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Radio Review: Sex, Drugs & Lullabies: men matter (BBC Radio Humberside)

6 January 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1029

As a former fertility treatment patient, I campaign to end the IVF treatment postcode lottery and I help to run a fertility support platform for men. I also speak at various patient-focused events to encourage men to seek support, as well as educational events for fertility professionals to help them understand the types of silent battles men face when requiring assisted reproduction.

Through these experiences, I have come to see that infertility is usually a lonely time riddled with dark thoughts, guilt and isolation. To say that fertility treatment involves a series of unpleasant events for the female partner would be something of an understatement.  

Nonetheless, when the subject of infertility is covered by the media, the emotional impact and treatment's intrusion for women usually receive the attention they deserve, but we rarely hear about the experiences of the men. This might be because, on a physical level, our contribution is little more than a few rigorous strokes, careful aim and avoiding eye contact when handing over the sample.

More determining, however, is that men seldom discuss how we are affected by infertility. We feel guilty, we feel lonely and we feel useless. This is a travesty because talking about infertility and how it affects us can release some of the pressure. Thankfully this is now being recognised and men are coming forward to talk about it, albeit slowly and in small numbers.

If you ask the few men who talk about infertility about their motivation for doing so, they will tell you support was not available for them when they needed it, and that they want this to be different for other men undergoing fertility treatment. For me, too, an unexpected by-product of talking came in the form of some much welcome relief.

You may notice one or two double entendres in this review. It is actually hard (here we go again!) to avoid this, but the reason I don't feel compelled to reach for the Thesaurus is the welcome and upbeat tone used in Sex, Drugs & Lullabies: Men Matter by BBC presenters Amanda White and Natalie Glanvill.

Having watched the brilliant Easy Bit documentary about infertility from the perspective of six men (due for wider release in Spring 2020) and taking part in other activities, I have an awakening to the fact that men are as emotionally affected by infertility treatment as women, only seldom speak of it.

I believe that if we want something to change, that change must start with us. The greater the cost to us, the greater the potential outcome. I try not to hope or expect others to do something to improve the situation for men experiencing infertility, so hearing Simon speak of his experiences in Sex, Drugs & Lullabies was unexpected but very welcome. I suspect that sharing his story could not have been an easy decision to make, but that he eventually made it for the greater good.

Simon shares with us the private conversation he had with his wife that he'd understand if she wanted to divorce in order to find someone else to have children with, speaking of the incredible guilt he felt when she endured treatment, collecting too many eggs (which can be very dangerous), the miscarriage and learning that the fourth cycle had worked when all appeared lost.

His honest account interspersed with candid admissions, such as taking his laptop to the 'grim room' and telling colleagues he had to 'produce' in the toilet at work make for an emotional 'warts and all' disclosure that will pull the heartstrings of anyone caring to hear of the dark and alienating experiences around infertility.

I think Amanda and Natalie's motivations for making the series are clear, and for me this episode strikes an excellent balance between an upbeat delivery and an acknowledgment that infertility is hugely distressing.

For my wife and I, our own fertility journey was not without funny moments, like arriving for treatment and hearing 'How do you like your eggs in the morning?' on the radio, and trying to concentrate in what Amanda describes as 'the wank room' when my wife phoned me asking, 'Haven't you finished yet?'

Conversations around infertility usually take place between women, though more recently, men are being invited to contribute. An unexpected deviation in the podcast comes when Simon, an interviewee, asks Amanda and Natalie, creators of the podcast series, about their own experiences.

Whether this was planned or not, this marks quite a milestone in the discussions about people's experience of infertility because we now have a man with personal experience - therefore well qualified - asking women how they were affected by infertility. The result is an utterly frank and thorough conversation that I think needs to be heard by people currently struggling with infertility – and anyone wishing to empathise.

For me, this raises the bar.

I think Simon's sincere account of his and his wife's journey, and that their struggle to make a baby was male factor will give some men the confidence to acknowledge their situation, talk about how they feel, be less afraid to ask for help, and in turn be better-equipped as the knights in shining armour we all want to be.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
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