Results from the fertility tests came as a big shock to Matt and his wife Laura. Now, as he looks forward to celebrating Fathers’ Day with his baby daughter Elle, Matt reveals how opening up about the impact of male infertility has been a life-affirming experience.
“When the results first came back I have to admit it hurt a lot,” says Matt, aged 36, “I got quite down about it. I think that most men just think that it is a ‘given’ that they can have kids with no issue.”
The hospital fertility tests revealed that Laura and Matt were never going to become parents naturally and unexpectedly it was due to male factor infertility.
“I felt that I had let Laura down as well, as she wanted a child so much and it should be the one thing, I would be able to do. It did make me feel, stupidly, less of a man. I also think that our culture dictates that we shouldn’t talk about it openly.
“You also realise that the assumption is that infertility is a woman’s problem. Laura had been looking at what she could change and what to do differently, trying to get fit and lose weight.”
The emotional impact of male infertility
Laura remembers: “At the consultation we were both completely stunned. We hadn’t thought for a moment that there was going to be a problem with Matt’s sperm. The results were pretty bad, and it came as a shock.
“Matt had been a heavy smoker but had given it up some years ago and he had lost a lot of weight. There was nothing more he could do.
“It was a really tough time for us. He didn’t really want to talk about it, was quite depressed and felt guilty; all understandable emotions.”
Matt now recognises that not talking about how he felt had a damaging impact:
“My nature isn’t to worry about what people think, but I just couldn’t bring myself to open up about it with anyone,” he says. “I am not going to lie, it really took its toll on me and my close friends could see that I had changed.”
The couple live in Hertfordshire, which provides NHS-funded IVF treatment to couples that meet the criteria. After doing their research, they chose to have their treatment at Bourn Hall near Cambridge.
The couple had IVF along with a technique that improves the chances of conception called Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), where the good quality sperm is selected and injected into a mature egg by the embryologist – the resulting embryo is then transferred to the woman’s uterus.
Bourn Hall’s fertility experts have been performing ICSI since 1993, making it one of the most experienced centres for this type of treatment in the world, with excellent success rates.
Setbacks and devastation after miscarriages
Laura fell pregnant with her first two cycles but sadly she miscarried both times.
“Matt was devastated, he had always wanted to be a dad. He also had the extra guilt and no one to talk to,” says Laura.
“Everyone focuses on the woman throughout so when we had the miscarriages everyone was being very lovely and looking after me but it was quite shocking that no one asked how he was.”
The couple decided to take some time out before embarking on their final treatment.
Fatherhood at last
Third time around after another cycle of IVF with ICSI at Bourn Hall Laura conceived again. This time the pregnancy progressed well and daughter Elle was born in April 2019. The couple also have two frozen embryos in storage should they decide to have further treatment.
One year on and Matt cannot wait to celebrate Fathers’ Day with her: “Fathers’ Day to me is everything, as for so long I thought it would never happen.
“Seeing friends with their kids was always fantastic but always tinged with a nagging regret that it still hadn’t happened for us.”
“Every day is a blessing and seeing Elle change constantly is the greatest gift I could ask for,” he says. “I cherish the little things. Seeing her face learn something new – or just take the greatest delight in watching the water go down the sink, that gets me every time.”
It’s good to talk
Opening up to people about his experience has been enlightening for Matt and he now realises talking about it can help to break down some of the taboos around infertility:
“Once I did start talking to close friends and family it really helped,” he says. “Now, I don’t think there is anything to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.
“When IVF now comes up in conversation I will openly admit ‘the issue’ and people are normally quite taken aback, the assumption is that infertility is a woman’s issue.”