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IVF: One Man's Journey
It was only when he tried to be ordinary again that Simon Guerrier realised what an extraordinary experience he’d just been through.
He and his partner spent five years trying for a baby, eventually completing two courses of IVF, but when it didn’t work out, Simon found that some of the ordinary things in life – a beer with friends, a chat with colleagues – had become difficult, stressful, upsetting. “Sometimes, when you go through a big experience,” says Simon, “it’s not the experience that affects you, it’s the coming back to earth.”
What Simon, who is a 34-year-old writer, also realised in those difficult days following the end of the IVF was how much he’d been putting his emotions and expectations into a box and screwing the lid on – something which, for men going through IVF, is not unusual. Dr Mark Underwood, a consultant urologist at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, who has taken hundreds of couples through IVF, says: “The men, as in any walk of life, are often not as good at expressing themselves as women.”
What helped Simon was using his skills as a writer and putting his experiences into a blog, as did seeing a counsellor – something he was initially reluctant to do. A few months on from the end of the IVF, he now realises he spent a lot of the process feeling like there was nothing he could do.
“I spent most of my time feeling like a spare part,” he says. “You’re watching something harrowing happen and you desperately want to do something but there’s not a lot a bloke does other than sperm tests and that was kind of it. You’re not actually engaging in any of the stuff you’re going through.
“The bottom falls out of your world a bit because getting pregnant had been the project for five years and I hadn’t dealt with any of it because I was just dealing with the matter in hand. I’m wary of getting too gender-specific but a few people have said when I’ve told them what’s going on ‘yeah, typical boy’.”
Although he was initially reluctant, Simon found that the counsellor he saw was good at unscrewing the lid of that box a bit. “I think what I had to learn was how much it was affecting me and I was kind of bottling it up and threw myself into work. The counsellor gave me some good pointers. It felt as if somebody, or something, had died, and I found I was frustrated and angry at ordinary things like going for a beer with mates or the politics at work.”
Dr Underwood says men can often face this kind of struggle, but are also becoming more aware of fertility problems and what’s involved in tackling them. On average, 40% of the fertility cases Dr Underwood sees are male-related, 40% female-related and 20% are unknown. “What you tend to see now is that, because of the internet, male patients are becoming more aware of potential causes of fertility issues so they present for investigation.”