Infertility is becoming a topic increasingly spoken about, but usually from a female perspective. Many women put off having children for personal reasons until later in life (from a body clock perspective), but infertility should be seen as a couple’s problem as it affects men as much a women - in fact, sperm counts from men have halved over the last 40 years.

Sara Gibbs writes for Female First

Sara Gibbs writes for Female First

This global issue is not spoken about enough, as men unable to get their partners pregnant often suffer in silence. There is embarrassment, distress and even the perceived stigma of not being able to father a child. This may make it hard for a man to open up and seek help.

The fact is that infertility is not just a female issue, nor is it just a male issue. It is a couple’s issue and needs to be carefully addressed, as infertility affects both partners.

What is the reality of this?

For about one in five infertile couples, the problem lies solely in the male partner. Male infertility is potentially treatable and the male partner should always see the doctor. Investigations range from a simple medical examination, to hormone testing, semen analysis or surgery. Research on what is available is key, as is acknowledging that a man may need emotional support to see a doctor and to go through a series of investigations.

The emotional impact?

What the couple should bear in mind is that infertility is as much an emotional issue as it is a physical one, and both parties need support. As the couple enters the process they should be aware of options of support open to them, as once infertility treatment actually gets underway, the feelings of failure and anxiety can worsen.

Fertility support groups for men are available and fertility counselling allows a couple to tackle very personal issues, which are often difficult to raise when alone.

And the physical impact?

IVF can be an invasive process, and one that can take a long time if it doesn't work. The highest success rates are for women under 30, and only 50% of “clinical pregnancies” for women in the over-40 age bracket will result in a “live birth”.

On top of this, the drugs can make some people feel awful, and if there is no baby at the end then the grief can be overwhelming. In terms of grief, the couple must also be aware that if more than one embryo is transferred to the uterus, there is a risk of a multiple pregnancy. Around one in every 24 babies born as multiples will be stillborn and one in 13 will be seriously handicapped. Multiples tend not to go to term; if they survive pregnancy at all, many are born prematurely.

The quest to get pregnant through IVF can become all consuming, irrespective of the financial cost or the physical risks. For couples on a limited budget the financial implications can be huge.

So, what's the result?

Male fertility is not considered a high-priority issue, partly because of the perception that infertility generally is dealt with by assisted reproduction. This needs to be addressed, as the reliance on IVF continues to grow as does its commerciality. This needs to change. Before a couple goes down the IVF road both parties need to be tested. At the same time, the doctor in charge of the process needs to explain what impacts the couple might have on the physical and emotional well-being – and support for this should be given to every case.

by Sara Gibbs, Associate at Lime Solicitors