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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Boys, Boys, Boys

This subject obviously cropped up when we started writing about Ladies-When-Waiting for the book. At first I was trying to be all sensitive and politically-correct and write Ladies-or-Lords-When-Waiting. My first sign should have been the fact that I couldn't come up with the male equivilent. Was a knight the male counterpart to a lady-in-waiting? A courtier? A man-of-arms? The King had to have counsel, but I couldn't find a word to describe this relationship. I settled on "lord" because it seemed like the opposite of lady. Lords and ladies. Right?

But then my husband pointed out that this was a moot point because men didn't truly have a Lord-When-Waiting (gasp!). And most guys didn't even really want one (gasp!). Apparently, I learned, these crazy men don't want to spend all day on the phone with their friends analyzing every fertility sign. What does the male do for fun?

This question also came from a book I'm currently reading on infertility. Overall, I love this book. I'd hate the only post about it to be a criticism because I think that it has great information in it. It's just their chapter on men and infertility that bothered me. I'm simplifying the chapter, but one overriding message is that men are not as bothered by infertility and actually love the amount of sex they get to have.

"No matter what he tells you, when it comes to the sexual part, your guy is in heaven. Infertility-induced sex is full of guiltless quickies for the guys. And for the first time, the woman in his life doesn't really mind. Is this great for a guy or what (Vargo, p. 266)?"

My husband may be a fantastic actor, but I don't believe he is any less upset than I am with infertility. Do we grieve differently--of course. But never underestimate the grief by the way someone grieves. How we show sadness is not necessarily how deeply we feel the sadness. I think one of the biggest disservces we do for boys is encourage them not to cry. Not only is crying a healthy release, but I think people believe that if they don't see someone outwardly grieving that they must be fine internally. And that is certainly not the case.

Fertility treatments are painful AND humiliating for women. And you can't dismiss the pain factor. But just because men are not giving themselves injections or having surgery (though they sometimes are!) doesn't mean that it isn't emotionally painful. Does ejaculating into a cup have the same pain factor as having a tube inserted through your cervix? Certainly not. Is it equally humiliating? Certainly. I haven't met these men who were thrilled to make a donation. I think they're thrilled that their part in the procedure isn't painful, but I don't know many men who are excited when walking into the Sperm Palace (our excitement was also dimmed by the squat German woman who led us to the backrooms announcing each time, "it must be a clean specimen!" as if we were thinking of mixing a little dirt into the sample before handing it off to the andrologist.)

Which is not to say that there are probably men reading this blog who are snickering and saying, "she has it all wrong. I don't care if we can never have kids and I love all the sex. I can deal with a crying wife any day of the week in order to get all that baby-dance loving!" Though...if they're taking the time to read an infertility blog...doesn't that mean that infertility is sort of...on the brain?

I think women (okay, what I mean by "women" is actually "I") often forget that men don't communicate the same way as women. And I think men also forget this. They don't realize that women need to speak about it and women don't realize that men really do need to have downtime from the topic. The fact that a woman needs to speak about it a lot does not mean that she feels it deeper than a man, and a man's avoidance of the topic doesn't mean that it doesn't profoundly affect him. We forget that we get something out of talking about it--clarity, peace, information.

My husband was always happy to discuss infertility with me, but it wasn't a topic he discussed at length with friends. When he spoke about it, he was passing on information. He may talk about emotions after they've been expressed, but rarely as they were happening. He didn't talk about how he felt. At least not directly. Which is not to say that he didn't feel deeply. When we started trying-to-conceive, I began a journal. I thought that it would be a pregnancy journal. Little did I know that I would fill the pages with entries about longing and treatments. I have beautiful entries that he wrote into that journal--messages to our not-yet baby begging him/her to arrive. He never sat in front of me and sobbed, but I can read those words and know that his heart was breaking too.

I was often frustrated that my husband could go to work and compartmentalize infertility. He could go for hours without thinking about it. And, again, that's not to say that it wasn't affecting him profoundly. I thought my pain trumped his because my mind was always focused on infertility. The amount of time I spent thinking about it had to mean that I was feeling it very, very deeply. Well, no. It was happening in my body, so realistically, I never got to have a break. I was at work, but I was analyzing every twinge. I'm also an information junkie, so I spent a great deal of time either reading books or surfing the Web. The amount of time I spent on these activities did not reflect how deeply I felt. It reflected how I coped with my emotions.

One time, I was driving with a friend from Massachusetts to D.C. We stopped off at my grandmother's house for lunch. During the meal, she asked my friend if she had a boyfriend and my friend said, "well, I have a girlfriend. I'm a lesbian." My grandmother took her hand and said, "Lesbians I understand. Girls: you laugh with them, you pee with them (I think she was referring to the fact that we all go in packs to the bathroom, but perhaps Grandma meant something very different...). Girls bring everything beautiful into a relationship. But two men--who brings the beauty into that relationship?" Oh, Grandma, I'll send you a link to some chat rooms and you can ask your questions.

Grandma's point (I'll translate Grandmaese for you) is that women talk through things. It's the woman who brings up the topics for discussion and moves the relationship forward. Or does she? I think from a female perspective, discussion is the best way to deal with things therefore a woman believes "something is getting done" if they are talking about it. But I wonder if men believe anything is "getting done" when you're talking about something. Grandma couldn't imagine what happens when two people who don't discuss their feelings get together.


That men will discuss infertility (and other emotional topics) with their wife or partner. It's just the rest of the world that they leave out of the conversation. It's a matter on intimacy. While I speak about IF with my husband, I also speak about it with most of my friends (male or female) as well as the greater world through this blog. Talking about IF is the way I cope with IF. My husband, on the other hand, will speak with me (especially if I bring it up first), but once he has discussed it once, doesn't feel the need to collect opinions from different sounding boards.

Ah, men truly are from Mars.

What I'm trying to say is let's give guys a break. Let's not make them talk like girls. Let's not ignore their pain. Let's let them cope in a way that suits them best.

Oh, who am I kidding? Like I can control how I feel when I have all those hormones racing through my body. I'm about as sympathetic and gentle as a hormone-raging woman.


serenity said...

This is pretty much exactly what my husband said to me last night. Well put! I can relate 1000%.

Anonymous said...

Men feel the pain of IF, they are just quieter about it. After 6 years of trying and finally getting pg through IVF we found out we were having a miscarriage. I cried, I sobbed, I couldn't stop. My husband held me, but he didn't talk about his pain. The next mornng he told me that he had a dream about the baby we were losing. He didn't have to cry, or say he was sad. Those words said it all. He is always so busy taking care of me that sometimes it is easy to forget that he hurts too.

Ellen K. said...

Well, I think my husband would vehemently disagree with the "guiltless quickies" quote. As would I. Honestly, does anyone think that baby-making sex, after an infertility diagnosis, is all that much fun? By this point we're usually on some kind of schedule, plus sex is becoming associated with failure.

Our diagnosis is primarily male-factor, and my husband opted to have the no-guarantees varicoclectomy and has always been cheerful about that little scar. Generally, he's silent about our infertility, and he's told me that he feels he needs to be strong for the both of us. But occasionally he mentions some stupid infertility-related joke one of his co-workers made, or looks wistfully at our baby niece, and I know he's hurting, too.

Anonymous said...

After 3+ years of infertility and a m/c, my husband hates baby-making (HA-HA) sex. It makes him angry sometimes. He is sick of it as am I. I have tried to not be a raving lunatic about it each month which takes much restraint. I try to mask the fact that it is that time of the month. "NOOOO, I'm not ovulating, what would ever give you that idea???" :)

Anonymous said...

It's not "guiltless quickies" in our house. My husband made a comment the other night that instead of doing anything that might suggest I'm ovulating that I should just put on lingerie and light candles and seduce him. Hmmm, so now I have to wake up early to take my temps, pee on ovulation sticks (which inevitably splash all over me), watch what I eat and drink, try to get him to eat healthier, and break out the strip show just to get him to have sex on the right day??? That's how little my husband wants to know about "OUR" IF.

Anonymous said...

Sex with my wife when we first started trying to have a baby was fun. Then after six months with no luck it became a complete chore and was very stressful. After a year of nothing we started visting doctors and discovered that my body did not produce sperm. It's killing me that we can't have a baby together. All the guys I went to school with are fathers now and have no clue what I'm going through. Lots of tears together but we feel just alone.