THE FULL STOP PODCAST
When Trish asked me to write a guest blog post, I immediately said yes as I don’t often get asked to do this.
Not that I actively seek out writing for others as I was one of those kids that never paid attention at school and even though I’m 56yrs old, I still feel quite anxious about writing.
But I do try to say yes to everything, not from a people pleasing point of view, but more of ‘why not and lets see where this takes me’. Now, once that feeling subsided I then thought, what the hell am I going to write about? It's important to identify that my childless life experience is of being a Gen X CIS male who sat alongside my wife as she went through the IVF journey and this is my personal perspective. I want to recognise that our childless community is much more diverse and complex than just our experience and that there are many more paths to being childless than the IVF journey.
The genesis of this piece comes from a few places; a chat Trish and I had last week, where she acknowledged that us blokes are very quiet on the childless front. Add to the mix going out to dinner with a newly found childless couple who also went along the IVF path last weekend (lets call them M and S) and also that as I’ve immerse myself into the childless community more and more, we can see the rise of the female voice getting louder and louder, but we blokes are not keeping pace.
So I thought this piece could be about exactly that; why are we so reluctant to shout out.
Whilst at dinner last week M and I talked around how we felt it wasn’t our place to grieve. We had watched our partners be stimulated to an inch of their lives to produce the max amount of eggs for a cycle and for those that haven’t been through this, it's very uncomfortable and there is a very high risk of being hyper simulated by the drugs. On our last cycle, this happened to Vickie and I can still remember her convulsing smashing her head on the tiled floor after losing consciousness and collapsing. It was horrifying to watch and really sent home the feeling that what I’m going through pales in comparison to what she was experiencing, I felt I didn’t have the right to grieve. So I did what I did best, sent it deep inside and soldiered on hoping to get us through this.
It was a lonely time, I didn’t know any other man that was going through this, so I had no one to talk too, but then again would I have talked to them anyway? And if I’m honest I felt like a failure because I couldn’t fix this situation. I know that sounds silly, but I was brought up to be very independent and so I was very used to working things out for myself, I felt useless.
I now know that this type of thinking is very common in the male childless world, we keep it well hidden to the point that our partners don’t think we care. Vickie will tell you how she also felt so alone in the midst of the many IVF failures because on the outside I was stoic and to her it seemed that the many IVF failures were not important to me, which was far from what was going on inside. But I believed my role was to be strong, to power through and be the rock and keep all those emotions buttoned up.
I think it's important that as I mentioned above, I am Gen X, my early life was full of falling out of trees, crashing my bicycle at speed, being sewn up many times for all the small accidents I’ve had and trying not to let my parents know. Again silly, but in those days parents were to be feared and so you just put up with things. But what this did foster was resilience and a sort of ‘nobody would care anyway’ mentality. And that is how I grew up, thinking that what was going on inside me would interest no one. I played rugby for many years and as much as I enjoyed it, I can see now with hindsight that it played right into that to keep everything buttoned up and just keep on going. I can think of many times I was injured on the field, but you didn’t want to let the team down so you just kept on going. You were rewarded for that type of behaviour, you were seen as tough and if you were lucky there were stories told about your fearless escapades on the field.
I guess I was displaying a type of Toxic masculinity, unable to open up, unable to let people in too to my detriment.
But, here I am now writing it all down on this blog post, so I guess the next question is; What changed?
Like most things there are many layers to this answer, so I’ll try and keep it brief so I don’t bore you to tears. A huge part of the answer is Therapy, we originally sort out help when we both had to deal with the demons of childhood sexual abuse, we individually experienced. This went on for many years even through our IVF journey, we found a woman who had personal experience in loss and grief, losing both her husband and a daughter, she was brilliant. The way we like to explain it to people is that it taught us how to talk about the ‘right’ stuff, yes difficult stuff, but it's these conversations that then lead us on a path of desensitisation and acceptance. I could see that through talking about all those hard things, I was actually becoming stronger rather than expressing weakness. Today, you can’t shut me up and I can often see those around me cringe with uncomfortableness when I start to talk about …. The hard stuff.
So back to the origins of this blog, why are we blokes so quiet?
I’ll be general here, please remember this is just my opinion, we blokes keep it bottled up so tight that we hardly ever get the chance to learn about how to talk about all that hard stuff. Since Andy Harrod and I started The Childless Men’s Community on Facebook, it has become quite evident from the discussions that we are slowly developing a vocabulary that helps us express how and why we feel the way we do, this is a wonderful thing to see. There are of course many many more reasons why, the fear of looking like a failure, the fear of being seen as less of a male, the fear of ridicule just to name a few.
So next time you come across a man who is childless and his behaviour makes you feel like it is a closed shop, remember he is doing his best with the limited skills he has.
Kind Regards Michael Hughes
Thank you so much Michael for writing this for our little blog. It's amazing. I got not a tad tearful at times but that can be the nature of this subject matter. You write so well you should do more - you really should.
I should just say Michael and Vickie live the other side of the world (as you can tell from the glorious photo) and run the fantastic podcast The Full Stop Podcast whereby all aspects of childlessness, infertility is discussed with different ,often well known, guests and doesn't rear away from difficult subject matter. Especially male infertility. I think it's OK to say - I'm on it on 9th April at 10am. (Sorry Michael I had to say). Check it out - The Full Stop Podcast. Damn brilliant!