Getting a woman pregnant isn't always as easy as our mums warned us when we were teenagers.
I recently sat down for a beer and a chat with a close mate (we’ll call him Noel), who is the very proud dad of an 8 month old baby boy.
His son is healthy and beautiful, however, the path to his conception was a very rocky road. Something I found hard to imagine as we sat there watching him methodically trying to pull all of the cables out of the back of his dad’s TV.
Noel smiled as he told me how he and his wife had ripped into initial attempts to conceive with the unbridled enthusiasm of newlyweds. However, with both of them in the medical profession they well understood the implications of endometriosis and polycystic ovaries – conditions Noel’s wife (and by proxy, Noel) had been working through for quite some time.
Deep down, they knew it wouldn’t be easy.
‘A real kick in the nuts’
After 18 months of “trying” – their dreams of starting a family were no closer to reality. Friends stopped asking about their intentions, and Noel began feeling resentment towards his mates with pregnant wives and / or babies – myself included.
It seemed doting dads-to-be and their pregnant bellied partners were suddenly everywhere. Everyone was making babies. Everyone, except him.
The realisation things weren’t just going to happen as nature intended was tough. A blow to his ego, or in his words – “a real kick in the nuts”. But being the assertive character that he is, Noel sucked it up, swallowed his pride, and took affirmative action. He and his wife were soon seated in the plush consulting rooms of a fertility clinic, clutching a handful of glossy pamphlets on the ins and outs (pun most definitely intended) of IVF.
Whilst IVF is presented in the pamphlets as something couples go through together, Noel was quick to call bullshit. Much like the birthing process, it’s the woman who ends up doing the ‘heavy lifting’. After all, they’re the ones effectively handing the keys to their bodies over to the guys in white coats. Meanwhile the man ‘pops a few tadpoles in a jar’ and then sits back and lets medical science run its course.
So I put it to him, “what was your role through all of this” and “what advice would you give to other men about to go through it?”
He popped the top off a beer, and told me what he saw as his three core roles throughout.
1. The accountant
IVF is bloody expensive. A round generally costs between $8000 – $10,000. Thankfully the Medicare rebate takes some of the sting out of it. It means your out-of-pocket is actually about $4000. Which is still pretty stiff.
Noel took it upon himself to sort the financial aspects. This included things like figuring out all the costs, re-aligning their budget, and contacting their health insurer to check they were on the right policy and understand what was covered.
He reasoned that managing the financial side of things reduced stress on his wife so that she could focus on the core task of creating life.
2. The sperm donor
At some point they’re going to need your tadpoles, and you’ll be instructed to jerk off into a jar. According to Noel, this was the most difficult, unsexy wank he’s ever had.
He described a sterile room with a door that didn’t lock properly, a disposable ‘mop-up’ towel for any wayward shooting and some early 90’s soft porn magazines. Hardly ideal conditions, but as he pointed out, considerably more comfortable than pretty much everything that his wife had to endure, including intravenous drugs, extreme mood swings, and a big needle up her lady parts.
3. The emotional rock
The most important role of all. The impact of the IVF process on Noel’s wife was brutal. Not only in terms of the physical procedures, but also the emotional cost.
The hormone therapy and accompanying mood swings. The endless physical procedures – mostly involving large needles. The 14 days of waiting to find out whether the fertilised egg has latched onto the lining of the uterus. The devastating disappointment of being told by a complete stranger over the phone that the treatment was unsuccessful.
“My primary focus was to be an unyielding emotional rock for my wife when she needed it most. A calm, strong and certain presence for her to rely on.”
As a close friend, standing on the outside looking in, I could see how seriously Noel had taken this role. And I could see that the process had taken a pretty massive emotional toll on him as well. He had put his own feelings to one side, for him the most important thing was to be there for his wife.
At around this point in the discussion, we both paused to watch his baby pull everything off the bottom shelf of the bookcase. As he tore a page out a Jamie Oliver cookbook and stuffed it into his mouth, I marvelled at the different conception journeys that couples can go through.
Here was Noel’s stressful, painful and expensive experience versus my own ‘point and shoot’ for each child. The processes so vastly different, and yet the outputs, the same.
I didn’t even need to ask him if it was worth it. I knew, just by looking at him playing with his son, that he’d do it all again in a heartbeat.