Skip to main content

Our Response to the Alabama IVF Ruling

«  View All Posts

Infertility Awareness /
Men's Health /
Mental Health

Don't Forget the Guys: Navigating Father's Day & Infertility

When a couple struggles to conceive, the female partner is usually the main focus during fertility testing and treatment. But how does infertility physically and emotionally impact men?

June 15th, 2023 | 8 min. read

By Sierra Dehmler

While the physical burden of fertility treatment typically rests on the female partner in a relationship, men are primarily expected to provide support to them throughout the process. But fertility struggles affect men in different ways - and their experience matters too.

In this article:

Making a baby is easy... right?

When comedian Hasan Minhaj was diagnosed with male factor infertility, he was completely shocked. Like many men, getting pregnant was never something he considered might be challenging. But as he admits in his stand-up special, The King's Jester, "Life gets very real when don't want becomes can't have."

And he's right - most men spend their early adult years trying to avoid pregnancy, assuming that if and when they want to start a family, it will be simple. Rarely do they stop to think about what will happen if conceiving isn't as easy as expected. 

Infertility Is More Common Than You Think

For 1 in 6 couples across the globe, fertility issues are a very real (and very unwelcome) surprise when they attempt to expand their families. And most of them end up struggling in silence. While women tend to have more resources and support when it comes to fertility and pregnancy, men and their experiences are still often left out of the conversation. 

Due to cultural stigma around fertility, as well as societal conditioning that trains boys and men to avoid vulnerability, they are typically encouraged to hide their emotions and appear strong - regardless of what they're going through. But their feelings matter too.

So, let's talk about it: how to handle Father's Day when struggling with infertility, and tangible ways to support the men in our lives so they feel more comfortable expressing themselves and getting support around this difficult topic. 

Navigating Father's Day While TTC

Family-focused holidays like Father's Day and Mother's Day can be especially painful for couples who are trying to conceive, experiencing fertility challenges, grieving a pregnancy loss, or feeling generally defeated about their family-building journey.

Whether you are struggling with male factor infertility or supporting a partner through their own fertility struggles, the winding road to parenthood is difficult for both men and women. 

In addition to the financial and physical aspects of infertility, it can deeply affect a person's mental health. Battling the constant ups and downs of fertility treatment, negative test results or pregnancy losses can be a traumatic experience for many couples.

Unfortunately, that trauma is often processed in private (or not at all), because society doesn't really address infertility in the same way that other types of grief are recognized.  Psychologist Kenneth Doka refers to this disenfranchised grief. Just because society doesn't yet know how to acknowledge your pain doesn't mean that it isn't real. 

The Emotional Toll of Infertility

Infertility can have a significant emotional impact. The way each hopeful dad navigates the physical and emotional challenges of infertility is unique, but there are some common threads that most men experience on their journey to fatherhood

Here are some emotions that men may experience when facing infertility:

Loss or Grief

It's natural experience a deep sense of loss and grief when you realize that you are unable to conceive a child on your own. In cases where donor sperm is needed to conceive, men may need to mourn their original dream of fatherhood and that biological connection with a child.

Note: We encourage you to reach out to a counselor who is familiar with family building challenges to get expert support if you're experiencing any of the above. 

Guilt or Shame

Men might feel guilty or responsible for their partner's infertility struggles, even when the cause lies with the female partner or is unexplained. This guilt can be further intensified if they perceive societal expectations of male virility and fertility.

Sense of Inadequacy

Unfortunately, infertility challenges can deeply impact a man's sense of masculinity and self-worth. They may question their identity as a man or partner, or feel that they are failing to fulfill societal expectations or their own desire to have a family.

Isolation & Stigma

Men often face societal pressures to be strong, stoic, and not show vulnerability. As a result, they may find it challenging to openly discuss their infertility struggles, leading to feelings of isolation and a lack of support.

Frustration & Anger

Dealing with fertility treatments, failed attempts, or the inability to find a specific cause for their infertility can lead to frustration and anger. Men may experience a sense of powerlessness and frustration due to the lack of control over their reproductive abilities.

Due to social conditioning, men are often more comfortable expressing anger or frustration than vulnerability - which can lead to their feelings about infertility showing up in surprising ways.  

Anxiety & Depression

Mental health challenges are not uncommon for either partner experiencing infertility, and understandably so. The emotional toll of facing continued uncertainty, financial strain, and constant disappointments associated with fertility treatments can exacerbate existing mental health conditions or cause men to develop anxiety or depression, in some cases.

You're not alone.

Meet Joe, a dad to two through IVF who had a long and winding road to fatherhood, including a diagnosis of male factor infertility. 

Read Now

6 Mental Health Tips for Hopeful Dads 

While nothing can take away the heartache of feeling excluded on a day that celebrates a role you so desperately want, let's explore a few ways to take the sting out of Father's Day (or any day on a fertility journey). 

1. Find Space to Express Emotion

Whether you decide to attend a fertility support group, seek counseling (with or without your partner), or open up to friends on a guys' night out - knowing where to turn when you need to talk is essential. Remember: You deserve a safe place to go to process how you're feeling. 

Learn more: Hear why one Illume dad decided to try a men's support group, what he gained from the new connections he made, and his advice to other men facing infertility.

2. Try a Change of Scenery

Sometimes, the best medicine is a new location. Plan a weekend away, try a new restaurant, go to a game, hike a new trail, or schedule a trip so you have something to focus on.

3. Embrace Distractions

If you find it too difficult to think about how you're feeling right now, that's okay too. Some couples find it's easier to focus on the logistics of fertility treatment (i.e. organizing IVF medications, making phone calls, or working on finances) instead of discussing the emotional side of infertility. There's no right or wrong way to navigate this journey.

4. Build a Support Network

Identify the people in your life that you trust, and write down a list of those friends, family, or counselors that you can reach out to when you need to talk. If you feel like you have no one to turn to, don't hesitate to tell your Care Team and ask them for recommendations. They will always be happy to help connect you with support groups or other resources.

5. Create a Toolbox for Tough Days

For those who enjoy focusing on external projects, this may be a physical toolbox. For others, it may entail assembling a set of resources that can help you remain grounded and reduce stress or anxiety (i.e. downloading a meditation app on your phone or making a playlist of favorite songs). This will look different for everyone.

6. Remember Who You Are

Navigating fertility challenges can feel all-consuming. From the frequent doctor's appointments to stressing about finances to helping your partner with injections during IVF, it's easy to forget who you both were before this part of your lives. Look back at old photos, write down a list of activities you've enjoyed in the past, and remind yourself that infertility isn't who you are, it's just what you're going through.

How to Support Men Through Infertility

It is important to understand that not all men will feel the same way when it comes to fertility, so it's important to allow space for whatever feelings arise. Some men may be more open and willing to discuss their feelings, while others may struggle to express what they're going through.

If you're unsure of how to best support your partner, ask them what they need. They may have an immediate answer for you, or they may not be sure yet, but opening that door leaves room for conversation and connection. 

Ultimately, the best thing we can do is provide a supportive and non-judgmental environment for men to share their thoughts and feelings. Knowing they have a place to communicate the physical and emotional impact of the experience is crucial in helping them process the complexities of infertility.

If you are one of the millions of hopeful parents undergoing fertility treatment or working through grief this Father's Day, know that you're not alone - and support is available to you.

Talk to a fertility expert.

Reach out today to learn more about your treatment options and how Illume Fertility can help you become a parent.

Request a Consult

Sierra Dehmler

Sierra Dehmler is Illume Fertility’s Content Marketing Manager - and also a fertility patient herself. Combining empathy gained on her personal journey with her professional experience in marketing and content creation, she aims to empower and support other fertility patients by demystifying the fertility treatment process.