Mental Health Check: Dealing With Sperm Issues, Family Planning Goals, and Partner Support
When an infertility diagnosis is presented to a patient, oftentimes it comes as a shock. This is true for both male and female patients, especially if they are not aware of any specific reason (like an underlying condition or injury) to which their infertility can be attributed. Even though our general understanding and knowledge of fertility have come a long way in the last few decades, there is still a much longer path ahead. For men, this reality can hit especially close to home.
Our societal notions of the relationship between male fertility/virility/libido and a man’s worth/value/strength are sadly still far too closely tied. Fertility support exists for men, but it is harder to find and less openly discussed than for their female partners.
It’s important for men facing an infertility diagnosis to check in with their own mental health and know when and where to seek support. Sperm issues (low sperm count, no sperm count, etc.) and other male infertility diagnoses can mean a different path to parenthood than the one you first anticipated. Perhaps fertility care is recommended, or third-party assistance, like a sperm donor. Regardless of what you and your partner decide, one area that should not be ignored is your own well-being.
Male infertility and mental health
Rightly so, there are already wider discussions about the importance of male mental healthcare in this country. When you add an infertility diagnosis on top, the need to make mental health a priority is clear. Support groups for male-factor infertility exist, but they are not widely publicized because male infertility is not widely discussed. Think of it this way: if ⅓ of infertility cases are female-factor, ⅓ are male-factor, and the remaining ⅓ are diagnosed as unexplained, then technically male infertility and female infertility are on a relatively equal medical standing.
Despite this, the number of news articles, magazine headlines, celebrity interviews, and think pieces about fertility largely focus solely on the female experience. This means that, when facing a diagnosis, men are likely to feel deeply alone (even though they actually aren’t).
Being able to turn to your partner as you work through whatever steps encompass your family-building journey is essential. When infertility occurs, it can be easy to blame yourself, to feel as if you’ve failed in some way. The reality is that infertility is a medical condition just like any other. It is important to speak openly with your partner about how you are feeling and to be honest about what you both need at this time. For some, being checked in consistently is important, for others, this is too much and causes more harm than good. Finding a good balance takes time and effort on both sides, so now is not the time to bury feelings or hold back until a later date – no matter how much of a comfortable default this can be.
Ultimately, for many couples, a male infertility diagnosis is by no means the end of their journey to parenthood. Fertility treatments like IUI and IVF have helped countless couples across the country achieve pregnancy despite sperm issues. Additionally, sperm donation is a third-party reproduction resource that can be utilized in the event that fertility treatment is unsuccessful or an infertility diagnosis is severe.