'You just need to produce your sample in the pot.'
I have heard this phrase many times during my career in IVF as a clinical embryologist. As professionals in the field, we are the first to diminish the role of the man in the fertility journey. So why should we expect any different from the rest of society? It is the woman who injects herself with hormones every day, the reasoning goes, she is the one who has the blood tests, the scans, the egg collection and embryo transfer procedures: ultimately, it's the woman who falls pregnant and delivers the baby. So what does the man do?
This oversimplified valuation of the man's role in the fertility journey is the title of this movie: The Easy Bit.
It is a well-known cliché that men don't really talk about their feelings, and so one can expect that when the sensitive topic of fertility is involved, this tendency is even stronger. However, in this full feature documentary by filmmaker Tom Webb who himself went through an 11-year fertility journey with his wife, six men openly share their perspective of their own fertility journeys with their wives.
The film is very emotional and at times humorous (especially when the men describe the rooms they had to produce their samples in). It is difficult not to be moved by this view on a side of the infertility journey that we don't often hear about. The men describe their struggles with infertility, their frustrations with the conflicting or missing information provided by the medical team, and their attempts to support their wives. While watching the film, I almost forgot that I deal with cases like this every day and I found myself wondering: how would I handle going through this journey myself? Would I take the news of not being able to conceive naturally any differently? How would my interactions with my partner, our families and friends be affected? Would I be comfortable going on camera and sharing my feelings about infertility?
The film tackles the gendered assumptions surrounding men and fertility. One of the men described his male-factor infertility as 'emasculating', while another compared not being able to have a baby 'naturally' to not being a man. The film challenges these knee-jerk reactions by documenting the interviewees' own acceptance of their new reality, highlighting their own personal growth along the way. As a professional in the field, this impressed on me the importance of juggling scientific evidence and emotion in our approach to the male partner in their fertility journey. How we deal with the male partner is as important as how we deal with the female.
This is a documentary with a very well-defined and noble goal, namely, to lift the veil off how men feel about infertility. My main critique of this film is its lack of diversity in the cases portrayed. While one of the men talked about his use of donor sperm, men undergoing surgical sperm retrieval, surrogacy or an egg donation cycle would have provided very interesting and worthy perspectives. Having said that, I think that the documentary will encourage couples going through something similar to speak openly to each other about how they are feeling. It should also serve as a call to clinical staff, counsellors and others involved with patient treatments to involve men in the treatment process, to fully appreciate the role the man plays in this journey – after all, half the embryo's DNA comes from the sperm. I recommend this film to anyone struggling with infertility, undergoing a treatment cycle, or, not unimportantly, providing treatment!