Earlier today, my wife and I attended our first peer-led infertility support group. She found the group on Resolve’s website, and it just so happened that today they were encouraging spouses, husbands, and partners to join in. The meeting itself was held in an unassuming two-story community center with ample parking, a neatly-trimmed hedgerow, and two long, deep trenches in the sidewalk from where my heels had gouged the concrete as my wife dragged me in the side door by my shirt collar.
Am I supportive of my lovely bride? Absolutely; I’d march straight down to hell and bite the tongue off the devil if she asked me to. But was I excited for the support group? Not in the least. It’s not that I’m not a social person, but I really don’t like being put on the spot. During our drive to the support group, I imagined myself sitting in the middle of a circle full of coffee-swilling strangers, being peppered by questions about my infertility. And for a knuckle-dragging Alpha-male like myself, exposing to strangers my inability to reproduce is leaps and bounds more embarrassing than showing up in my boxers would have been. Maybe I would have felt differently if I wasn’t the reason that we are doing all of this in the first place, but as it were I was perfectly content to keep my support group attendance in the same category as my vas deferens—ABSENT!
Now, to Quentin Tarantino this story and jump to the end, I walked out of the meeting 90 minutes later and delivered to my wife the four simple words that every woman in the world delights in hearing: “You were right, dear.” As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong about the support group. In no way was it like any of the support groups in Fight Club; nobody put me on the spot, there was no coffee, and I didn’t end up having to hug any strangers (no offense to strangers, I’m just kinda partial to my boundaries).
The truth is that the meeting was amazing in that it made me realize that there are other people out there who feel the same way that my wife and I do. Looking back, this sense of community shouldn’t have been as astonishing as it was, but I truly was caught off guard by how safe I felt the minute the talking started. As each individual and couple took turns sharing their story, I felt less like an alien and more….well, normal, I suppose. Those of you who are infertile can probably relate to the feeling of seeing children in public and feeling like an outcast, a misfit, and a failure. But when surrounded by others who are dealing with similar situations, I began to see that while there was a lot of sadness in the various individuals in the room, there was also a ton of strength. Each and every couple that spoke had clearly been tempered by the fires of loss and despair, and yet had bounced back up to try again (and, in some cases, again and again and again). My heart broke as many of the women burst into tears while talking, and yet I was encouraged by the compassion that everyone in that room showed. These may have been strangers, but they clearly had each others’ backs—and ours.
When it came time for us to share our story, my wife gave me an encouraging nod and I began recounting our journey, beginning with the phone call from our doctor on my 30th birthday letting me know that I had zero sperm. Interestingly enough, I sensed that I had more in common with most of the women in the room than the men, simply because the majority of the couples there were dealing with female infertility. I’d like to think that I gave the dudes some insight into how to hold their wives emotionally—primarily because I’ve got a bit of training in this regard, and also due to the fact that my wife has been such a complete and total rockstar throughout this process, having handled me in a very loving and empathetic manner and never once causing me to feel guilty or blamed for our infertility. One thing that was cool was that after I spoke, another husband in the room shared his story of infertility, and as he was talking I was reminded that I am not the only man on the planet who cannot have children the ‘natural way’. I understood what this guy had gone through, quite possibly better than his own wife in some ways because I could connect with the roller-coaster that we had both been on individually. Finding another person who had endured this pain and survived was strangely comforting, and I could feel the icy wall of isolation that I’ve felt for the past few months begin to melt away a tiny bit.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this experience. Previously, any sense of community that I’ve felt during this process has been limited to online blogs and awkward, wordless encounters with other patients in our IVF clinics. But to sit at a table (not a circle of chairs, mind you) and discuss the issue with other living, breathing humans who truly understand what we’re going through was a very good feeling. As we exited the parking lot, I was struck by a profound thought: every single person in that room who showed up to participate would make an award-winning parent.
I pray to God that each and every one of us gets that chance.