It’s a no-brainer that Mother’s Day would be a hard holiday for couples who can’t get pregnant. Reminders of motherhood and babies and pregnancy are EVERYWHERE and for those of us who still aren’t mothers and desperately want to be, it’s pretty much the worst day of the year. It can’t be a coincidence that National Infertility Awareness Week always happens at the end of April–just before Mother’s Day in May–and hopefully spreading awareness of infertility through social media just beforehand helps to encourage a little more sensitivity and thoughtfulness towards those who get continually slapped in the face by You’re-Still-Not-A-Mother Day. When couples are open about infertility struggles, the wife might get a card or a text from a close friend who knows Mother’s Day will be hard for her. But what happens to her husband on Father’s Day?
There are just as many TV commercials, radio ads, and department store sales that use Father’s Day as a money making gimmick as there are leading up to Mother’s Day. Father’s Day is celebrated at church and among families, but for the husband whose empty arms still ache to hold his firstborn and who longs for everything that fatherhood brings–changing diapers, reading bedtime stories, playing catch–there’s no getting away from the reminder that he’s STILL not a dad. And it’s unbearable because men want to fix the problem, not just talk about the problem–but this is a problem that he has no control over. He is powerless to solve the problem that leaves his wife sobbing month after month after month, negative pregnancy test after negative pregnancy test after negative pregnancy test. On Father’s Day, he feels like a failure. He feels defeated in every way, like his wife does on Mother’s Day, but he also feels forgotten.
Infertility hurts husbands just as much as it hurts wives. It’s a problem a couple has together, but often infertility is perceived as a problem with the woman. Before any medical reasons for infertility were known, women were blamed and labeled barren if they couldn’t bear children. Society has come a long way since that time but the stigma still lingers even when people have the best intentions. Many people still classify infertility as a “woman problem,” so when they attempt to offer support or sympathy, it’s usually directed at the woman. And rarely do they notice that the other half of the couple is hurting too. Or maybe they do notice, but they don’t know what to say or how to approach the subject since men just don’t talk about their feelings as openly as women do.
Husbands are good at hiding their hurt. They want to be the strong protectors of their family and society has taught them that strong men don’t cry. So they take their feelings about infertility and put them in a box and file that box in the back of their brain and do everything they can to avoid pulling out that box and opening it up to really feel and deal with those emotions. But when you’re dealing with the never-ending identity crisis that is infertility, you can’t suppress the emotions forever, and for my husband, those rarely-expressed feelings come to the surface right around You’re-Still-Not-A-Father Day.
The depth of my husband’s grief hadn’t fully sunk in to me before this time last year. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that infertility was tearing him apart inside more and more the longer it dragged on, and that it was as painful for him as it was for me, but he very rarely expressed his emotions with it. And then last year on Father’s Day, the day that was already the worst day of the year for my husband, an insensitive and badly timed pregnancy announcement was made right to his face by people who knew about our infertility. It hit so close to home more than any other pregnancy announcement had and it hurt so deeply. My husband put on such a brave face, but we both felt as though we’d been stabbed in the heart. And when we were finally alone at home, he just broke down and sobbed in my arms. When you want something so beautiful and good so much with everything in you and you can’t have it and there’s nothing you can do about it, it’s devastating whether you’re male or female, so you better believe husbands hurt too.
If you’re dealing with infertility, you’re already keenly aware of Father’s Day and how painful it can be for your husband. Don’t be afraid to ask him how he’s feeling and remind him that you’re there for him to listen to his feelings too. Let him know how much you appreciate him and how grateful you are for all the ways he protects, provides for, supports, and shows his love for you through your struggle.
Let’s all keep in mind now and in the future that men have feelings too and that we shouldn’t ignore them when reaching out with sympathy or support to a struggling couple. This doesn’t apply only to infertility but also to couples who have experienced miscarriage, serious illness, stillbirth, disability, loss of a child and other life-altering sorrows. When the overwhelming majority of expressions of sorrow, comfort, and empathy are directed at the woman in a couple and the man is ignored, it sends the message that it wouldn’t be natural for him to be upset and sad about something that has turned his life upside down just as much as it has hers. Let’s start changing that trend by showing support, sensitivity, and empathy towards men as well as women–because husbands are hurting too.
PS: I enlisted my husband’s help with writing this post and I appreciate his courage at sharing some very real and vulnerable feelings with the world. It wasn’t an easy topic to write about, but we both feel this is an issue that needs to be discussed. Our intent is to educate, increase understanding, and let other couples going through a similar struggle know that they’re not alone, not to offend or guilt-trip anyone. We want to thank the sensitive friends and family members who have reached out to both of us, prayed for us as a couple, asked both of us how we’re doing with our infertility situation, and just acknowledged the fact that this struggle must be hard for both of us. We appreciate it more than you know!