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What it’s like to be infertile and male

Male infertility A while back I came across a quote from someone I respect, which read: “It’s interesting the whole fatherhood thing. Everyone says it changes everything but it’s beyond that. It changes your chemical reactions, it changes your brainwaves.”

I found these words were yet another example of how parenthood can, for some, be the answer to the true meaning of life. I would firmly put myself in this category. For as long as I could remember I’ve always wanted and expected I’d have kids one day.

Unfortunately, my wife and I struggled for years trying to conceive. What can be the most simple and natural process for some, became an almighty battle for us. And quite early on in the ordeal it was the quality of my ‘baby gravy’ that was called into question.

Few things are as emasculating as the prospect of shooting blanks. Men joke about it constantly but that is probably because we realise that, genetically speaking, it is of the upmost importance and subsequently the topic is never far from our subconscious.

But when a fertility expert says your swimmers are sub-standard and wouldn’t qualify for a doggy-paddle race let alone an Olympic final —it’s tough to process.

I was told by our fertility guru that there were things I could do to improve my sperm: eat blueberries, cooked tomatoes, avoid alcohol and caffeine, and drink decaffeinated green tea. So I did just that, for months and months on end.

Avoiding alcohol was easy compared to dealing with the daily doubts and thoughts of failure that plagued me during this time. I had been hardwired from an early age to expect parenthood, almost as if it were a rite of passage, to continue the fundamental circle of life. Why else does sex feel so fantastic? Getting your rocks off feels second to none: so that we yearn to repeat the practice to advance the species.

Consider this, 200,000 years ago, when our earliest ancestors sat in their caves gazing into the hypnotic flickering embers, picking remnants of bison flesh from between their teeth, they rarely felt content to curl up and catch some Zs.

They ached for something more: a primordial craving for some amorous action. This was an intense urge for a reason. Without which you and I wouldn’t be here today. Unfortunately, when you struggle with fertility it becomes abundantly clear that the next generation isn’t necessarily a done deal.

Despite talking to my wife about my infertility concerns, there were times I felt very alone and I wish I had confided in my male friends. But I was guilty of upholding that all too common macho stereotype with my mates: where deeply personal communication is an absolute no-no as it undermines your alpha-male status and draws attention to your inadequacies.

Our instinct is to not disclose. I’d like to encourage men to be more open and become more like our female counterparts — but such change will undoubtedly take time.

SUPPORT: Chat to dads and dads-to-be about fertility in our dads’ section forum

So I suffered in silence for the most part, consumed copious amounts of berries and drank gallons of green tea but thankfully it worked. Eventually my numbers were up to Ian-Thorpe-esk standard (think the 2004 Athens Olympics back when he was still the best).

But as it turned out, this was only the beginning of our infertility issues and we continued to encounter one hurdle after another along the way.

But after five years we got there in the end and had a beautiful bundle—baby Oliver. And I’m the most doting dad of all.


Visit our Conception and Fertility information hub for articles, forum support and fertility tools and calculators.

About Matt Barwick

Matt Barwick is the author of Life in Limbo: My battle with depression, male infertility and mental illness. Matt was born and raised in Canberra and was inspired to tell his story to help and inform young, average ...

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5 Comments so far -
  • DJ says:

    Sending love and understanding. The culture can be so cruel. People not going through it have inappropriate things to say. It is a growing time and men and women who can grow stronger and not give into the myths of feeling “less” come out a better person. The good out of “bad” is the opportunity to adopt, or mentor too . Lots of hurting kids out there in need of kindness and mentorship. So happy for your baby, she will have a wise Dad who took an adversity and kept on going.

  • Kennedy says:

    I was also diagnosed with a low sperm count after nearly five years of trying to conceive. The fertility clinic doc put me on Clomid at xmas 2012 and by Good Friday 2013 we found out we were expecting. Never mind that the doc, a few days before we found out my wife was pregnant, said that my sperm count was still too low and that we needed a $10,000 IVF treatment. Even the doc held no hope for us to conceive naturally! We now have a beautiful boy who’s 5 months old and an absolute treat to be near. Never give up hope – if that baby wants to be in your family badly enough, it will eventually arrive!

  • Baroness Mischa says:

    Thanks for having the guts to talk about this issue. If more men are to open up, some have to blaze the trail.

  • Kate says:

    Thank you for sharing! It is refreshing to hear a males prespective in a honest, open way. My husband and I have been trying to have a baby for around 3, maybe even 4 years. Its a heart renching and testing time for both partners and each deals with things in their own way. Our story began with a low sperm count as the initial hurdle. Its so heart breaking to see the man you love withdraw and struggle to express his emotions. I have found many articles from the womens point of view, its helpful to hear the mans. Thank you and congrats on Oliver 🙂 any tips or advice is much appreciated, Kate

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