed relationships until later. Like you, we enjoyed a few years of nice adventures, but also like you, we’re now dealing with the realities of me being 33 instead of 27. And the burdens are rough. I don’t know what the solution is, but I am grateful to hear more people talk about this.

  26. Obviously browsing around on your blog and needed to comment.

    It doesn’t have to be either/or. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Tell them to… I’m making this up here so forgive me if it sounds like rubbish… tell them what they really need to do is not marry young or marry old or have adventures or postpone adventures but LEARN TO PRIORITISE. We married young (I proposed) and then we went on adventures. But we started trying for kids in our mid-twenties, because we knew that was a priority and unless your guy is pretty sure he can marry someone ten years or more his junior then he has to start planning along the time frame of female fertility in his agegroup.

    And the truth for us is we had kids (wow, talk about making a long story short) and now we’re having more adventures (in part because the story with having the kids was so long), so you never know what to expect. But you do have to know what you’re prepared to risk.

  27. Pingback: Episode 5 « Bitter Infertiles

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