Male Stereotype That Makes Infertility Challenging #1: "Men Should Hold in Their Feelings"
I wrote the other day about Three Male Stereotypes that make infertility so challenging.
Today, I'm looking at Stereotype #1 in more depth: "Men Should Hold in Their Feelings." This is a doozy. And it should be no surprise given that we hold up characters like James Bond and Don Draper as exciting, interesting guys.
How might this stereotype show up during infertility? Here are a few examples:
Feeling that as the male partner, you have to "remain strong" no matter what
Feeling that as the man, you have to stay positive about the future even if things are difficult
Not wanting to discuss your infertility struggle with other people for fear of being pitied/seen as weak/just being uncomfortable
Feeling that being sad or upset isn't something guys "do"
At certain times in our infertility journey, I definitely felt these ideas come up. There were times when both me and my wife were really devastated, like when we started to figure out that trying to conceive the old fashioned way wasn't working for us. In those early days, I felt awful. I was upset, suddenly grappling with the idea that we might never be able to have children. Yet I could see how sad my wife was, and sometimes felt like I had to the be "strong one," keeping a steely resolve and not showing how worried I was.
Needless to say, this only made the journey harder. Remember: men aren't neanderthals. Men are humans who feel things just as deeply as women. Unfortunately, society just doesn't equip us as well to deal with that reality.
But so what? Why can this make infertility harder? Here are a few reasons:
Holding in and covering up feelings doesn't make them go away--it only causes them to fester and grow.
Holding in feelings can hurt your relationship with your partner--trying to remain "strong and silent" could wrongly send the message that you aren't feeling the worries/sadness as deeply.
Holding in feelings makes it harder to connect with others, and with something as hard as infertility, connecting is critical.
So what are some ways to challenge this stereotype and overcome it?
Here are few pieces of advice that can help avoid cutting off from sharing your feelings. My hope is that by using one or more of these, it will make it easier for men to be empowered, connected, and supportive partners through infertility.
Write it out
Thanks to @what_the_ivf on IG for this idea! Sometimes writing can be easier than talking. Write out how you're feeling about where you're at in your infertility journey and show it to your partner. This can make the experience a little easier to manage and feel lower stakes, which can be more comfortable for men. It can even just be some bullet points.
Do something physical
Men sometimes have an easier time sharing while walking or exercising or hiking, rather than having a sit-down conversation, which can feel very formal for a guy. Try going for a walk or hike and having a conversation while doing something.
Try feelings on for size
Finally, remember that for some of us men, we may not be super in touch with our feelings beyond things that are "acceptable" like anger. Take a moment to literally ask yourself about other feelings to see if they fit, for example by saying "Am I feeling sad about what's going on with our infertility? Am I feeling upset? Worried?"
Hopefully this advice helps! Next up, I'll be looking at Stereotype #2--"Men take action and fix things."