By Sheridan Voysey
I know. I’ve felt it—felt each stinging cut.
For ten years my wife, Merryn, and I dreamed of starting a family. Our journey in pursuit of that dream included special diets, courses of fertility-boosting supplements, healing prayer, and chiropractic sessions (yes, chiropractic sessions—you’ll try anything). The journey included numerous rounds of costly IVF treatment, and a year of assessment as potential adoptive parents followed by an agonising two-year wait for our hoped-for adoptive child.
We pursued our dream with all the energy we had. But our dream never eventuated.
Exhausted from a decade in the wilderness of infertility, we brought our dream of a baby to an end on Christmas Day, 2010, after doctors had told us, just days before, that our final IVF round had been successful. They’d been wrong.
I feel the loss of that hoped-for child today. I feel it when I see a father tickling his giggling daughter, or as I watch a family celebrate the birthday of their teenage son, or as I see a proud father walk his radiant, veiled daughter down the aisle. I hear a little voice at these moments that says, “You’ll never have that,” followed by a jolting sense of injustice. “It’s just not fair,” the voice says, “when we tried so hard to have a child.”
Yes, infertility can cut a man up.
It cuts a man up in more ways than the loss of fatherhood, though. Having written a book about Merryn’s and my experience of starting again after infertility, and sharing our story through speaking, I regularly have men confidentially email or pull me aside at conferences to share feelings they rarely share. “I can’t talk about this to my friends,” one guy told me. “I have low sperm count. I can’t father a child. That’ll hardly impress my football buddies.” For many men this threatened masculinity is the most difficult aspect of infertility.
The lost opportunity of fatherhood. Threatened masculinity. Infertility can bring a third kind of pain to a man too—a pain born of empathy.
Try watching your wife’s bottom lip quiver as the doctor delivers the results of those first fertility tests. Watch the sadness grow in her eyes—a sadness that may last for years.
Watch your wife’s face contort in pain as the needle extracting the eggs for your first IVF round goes in. Watch as she later recovers from the trauma in shocked silence.
Watch your wife wait in hope for the results of the blood test—for the phone call with the good news that you pray for. Watch time and again as her hope falls to the floor.
Watch as she waits, and waits, and waits for the phone call from the adoption agency. Any day now it could come—the call to collect our child. But the call never comes.
Watch as she sits on the bed, a circle of tissues around her and her eyes rubbed red. Watch as she cries night after night. Feel her body shake as you hold her.
Watch as she enters an identity crisis, wondering if she’ll ever become the person—the mother—she longs to be.
And watch as she struggles with the faith that once sustained her. Watch as she wonders if the God she prays to cares. If he cared, surely he’d give her a family.
Watch all this—watch and try not to be cut up. When the one you love most suffers so much, how can your soul not be ripped to shreds?
Over three years have passed since my wife and I brought our quest for a child to an end. We’re in a different place now—we’ve started life again. And our story is helping others who need their own new beginning after a broken dream.
But please know this: childlessness isn’t just a “female thing.” Infertility cuts a man up too. In more ways than you may know.
Sheridan Voysey is a UK-based writer, speaker, and broadcaster. His latest book, Resurrection Year: Turning Broken Dreams into New Beginnings, chronicles his and his wife’s journey to start life afresh after ten years of infertility. Follow him on Twitter @sheridanvoysey, Facebook, and get his articles and podcasts at www.sheridanvoysey.com.