The Emotional Road to Becoming a Dad
Posted on June 21, 2012
I read an article called "Deconstructing Dad" about how becoming a father changes men. The article looks at research showing how men are emotionally, physically, and biologically impacted by fatherhood. You can learn more at http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2012/06/deconstructing-dad-2/
In this article I wanted to take a look at how trying to become a father can emotionally impact men.
Just as becoming a mother is a powerful need for women, becoming a father is very significant for men. Many people are not aware that around 35-40% of the time when infertility occurs, it is because of a medical problem with the man. Many men perceive their ability to get a woman pregnant as a symbol of their manhood. Their inability to help create a child can be emotionally devastating just as it is for women. Unexplained infertility happens about 15-20% of the time and that is the most painful diagnosis for both men and women.
Diagnosing the reason for infertility offers a treatment roadmap for physicians and hope for perspective parents. Not being able to identify the reason for infertility lowers the possibility of correct treatment and a successful pregnancy.
Men often don't reveal their feelings regarding infertility the way that women do. Sometimes they will internalize their feelings to protect their partners. They want to appear positive as they go through infertility treatment.
Not many people will be surprised at the notion that many men are just reluctant to talk about what they are thinking or feeling. We have to remember that doesn't mean that they don't experience feelings of anger, helplessness, sadness, and frustration, as they work on trying to build their families. Men should be given ongoing support and the opportunity to speak about these feelings if they choose to. If you can't talk to your partner, find a trusted friend or health professional to use as a resource.
We often hear about the biological clock that women have. Men also have a strong desire to become a father. They have their own biological clock to contend with. A study done in Israel looked at age and male fertility. The researchers reviewed the sperm and embryos of couples who had a child vs. those who were unsuccessful at having live births. Egg donors were used with all couples in this study. This study looked at the quality of male semen and showed "semen quality peaked between the ages of 30 and 35, while overall semen quality seemed to be the lowest after age 55." You can read more about this study at http://infertility.about.com/od/causesofinfertility/f/maleagefertile.htm
For those men who have a long road to becoming a father the "Deconstructing Dad's" article offers a very interesting piece of information. It explains that men who become dads at a later age, meaning late 30's can offer their children a unique gift. Their kids "inherit longer telomeres, caps at the end of the chromosomes that protect them from degeneration. And that seems to promote slower aging and likely a longer lifespan for those kids."
It is important for us all to recognize that infertility deeply impacts men just as much as it does women. The signs may not be present but that doesn't mean that the symptoms are not there. Men communicate, or "don't communicate" about it in different ways. Infertility is deeply personal for men and sometimes they prefer not to discuss it. If you talk to men who have had the good fortune to move from infertility to fatherhood they will tell you this is true. We need to try to remember this and be sensitive to the emotional infertility roller coaster ride men take as they work on building their family.
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has a Master's Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility. Ms. Waichler is the author of Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.