“Houston, we have a fertility problem”

Fathers’ Day is a time for celebration but not for all. ‘Anger’, ‘jealousy’ and ‘envy’ are just three of the overwhelming emotions that Paul from Lowestoft felt every time he heard that someone else that he knew was going to become a dad.

By speaking out ahead of Father’s Day Paul seeks to raise awareness of the emotional impact on the male partner when a couple struggle with infertility. He says about his journey: “We were very secretive about what we were going through as we felt that no one else could truly appreciate the emotional pain we were facing.

Felt really alone 

Paul and his wife Gemma were living in Houston, Texas, thousands of miles away from their hometown in Suffolk, when they began to suspect that they had fertility problems.

He says: “At times we felt really alone living so far away and with no close friends and family around.”

The pivotal moment came five years ago when Paul arrived home from work to find Gemma in floods of tears after yet another negative pregnancy test result.

“I saw how devastated Gemma was and I decided we needed to take action,” says Paul. “We had some tests done which revealed that we would be unlikely to conceive naturally and so we took the decision to move back home to Lowestoft to be closer to family and decide on our next steps.”

Back in the UK the couple went to see their GP who sent them for more tests which confirmed that Paul had poor sperm morphology (shape). With every month that passed Paul felt that time was slipping away from them.

“I felt completely helpless through the whole process,” Paul says. “It was out of my control and no matter how much I tried to console Gemma it didn’t make the pain and the emotions any better. At times I would feel as though it was my ‘fault’ and that I couldn’t give us the one thing that we wanted in life, to become parents.

Gemma and Paul
Paul and Gemma

The questions broke our hearts

As the couple struggled life continued around them.

“Having close friends announce they were expecting a baby while we were going through this process was one of the hardest things that I had to deal with. I would be pleased for them but also envious, jealous and angry that they were getting so easily what we wanted so much. We felt as though we had been left behind.

“Social occasions often brought up awkward questions related to having children. People think it is an innocent question, but in reality, we were trying so hard for a baby that it broke our hearts when we were questioned about it.

“Although I was going through the same emotions of pain and frustration, I had to be strong for Gemma. Nothing was more important to me than making sure she was okay.”

Trying to be a rock increases stress levels

Paul’s feelings of guilt and needing to be strong for his partner are shared by many men says independent fertility counsellor Jackie Stewart, who runs the Fertility Support Group at Bourn Hall which is open to everyone going through infertility.

She says: “Men can feel helpless and unhappy because they do not have the power to make it better and this can increase their own stress levels. It can be likened to having someone living with you who is feeling unwell and fragile but there is nothing you can do.

“Infertility is a grieving process. Men often try to be the rock for a partner, but it is better to just accept you are in this together and you don’t know what the outcome will be. This way you can work out what you need individually and what you need together to help you feel more peaceful through treatment. This takes away any expectation or assumption that your partner should be feeling or coping the same way.”

Relief to be referred to Bourn Hall

Eventually things started looking up for the couple when they were told that they could be referred for NHS-funded IVF treatment at Bourn Hall Clinic.

“We arrived at Bourn Hall Clinic in Wymondham, Norwich and they made us feel so at ease and comfortable straightaway,” says Paul. “I had changed my diet and been taking loads of vitamins and we were told that my sperm had really improved which was amazing news.”

The couple were entitled to two NHS-funded rounds and Gemma fell pregnant after their second course of treatment after they had ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) which involved the best quality sperm taken from Paul and being directly injected into Gemma’s eggs in the lab.

Being a dad best feeling in the world

“Getting the positive pregnancy test was one of the biggest feelings of euphoria that I have ever felt,” says Paul. “After we had a scan and found out that we were expecting twins it felt like we had won the lottery.”

On the 18th April 2019 the couple welcomed twins Ottilie and Felix.

“Being a Dad is the best feeling in the world,” says Paul. “Knowing how hard we tried to bring them in to the world and now the love and joy they bring us every day is truly magical. The unconditional love I have for them is indescribable. They light up our world every second of every day.

“Being a Dad is everything I dreamt of and more. After everything we have been through I am thankful every day and I do not take it for granted.

“If there is any advice that I can give to people going through infertility it is to trust the process. The people and experts at Bourn Hall were all truly amazing and helped Gemma and I keep the faith.”

Bourn Hall has a special men-only Fertility Support Group meeting on 22 July 2022 to talk about conflicting emotions and how to support a partner.

Paul with Ottilie and Felix

More information about male infertility and support for the journey

The Men Talk section of our Fertility Blog may provide some useful information for you.

Common questions that men ask about fertility can be found here.

Common causes of male infertility.

We offer a free consultation with a Fertility Nurse Specialist for anyone concerned about fertility – you don’t have to be trying for a baby.

Bourn Hall offers counselling for patients with an Independent Fertility Counsellor

Find out about the Bourn Hall’s treatment for male infertility.

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