I first heard about the Fertility Podcast a few years ago from a patient who told me she and her partner used the podcast series, and other social media outlets, as a method of deciphering the unfamiliar world of infertility treatment they inadvertently found themselves in. Ever since then, it has been on my list of podcasts to listen to.
Upon tuning into the podcast series for the very first time to review the episode 'Male infertility with Kevin Button', I instantly understood why my patient was so drawn to the podcast series. The format of the podcast is very friendly, it is essentially a conversation between two friends about fertility, one person asking, the other answering. It is relatable, informative and easy to digest.
This particular episode is hosted by Natalie Silverman, an IVF patient, and Kate Davies, an independent fertility nurse consultant. They discuss various topics relating to fertility and fertility treatment, while sharing their experience and knowledge on the subject.
The episode is split into three parts. Firstly, the listener is eased in gently with an introduction by the co-hosts to male fertility and the issues surrounding it, before the guest, Kevin Button, Fertility Network UK ambassador and owner of the website The Man Cave is introduced. Finally, questions are posed to Dr James Nicopoullos of the Lister Fertility Clinic, which have been submitted by listeners relating to male infertility.
Having watched the documentaries 'The Easy Bit' (see BioNews 1050) and 'Rhod Gilbert: Stand Up to Infertility' (see BioNews 1083) (which were also heavily referenced in this episode), consuming an audio podcast sits quite differently. For some reason, listening to Button talk about his struggle with infertility rather than watching him on a screen, makes him a lot more relatable. It pulls up a smoke screen over him that instantly transforms him to 'all men struggling with infertility'.
His vulnerability and openness gives us a front row seat in understanding feelings and issues that men struggling with infertility will unlikely communicate to partners, family members, friends and healthcare professionals. We get a glimpse of how his struggle affected his life, work and romantic relationships, and makes us question ourselves. Would you tell someone you just started dating that you suffer from infertility when the subject of having children is brought up? Or would you just say you don't want kids?
It is a recurring theme now in infertility that men always feel left out, ignored and even alienated during fertility treatment because the focus seems to solely be on the woman. Maybe the reason men don't talk about their struggles with infertility is because they aren't asked about it in a safe environment. Perhaps the reason men seem not as invested as women are in the treatment process is because they are not engaged with, or involved in, the process as much.
The episode not only approaches the emotional side of male infertility, it also offers some useful advice for men considering having a baby or who are generally concerned for their reproductive health. Smoking, drinking and taking recreational drugs or steroids are usually thought of as being generally 'bad' for your health, and by extension it may seem obvious that they also have detrimental effects on reproductive health. But many of my male friends, and even IVF patients I have seen, had no idea that the negative effects of such habits extend to their sperm quality. The reason: male fertility is not talked about enough! Lifestyle and diet are so relevant to the topic that these concepts are approached twice in the episode, first by Davies and then Button.
Silverman and Davies brilliantly provide Button with the platform to talk and share about this very sensitive and difficult topic. By doing so, they also possibly provide a framework for others interacting with men dealing with infertility. Infertility should not be 'emasculating' to a man, and this episode offers an open dialogue to prove that. It is perhaps no surprise that speaking out about male infertility was like taking a weight off his shoulders, and what Button did is break the 'norm'. I hope Button's confidence and bravery inspire others like him to come forward and break those norms, as dialogue and openness is key in tackling the complex journey of infertility.