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IVF & Fatherhood: The Male Perspective


STL Fertility patient John offers advice for guys dealing with IVF

At STL Fertility, every patient has unique needs and goals. We understand. Despite the fact that infertility affects men and women equally across Saint Louis and beyond, the male point of view often gets little attention. To help bring more attention to the experiences that many male patients have, we had the chance to sit down with John, a recent STL Fertility patient and success story. We know that many male partners might relate to this interview and hope it helps unpack the many emotions they might be feeling. We hope you’ll share this story with other guys dealing with an IVF indication.

You and your wife have been going through infertility care for a little while, correct?

That’s right. We started in May of 2020 actually, and we had talked about wanting to have children and start life as a family since we got married. My wife stopped taking birth control and our OBGYN prescribed Clomiphene to help stimulate ovulation.

You know, we had a very active lifestyle – marathoning and running long distances, and that really took a toll on our bodies. I knew we were going to be up against some challenges and our OB said we can either keep with the Clomid, talk about IUI, or you can go to SLT Fertility and talk to them about IVF. And so we skipped the second round of Clomid, skipped IUI, and went straight to IVF with STL Fertility.

So much about the fertility experience is focused on the female. Tell me a little bit about the male experience. What were some of the immediate things that you felt you had to deal with as the male partner?

You’re absolutely correct. It’s not just IVF but pregnancy in general, it’s solely focused on the woman, and rightfully so! She’s the one who is going through all of the clinical, physical and mental ups and downs that are part of treatment.

Being and wanting to be that support for her was part of my job. I think one of the challenges was when going to the appointments, everything was directed towards her and not towards us at other fertility centers we visited before STL Fertility.

When we came to the first consult at STL Fertility with Dr. Schulte, even though it was during COVID, I showed up to the waiting room, and outside of the waiting room just sat there and waited. I showed up via FaceTime and Zoom. I wanted to play my role. When we had conversations with Dr. Schulte or how we had procedures done, I was there. From the blood tests all the way to the injections, wanting to be a part of that, understanding what those next steps are, what they’re doing to and for my wife and our next child, that was my job.

Everyone calls it a journey, but the journey that we’re going on together. And not just understanding it, but being a part of all of it, I think really helped that perspective. To make it our type of thing and not just her type of thing.

Being present emotionally and physically is part of the role. What other responsibilities did you take on?

So when Dr. Schulte would talk about the procedure or we would meet with one of the nurses, asking questions and having the next steps out of the meeting that was on me. I think being engaged was a big part of it, and it’s not, you know, this isn’t my full-time job. Well, actually it kind of is! I Being engaged and present emotionally is critical for the partner.

I guess I was the in-house pharmacist too. Everything from laying out the drugs that were being taken to understanding how to administer and inject subcutaneously. Also, ensuring that we had the proper amounts or future injections were top of mind when we were running low on something, making the call to get refills, and just taking that burden off of her.

At any given point we had four injections in a day, along with three or four by-mouth pills. There was a lot to keep track of! She was also mentally and physically drained from this process. My help with managing some of the process stuff took a lot of that burden off to say, hey, we’ve got 3 vials left. We’ve got 5 days of injections.

“Fertility Cycle Operational Specialists”, would that be your title?

Pretty much! And I got to a point where, you know, it was funny –  I started to understand so much of what was being injected and how, how it was manipulating and what the outcome was going to be from it. That is just it, it got to a point where I was talking to some of my doctors about IVF treatments and I felt like a pro. I felt like a pro which made us both more confident about the whole process.

30% of infertility issues come from the male partner. Was there a sperm quality or quantity issue in your case?

No, semen was normal and my wife’s testing came back pretty normal too. We fell into the unexplained category.

With 30% of infertility cases stemming from sperm, what advice would you give to a male partner struggling with IVF?

Guys don’t like to talk about this often, if at all. I think there’s a need for some kind of support group or network for male partners going through fertility care. It’s funny because when you do talk about it you realize that there are a lot of people around you that have gone through this and you have similar stories. It’s very interesting.

I recently learned that one of my coworkers went through IVF a few years ago. I would have never known unless I shared first. So what I would say is, you know, open up to your network. It’s helps.

At the end of the day you’re not alone, right? Sure, plenty of other guys are in this, and just think about it from the female perspective. You know the majority of females and women are like, ‘I want to have kids but I can’t.” I mean, just imagine how much of an emotional toll that takes on them when you still have 70% that can actually make it work. And she might have none.

Thinking about it from the male perspective, if there were three pieces of advice you would give to a guy who is about to go through this, what would you tell him?

Do your homework. Do your homework. Do your homework. It makes you feel a little bit more empowered when you walk into a consult with a little bit of background. I mean a lot of things are going to be thrown at you. Maybe you’re going to be thrown into genetic testing, flooded with paperwork, you know? Frozen sperm, frozen eggs, frozen embryos a lot of terms get thrown around so take notes.

You’re going to be thrown with different procedures and potentially different biopsies that may need to be performed so educate yourself early. We would educate ourselves on something because she would read something, and then she and I would talk about it, and vice versa. Being engaged in the data and information made me more confident and a better partner in the process.

Letting your partner know from your perspective that you are there to support them. You are there to provide any sort of help that may be needed with any of the injections, any of the, I mean, my wife and I, we had talks and walks just to kind of let her emotions out on what’s going on. And I think that that really helps because you’re not holding all that in.

How did you handle being the Fertility Cycle Operations Specialist?

(Laughs) So what we did was we created this room in our house, which eventually became the baby room for all of the injections. That was our IVF room. Everything was in that room from stacks of appointment papers to stacks of boxes of meds. So yes, that’s the engagement that I’ve been talking about. It’s also important to keep the long-term goal in mind as the partner. The long-term goal with this is to have a beautiful child.

You have to kind of be disciplined especially financially about the process, because a wrong injection, wrong time could be a wasted injection, which could be several $100 in, in just one day’s meds.

Talk to me about the emotions that you felt going through the process.

Anxiety, disappointment, but excitement too. There are likely to be letdowns. During this whole thing, I didn’t let it show on my side as much because I wanted to be a little bit, you know, stronger for my wife. When letdowns did come about, whether it be embryos that didn’t fertilize the way we wanted to or even the loss and the embryo didn’t implant I was crushed but I wanted to be strong for her.

You know, when the first embryo didn’t take, it was less than 24 hours before Dr. Schultye called us personally to talk us through it. Just talk to us like people. And it wasn’t talking at us, right? It’s talking to us like, so it was as a friend, as a mentor, as, you know, just a confidant. It was just what we needed.

We were elite marathon runners at one point but we didn’t think of 26.2 miles as the race. You break it up into chunks. You broke it up into 4, four to five-mile chunks. That’s more manageable, right? So if you take this entire six-month process, sometimes a four-month process, and you break it up into little chunks, you have more excitement and goals and elation that come from that.

How did you and your wife meet?  

We met at a Nike photoshoot. My wife is an elite marathon runner – top 60 in the state of Illinois for marathoning. I was locally known in Chicago as kind of the pace director of different races and so as far as running them. I like racing them hard. We’ve probably done over a dozen. When we say hard racing, I mean it’s like almost 18 months just for one.

So the infertility race was something that you had experience with or relate to?

Exactly. Different stages. You know, let’s pour it on here, let’s pull back here. So there was a real strategy in our mind. What’s really funny is when we were initially talking about going through this, we talked about how mentally, we’re used to waking up at 4:00 AM, going for anywhere from 6 to 16-mile run, and then going into work and understanding that there’s a process through this entire thing.

There’s an 18-week training period sometimes we did,18 months just for one race! We knew with this that it was a process. So mentally we were already prepared, as you just mentioned, for that. And it’s funny because that was actually part of our conversation before we even went through IVF.  Patients – both partners need to understand that there are little mini-goals that get to the larger goal. It eases that anxiety a little bit more.

So finally, tell me about what you feel now at the end of the race.

There is a mixed bag of feelings, right? We had a C-section fully breached. It was a fear and excitement. Excuse my language, you’re f*****g scared because you’re like, OK, I am responsible for this human. And I don’t know if I have to get a sign-off for this or what. But I’m responsible. And now, I mean, it’s just this, this feeling of calm and happiness.

I’m responsible for almost a billion dollars worth of projects right now at work, and I get more phone calls than anyone ever wants. And I probably get about 200 emails a day. But when I come up from my basement office and I hear her just making these little noises, all of that just goes away. She’s a little potato, it’s just, it’s calm.

Anything else you would like to share, any other pearls of wisdom for our male readers?

You know, when we were going through this and we were about six months pregnant, Dr. Schulte was so happy for us. It wasn’t like going to the doctor’s office, it was like visiting friends. The whole team at STL Fertility makes families happen and dreams come true. And honestly, we are completely, totally in debt to STL Fertility. They will always be part of our family. I want people to know that’s the type of relationship that doctors want to have with each one of their patients. And you’re not just a patient. That’s what I will tell any hopeful Dad like I was just several months ago!