Ahead of National Infertility Awareness Week, I’ve been thinking about what it means to plan for the future. We put so much stock in external things that prepare us to begin a family — advancing our career, opening a 401K, or finding the right partner.
But when it comes to the actual process of trying to conceive, so many of us assume that it will happen, naturally and precisely the way we plan. After all, we were warned in our teens that one mistake and suddenly you have an unexpected pregnancy. But as you go through your 20s, 30s and 40s, the world of fertility changes dramatically
One in seven couples will experience infertility. One in seven couples is currently experiencing the silent heartbreak and frustration of wanting their bodies to accomplish the one thing they’re built to do, and yet roadblocks are preventing that from happening. As you consider your future and your own fertility, this is what you might need to know about the fertility journey from the male side.
An accident changed my whole perspective.
You never know when something could change your entire journey to parenthood. A few years ago, I experienced an incident that changed how I think about family and fertility. After I spilled scalding liquids on my lap and experienced second-degree burns (which I would not wish on my worst enemy), I was terrified that there would be long-term consequences for something that happened in the blink of an eye.
Before this incident, I didn’t think too much about future fertility or family planning. Afterwards, I realized that this is a question I should have been asking myself all along.
As I questioned my fertility future, I sought out sperm testing — only to experience a humiliating, awkward, expensive, and alienating process that left me determined to change the entire conversation about male fertility. It took a few years of trial and error, but I could clearly see the picture in my mind.
- No testing centers where it’s you, your thoughts, and the ghost of every single person who has ever produced a sperm sample in that same patient room and whose buttprints are on the black leather couch. Let’s make this an entirely at-home, from-home experience.
- No embarrassing, narrow questions that do not define your fertility concerns or journey. Let’s remove the stigma and the shame.
- No world in which fertility is primarily a woman’s problem. Let’s change the outdated view that fertility is a women’s issue.
I envision a place where husbands, long-term partners, transitioning partners, even possibly you, can feel safe and respected. This is the baseline.
Fertility is not a “women’s” issue, but it is a feminist one.
National Infertility Awareness Week is about having sometimes challenging conversations and finding support for a fertility journey, no matter what it looks like.
Fertility is on a sharp decline in the modern world thanks to:
- Couples waiting longer to have children.
- An increase in different chemicals in our food, water, air, and the environment which are dramatically impacting our reproductive systems.
- Other factors that we haven’t comprehended yet, but could soon become clear as the world and healthcare move forward.
Notice I said couples. We know all the jokes about women’s “ticking clocks” and older men fathering children, but family planning doesn’t fall on only the woman’s biology. Older men are more likely to experience DNA fragmentation or defects in sperm DNA that contribute to infertility or higher rates of miscarriage. And of couples experiencing infertility, only a third are caused by the woman’s reproductive system. Another third is caused solely by the man or person with sperm. The final third is the result of challenges with both partners. What this means to me: men and women are equally likely to be the cause of infertility in a heterosexual couple!
That means no more pressure solely on the woman to consider fertility. Men and people with sperm need to form an active part of the conversation in normalizing that:
- Not every fertility journey looks the same.
- Health and environmental factors can affect fertility no matter the age.
- Gathering data for family planning should begin well before a wedding, partnership, or even before there’s another person in the picture at all.
Regular sperm testing can offer a wealth of data for people who want to take control of their fertility journey. Many centers don’t address fertility issues directly until a couple has been unable to conceive a child for a year or more. Instead of reacting to news like this, a proactive approach could allow more couples to experience their desired outcome while also saving them money. Male fertility is easier to diagnose, easier to treat, cheaper to treat, and means you’re less likely to go down the path of assisted reproductive treatments like IVF.
Proactive sperm testing can uncover issues early on, when lifestyle and diet changes could make a difference. One step further, freezing sperm when someone is at their healthiest could offer an alternative path for family planning later on, if health changes.
One of the biggest things Legacy, and I personally, want to change is the stigma surrounding male fertility and the desire for family. It took just one experience for me to understand how much shame and humiliation there can be in sperm testing and questions about fertility for me — so much that I started a new company to make sure I never had to experience that again. Some men may not want to talk about their infertility still, but it’s an essential component of creating an equal world for all genders and all people.
My hope is that more people have choices.
Some couples may not be ready to share a fertility journey publicly just yet, and that’s okay. I want to open up about my experiences and our company’s mission so that people have choices. Fertility doesn’t have to be locked away in secret — with resources and a community of others walking the same path, we may experience grief during the process, but never shame.
For men in particular, this conversation needs to change. Men need to be active participants in planning for the future and taking stock of their own health needs to ensure the best possible outcome.