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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Twenty Questions--Part One

Is it longer than one entry?


Is it one of your random what ifs?


Is it based on things that you read?


Is it twenty questions?

Why, yes. It is. Good guesswork.

I read, as you know, a shitload. Of blogs, of newspaper articles, of magazines, of books. Especially books. And a few times a day, I wish I could start a conversation with the author, hence why I am psyched beyond belief that Elizabeth Swire Falker agreed to participate in the Barren Bitches Book Tour.

But since I can't always reach the author OR I'd rather hear what a plethora of people have to say, I'd like to pose the questions to you. Hence the next twenty or so questions...

In Helping the Stork (by Carol Vercollone, Heidi Moss, and Robert Moss), on page 9, the writers are discussing the reluctance on the part of men to admit to infertility and state, "some feel terrified that friends or relatives will find out and ridicule them--which happens more to infertile men than women."

And I just wanted to start a conversation on perception--do infertile men get ridiculed more than infertile women (and this is really a two-way question; once you've stated that it's male factor vs. female factor, are men mocked more whereas women are given sympathy OR if you haven't stated the reason for the infertility at all, are men still mocked more often than women)? And are women ridiculed, but it's more subtle? If we take into consideration all forms of ridicule--from the obvious rude remarks to the more subtle jabs--is it equal, or do men have a harder time when being open about their infertility because they are met with more ridicule than sympathy?



Ellen K. said...

Our diagnosis is primarily male factor. D. has been open with others, including his boss and family, about having low numbers and needing a varicocelectomy. Almost universally, the men have responded with a joke. I have personally witnessed some of the jabs -- and they are far more immature, and more embarrassing, than anything I've been told about my share in our infertility. I can't believe the number of times a guy has leeringly offered to "help us out" while I am standing next to D. That comment is particularly emasculating and offensive; it's also frighteningly akin to the harem-like sexual roles among some animal species, wherein only one male with proven fertility is allowed to impregnate the females of the pride or pack.

There is a very strong, very inaccurate, association between male virility and male fertility. The underlying assumption of these jokes is that D. is impotent or lacks sexual skill. That he has reversed the Western cultural emphasis on male sexual prowess and aggression vs. female sexual passiveness.

With all the comments about "shooting blanks," by which the act of ejaculation is equated with the aggression of gunfire, and even some men's own nicknames for their genitalia and sperm as "my boys" (note that there is even a pregnancy book for men entitled "My Boys Can Swim!" -- I HATE that title), by which the male sexual organs and even gametes themselves are considered as (male) children, it is no wonder that men are generally more reluctant to admit infertility. I admire D.'s candor in speaking of his infertility, but on more than one occasion he's told me that he regrets ever mentioning it because the responses have been so very ignorant and unhelpful.

the_road_less_travelled said...

I think it's about equal in terms of ridicule. Except for women it happens in a more subversive way. Men will ridicule eachother, straight to each others faces in the form of jokes as the pp pointed out. Men also seem to equate fertility with streghth. Women will exclued one another from events and make insensitive remarks, but not in the form of a joke. They say things as though they're letting you in on the secret of why you can conceive. When I told on of my friends how difficult this was for me she replied, well I can get pregnant so easily. Mind you, she had one unplanned child at 19 and no others. However, it was the way she said it. As though my problems wasn't just medical, like there was somthing wrong with me as a human being, as a woman, and somehow I wasn't worthy of pregnancy. For women, fertility or the lack thereof, is viewed to some extent as though you're damaged, and who wants to feel like that.

Suz said...

Like Ellen, or diagnosis was primarily male factor, but my husband has not been open to anyone but his parents. The diagnosis hit him hard - made him doubt himself and his virility. There's a strong tie between "manliness" and virility - like K Fed is somehow more of a "man" because he fathered four children - regardless of his ability to care for them or not. A diagnosis of male factor calls into question "maleness" itself.

I think that the ridicule and the jokes are the same, but I think that many men are less well equipped to deal with them. When we were diagnosed, within days, I was finding support, reading on the internet, talking to my girlfriends. My husband had none and did none of this. I'm not sure how universal this is, but I think that he had a more difficult time of it because of the predominant social definition of what it means to be a "man."

Anam said...

male infertility is treated really badly by everyone that doesnt get inferility fullstop.

Anonymous said...

Yep. Plus.

The jokes about male infertility are present in the popular culture, before you even reveal yourself. I remember years ago, w-a-a-y before we started TTC when we were still teenage sweethearts at high school and some of our friends were probing about our sex life, someone made a joke about Mr Bea "shooting blanks" to try and goad us into giving them some juicy details. Who would want to reveal their infertility into an environment like that?

As I recall, the next commentor in the group was a killjoy who pointed out that male infertility was nothing to be made fun of, and all of a sudden a line had been crossed and we were out of the spotlight. But enlightened defense doesn't un-make the joke. (I should clarify that we had no idea at this point Mr Bea would turn out to be infertile.)

Mr Bea doesn't want his infertility revealed, and this restricts me from talking about our infertility/IVF treatment with people we know in real life. I can't explain why we're following a certain treatment path, or how come their advice is shitty and irrelevant and therefore just plain annoying. It makes it hard to get the support I need face to face (and thank goodness for blogs).

Perhaps, as road-less-travelled said, there is a different kind of ridicule which happens amongst women sometimes, but I think when a woman goes out into the world to talk about her infertility, she expects support. When a man faces the idea of talking about his infertility, he expects titters and jokes. This difference in expectation changes everything.


Anonymous said...

I'm kind of a bitch and I think this has protected me from a lot of insensitive comments. I got a lot of variations on "just relax" but no one implied or stated that I was somehow a failure as a woman because of my fertility issues or presumed that they were a subject for levity. Of course, our diagnosis was primarily male factor, though I kept this private to protect B.

I asked B. about this and he said that he hadn't gotten any unpleasant comments about his fertility, or lack thereof. He noted that one friend had made some jokes, but "you have to expect that." He didn't seem at all upset by the teasing.

I know one friend of his referred to B.'s genitalia as the "twin cannon." When I found this out I asked whether this person knew we had needed IVF, or knew why, and B. said yes, he did know. Perhaps this was some attempt to bring B. back into some male, fertile fold?

My Reality said...

We are dealing with both male factor and female factor infertility. My husband has a really low sperm count and I think the reaction to his condition is judged differently than my 'medical' conditions.

I have been told that I shouldn't tell people that he has a low sperm count so he won't feel bad. Several people have said this to me, family and friends. One of the reasons behind this is that people are afraid my husband will be embarassed by the news getting out. I am not embarassed by having endo or recurrent ovarian cysts or adhesions, I receive sympathy for my conditions. My husband doesn't.

I wish that the responses to the male factor we are dealing with were similar to the responses we get about my problems, but they aren't.

Anonymous said...

We don't have a male factor issue but I do have an anecdote to share.

A couple of years ago we started looking into foreign adoption. We were out with our longtime,close friends from our late teens. There were a mix of races there that night, Asian, East Indian and black. So we opened up about some concerns we had about foreign adoption. Namely if we adopt a non-white child, (we are white), what could be potential issues we may be faced with and what would be the best way to resolve them.

It was quite a thoughtful and frank discussion which we were very thankful for. That is part of the reason this bit of the conversation took me by surprise. One of our close friends, male, asked if we were have issues starting a biological family. I said, 'yes', and then he proceeded to ask, 'S is alright though'. Again I said, 'yes'. He responded with, 'good to know S is ok'. Not sure what he meant by it but it did leave me with the sense that male factor infertility is not viewed the same way that female infertility is.

No one has made fun, teased or questioned my womanhood for my infertility, (except for myself, I very much have felt less of a woman).

MAX said...

My personal experience is that it mostly depends on the circumstances in which people are being told.
For example I decided to tell my ex boss since I had to take some time off work, in the privacy of his office and upon learning of my infertility, he then confided in me that the creation of his family had not happened all that smoothly either.

On the other hand, had I told him in front of other work mates, I'm sure that I would have gotten a few jokes.

I haven't really told anyone since then because it's a private matter and I cannot see that telling others would make my life better. After all most people wouldn't tell others if they had a UTI right !?

I think that there is definitively less support for men overall though but that's just because men are men and any type of disfunction is usually seen as a weakness and therefore makes you less manly.

In general, society treats people who are different like outcasts. This probably all comes down to the "survival of the fittest" theory.

Let's not forget that the purpose of life on earth in its most basic form is to keep on reproducing and propagate the human race, so when that very basic function is taken away where does it leave you ?

Anonymous said...

I do think that man are ridiculed about infertility. We have never been quiet about our desire for a family and the fact we have been trying. After about 6 months of trying we started hearing comments by my husband's friends that they could "help" if we wanted. At that point we didn't know we had MF-we had suspicions, but they were never made public. I think people just assumed that since my husband had cancer that he was sterile.

I have never really felt that the rude comments I've received were a form of ridicule. I look at them more as a form of stupidity. People don't know what to say, so they try to come up with ways to make me feel better, which obviously doesn't work.

For men, I think the subject makes them uncomfortable so they use humor or sarcasm to deal with it. I know my husband even jokes about himself, so why wouldn't his friends.

It really is a shame that society so weird and uncomfortable with fertility.

lunarmagic said...

I definitely think men have a harder time of it in terms of how they're perceived. Men's fertility and their sense of self and ego are closely linked, in a lot of cases... while on the forums I do see women upset because they're having problems, dealing with their diagnosis.... it's nothing compared to when they have to tell their man that the problem is him. The "shooting blanks" comments, the "Well I can help ya out" and "Aren't you man enough?" comments get flung around in casual company if it's revealed that a man has infertility issues.

TeamWinks said...

We don't have male factor in our situation, but I'm sure if we did there would be no hesitation by some of our friends to makes jokes out of it. It's simply in bad taste, but I understand it's in an effort to make the speaker more comfortable.

Women are just more subtle. Being excluded from certain events, remarks as "One day when you're a mother you'll understand" (worse when they actually know you are infertile,) and the nine million "helpful" hints women will give other women (even though no amount of propping my hips up is going to help!)

So, both I'm sure recieve some amount of ridicule and embarassment. Overall, I think people just don't know what to say or do when it comes to infertility. Let's face it, unless you've been there, you just don't fully understand.

Kristin said...

Ellen K. said it beautifully.

If we were dealing with Female Factor, we'd be out of the IF closet...but I can't ever come out because my dh won't. We told his parents, only because we both have to go under anesthesia for ER (he'll need TESE) and will need someone to drive us home from the clinic. The night we sat them down and told them that we were infertile and needed to undergo IVF, his mother immediately grabbed MY hand and said, "Oh honey, what's wrong with you?!" Thank goodness dh piped up that it was him, not me, because I was like a deer caught in the headlights.

Only 4 other people have been told that we're undergoing IVF -- but we haven't told them why. I'm sure that they all assume that I am the one who is infertile, and dh and I are both fine with leaving them with that impression.

Piccinigirl said...

For a long time I thought that we both had a problem (we don't, boxer shorts and Zinc helped Mr Kir's count ...a lot) but I would always say it was ME. I thought that education about it was more important than pointing blame and for me (and this sounds horrible) I didn't want Mr Kir to have to deal with questions.
I know that if it was MF and I didn't have LPD and sucky Ovulation etc that we would share be honest, I would NOT be very honest about what our problem was. We work together and I wouldn't want people here are work (esp all the macho computer guys who love to make fun of anything) to have more ammunition for an already hurtful situation. I think that Men who suffer from MF have to have a harder time than the women of IF.
Many times I talk about my body not doing what it was built to do, but for men it takes on a whole new perspective when their body doesn't function the way it should. Men are looked at as Virile beings and if they are not impregnating I think they are looked at as failures and there is very little sympathy for that from others.
Women know how to take care of one another and say the right things, (most of the time) we nurture, men of the quick wit and awkward giggles are not equipped to help another man with this kind of news.
I do think that IF men are treated a little worse than women. But only a little.

Anonymous said...

I think Ellen K said it very well -I personally have gotten a few "need some help?" comments from men, though not when J was standing right next to me.

That said, I am not entirely sure that the reason men don't talk about infertility has anything to do with the fear of being made fun of.

J tells me often that talking about IF is not cathartic for him; he prefers to cope by doing two things. 1 - That he take action which will increase our odds in any given cycle, and 2 - Keep in mind that it is all a statistics game.

It becomes a slippery slope on the part of the authors to assume that men do not want to discuss infertility because they are afraid of ridicule. That is certainly not the case with my husband.

Hopeful Mother said...

My husband has told one close (female) friend at his workplace about "his" MF infertility.

And SHE was the one to say "my DH offered to help!"

I do think that men associate their manhood with their ability to reproduce - and that does affect their ability to be honest about MF with others. Maybe not all men, but LOTS of men seem to feel this way.

It has helped my husband to watch some TV shows about couples going through IVF (DHC's Baby Lab). As he sees other MF couples going through the same struggles, I think he is starting to understand that he is not alone and that his manhood is not connected to his ability to reproduce.

Richard said...

I have to say that, as a man who is very open about his infertility, I have never once been ridiculed for my infertility. To be honest, because I am so open, I don't think anyone would dare make a joke. If they did most people know that I'm more than mentally capable of tearing them to shreds and making them look like an idiot. In fact the only man that has ever joked about my infertility is me.

I'm still upfor helping out with the book if you need anything specific. Feel free to drop me a line if you want me to contribute.



Anonymous said...

What Richard said is very interesting! I was actually surprised to hear my husband telling people that our SA came back with no sperm. I've heard him make jokes to them and to me, but since we got the results I haven't heard anyone else joke. All the ribbing and jokes about "helping us" came BEFORE we knew and "came out" with MF.

Anonymous said...

While we are not yet at the stage of testing (when will Jan 9th get here?) When we were TTC our son several years ago, which took some time, we did have someone make the comment "it must suck not to be able to get your wife PG"

Dh didn't catch it and I didn't tell him until MUCH later about it b/c I knew he would have been hurt by it.

But now with testing approaching, he has confided in me that he thinks that the problem may lie with him and wants to be tested.

Anonymous said...

While we are not yet at the stage of testing (when will Jan 9th get here?) When we were TTC our son several years ago, which took some time, we did have someone make the comment "it must suck not to be able to get your wife PG"

Dh didn't catch it and I didn't tell him until MUCH later about it b/c I knew he would have been hurt by it.

But now with testing approaching, he has confided in me that he thinks that the problem may lie with him and wants to be tested.

Michelle said...

We had one friend make the offer to "help" us out in front of us both - T seemed unfazed, while I snapped back that a childless 45-year old who smokes and drinks would not be my first choice of sperm donor.

I have noticed that T often makes jokes when he's talking with his friends about MF (from what he tells me). One example, he's told many people that the acupuncture needles were inserted in his genitals. Another example, he recently told his best friends from college a fantastic lie that his low sperm count was caused by a rare Caribbean organism that swam up his urine stream when he urinated in the ocean last year on vacation. (And no one challenged him on this story.) He told these same friends that the sperm for our IVF procedure was painfully extracted with a needle (I explained TESE to him and told him that he really shouldn't make that joke again).

But I have wondered if, by making jokes himself, it allows him to be out about our IF and honest about why (which is not important to me - I'm fine with being vague and leaving people to assume it's me, which we did at first), but in a way that perhaps is, subconsciously, I'm guessing, designed to preempt some of the stupid reactions -- if he makes the first joke, does that diffuse the situation?