And as more and more men across the world suffer infertility problems, it’s time we really addressed the issues so that fathers-to-be feel supported and reassured every step of the way in their journey to becoming a dad.
You might have seen the rather shocking new research this week, which lifted the lid on fertility in men in the western world.
A study by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found that sperm counts have actually halved in the last 40 years, falling by an average of 1.4% a year, leading to an overall drop of just over 52%.
The reasons as to why this is happening is still unproven by science, though some experts suggest that exposure to certain chemicals used in pesticides and plastics, obesity, smoking, stress, diet, and even watching too much TV could all potentially play a part.
What that means in the here and now is an increase in men struggling to achieve their dreams of becoming a parent.
At the Reproductive Health Group, there’s a pretty even split when it comes to the male and female factors that account for infertility – broken down as 33% male factors, 33% female and 33% a combination of both.
And unfortunately many men are keeping their feelings on the matter to themselves, bottling everything up inside, rather than seeking the help and guidance they clearly deserve.
In recent years, there’s been a real effort to get men to be more open and transparent about their health issues, and that includes mental health.
But when it comes to male infertility, for some reasons there’s still a perceived social stigma that could be preventing them from seeking proper treatment.
There’s this idea that fertility problems reflect poorly on a man’s masculinity, and that they have to stay stoic and strong for the sake of their relationship.
It can have a devastating effect.
Having IVF too can be an emotional experience.
At the clinic, we often speak to men who tell us, ‘I desperately want children too, but I don’t show it to my partner’.
Sometimes they struggle to even get time off work to seek treatment because they’re too embarrassed to tell their employer.
What I want to see is a more open dialogue. Let’s start educating men about what can be done to improve their situation – because there are solutions.
The majority of male fertility issues relate to sperm disorders, so the first step in any investigation is to do a comprehensive semen analysis to establish if the semen sample of the male partner is normal.
This looks at the volume of the sample, the number of sperm, the sperm’s movement, and what percentage of the sample has normal shape and size.
And then we may need to perform additional investigations, such as chromosome analysis or checking to see if the sperm is genetically abnormal.
By knowing exactly what we’re working with in terms of sperm quality, we can tailor any fertility plan to give a couple the best possible chance of conceiving, often selecting the strongest sperm for implantation through analysis using a high powered microscope.
Where there’s very few normal sperm, we can utilise a process called ICSI – aka ‘Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection’ – which is a modified version of IVF where a single sperm is injected into each mature egg.
And even when there’s an absence of sperm in a sample, we can use ‘Surgical Sperm Retrieval’, or SSR, to retrieve sperm that’s formed in the testes but unable to be ejaculated due a blockage.
All of this shows that there are proven methods of helping male fertility.
There’s always a degree of hope.
And what’s also encouraging is that other academics are also taking steps to really analyse the issues.
Last month, researchers in the Centre for Health Promotion Research at Leeds Beckett University launched a new study, asking men to share their experiences of fertility problems, and how they have been affected by infertility.
(If you’d like to take part, see here: http://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/news/0617-mens-experiences-of-infertility-sought-for-new-study/)
Lead scientist Dr Esmee Hanna, says many men are seeking solace and support on internet forums online because they’re often unsupported in their attempts to become parents.
Let’s not forget that infertility affects one in six couples within the UK.
Yet relatively little research on fertility issues focuses on men’s experiences.
As Dr Hanna points out, when men’s views of infertility have been sought, they have often been framed via, or complementary to, women’s perspectives.
And it’s hoped this new research will help us all to better understand just how men cope when faced with fertility issues.
One thing’s for sure, at the Reproductive Health Group, we’re taking positive steps to improve the situation.
We have a fully qualified and experienced fertility counsellor and also work with an independent genetic counsellor, ensuring we’re always here to listen.
And we’ll do all we can to make sure men are not pushed to the periphery.
For more information on our fertility investigations, assessments and treatments – for both men and women – see: