The impact of childlessness on a relationship
When we were young we assumed we would have kids. There was no doubt about it. Not in those days. Not in our minds. Nowadays it seems to have become part of the conversation. Part of the expectation - no pun intended.
But all the emphasis on women and their choices regarding conceiving/ not conceiving, childless womens' mental health, the anguish.Their relief or not. Having or not having children. I know, believe me, I know.
It is not just women. We must remember that. Perhaps we do, but do we sufficiently advertise or emphasise the fact it really is not just women who are childless?
I am speaking from the heart and from experience. So I may appear to get a tad emotional.
Men must also have a voice - if they so desire.
I decided to give it a go and took the following statistics from FertilityFamily.co.uk June 2021 as a guide. Worth a look…these are their findings:
A wide-ranging 2017 study showed that sperm count has declined by over 50% in the last 40 years.
What is azoospermia?
Azoospermia is a condition in which there’s no measurable sperm in a man’s ejaculate (semen). Azoospermia leads to male infertility.
About 1% of all men and 10% to 15% of infertile men have azoospermia.
An estimated 7% of all men are affected by infertility
Sperm count has declined by over 50% in the last 40 years according to a 2017 study.
Infertility affects 1 in 7 heterosexual couples in the UK
A very long time ago I remember reading about a couple who had recently been diagnosed as infertile. The article was of obvious interest to me given our situation then and was quite a rare thing, at the time.
He was telling his and his wife's tale of being unable to conceive. I don't remember any diagnosis but I do recall his anguish at, what he saw as, his inability to provide his wife with the one thing she wanted more than anything - a baby, a family. He just automatically took on the burden of blame.
There is no blame, of course. But they wanted children and, often, In those days couples started trying for a family early on in the marriage. Well, it didn't happen. No pregnancy. I vaguely remember them going for tests but, depending who you were sat in front of I guess, they were dismissed as tests inconclusive' and 'just keep trying'.
For some reason, he saw it as his fault. That's how it used to be described 'your fault/my fault' - no one's fault, actually.
Apparently, desperate for some sort of emotional release, he took the dog for its walk to the nearby woods and fell to his knees. He wept, howled (his words, I fully remember that bit). Trying to rid himself of the anger and anguish. Poor man.
They didn't attempt adoption but they learned to live with it, I guess. As we involuntary childless so often do. They were able to retire early and travel so called it a happy ending - of sorts.
Clearly they were/are - very happy. Thank goodness. Many couples aren't. So it set me to wondering how much our childlessness affected my own marriage and felt very sad. Because the answer is - probably quite a lot.
And, like many others, this man had been distraught after a particular appointment with a consultant regarding fertility. Traumatised by the handling of it. There was no support, especially for men or for women. We, and many others, should know.
My memory tells me we attended Relate a couple of times. For an attempt at talking about our inability to conceive. But it seemed to be very difficult for a man to say anything, in those days. It didn't work for us, unfortunately.
This is a photo of a very young me and our cocker spaniel dog, Emma, way back in the day when getting pregnant was an automatic assumption.
Our pets can take the place of children. My current dog Lilley fills that role for me, now. Why is that seen as some sort of eccentricity? To take that attitude (especially from those with a family) is very patronising.
When I discovered all of the childless sites online, voluntary or involuntary, I was delighted. Well done and about time, I thought. But all I seem to see is women telling their stories. Which, by the way, is absolutely great and good. We need to be heard, my word, we do.
But so do men. We must give men support and a space or spaces to do so. The wonderful and marvellous Michael Hughes of www.thefullstopped.com And famous researcher, consultant, Dr Robin Hadley, www.robinhadley.co.uk whose area of research concerns the impact of male involuntary childlessness across the life course. These men are like trail blazers. Fabulous. But we need more. Michael and Robin have become the synonymous go-to names associated with male infertility. I can't help but feel they might say we need more 'loudness' around the subject.
Are we to tip -toe instead? See comedian Rhod Gilbert's brilliant, documentary on BBC2. That should soon sort that one. Rhod is involved with infertility for men website: www.himfertility.com
Apparently childlessness is a feminine subject. It's become feminised. (Says the old person - hasn't everything? Sorry, sorry…) It has no right to become feminised. This is a multi subject.
I feel strongly about it. Knowing how it affects the man as much as the woman. Maybe - occasionally - more so.
I've been told, on Twitter, that men are reticent to come forward on the subject. Is that because of the bountiful amount of female childless sites crowding the childless market? Let's be honest - I'm one of 'em.
When I needed these wonderful sites (because they are) they weren't there, unfortunately.
But they are now and they are there for men, also.
I was about to blunder into my next piece, when this point hit me.
Err - any men happen to be reading this - I neither want nor mean to intrude if really not wanted. (Wouldn't be the first time, to be fair). But, please feel safe to vent here - if you so wish. In the comments section.
See, at our local AWOC groups it's nearly all women. Is it because women frighten men off (to be honest, I can understand that, I really can) or do men feel they are intruding? We would love to have chaps represented in our groups. From all the many, wonderful diverse groups, please. Women - lovely - but we need much diversity.
How dreadful that sounds. Immediately it's taken the wrong way. Well, how else can I say it?
I was going to speak of us, my former partner and I, unable to have children. We hardly spoke of it. Somehow, we managed to get through several decades without it barely being mentioned. And yet, there it sat, casting a dark, fleeting shadow. Just out of range. Sulking. What a shame - that issues like this can break relationships up. Another blameful mark against childlessness. It can break a marriage or relationship. Now that is sad