My partner just found out he’s infertile. How do we begin to cope?

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After a year of trying to get pregnant and all the anxiety, paranoia, and superstition that goes with it, I was pretty convinced that I was the problem. With each perfectly timed period I had slowly accepted that we’d probably need help and I had begun to work up the nerve to face all of the tests I was going to have to undergo. Almost as an afterthought I’d asked my partner to get tested, mostly because I thought the doctors would want to know that he is fine.

Now that we know my partner is infertile, for the first time I realize that there’s a good chance that I’ll never get pregnant, that we’ll never make a child together. When we thought the problem was me he would always know the right thing to say or do to make me feel better, but now that the situation is reversed I don’t know what to say to him, “I love you” doesn’t really seem like enough.

It’s not that I just want children, it’s that I want OUR children. When I dream about my future children they are always reflections of everything I love best about my partner. We’re not giving up: he’ll do the tests, we’ll try to fix the problem, and we’ll raise a wonderful family together, even if the kids aren’t biologically related to us — but right now I can’t help but grieve over the worst-case scenario. Does anyone have advice or suggestions for how each of us can cope with my partner’s infertility? — E

Comments on My partner just found out he’s infertile. How do we begin to cope?

  1. I think being there and loving him is the most important. I’m aslo really direct, so I’d awknowledge how much it sucks for him and for you. Because it truly does. I think it’s important to talk about it, because if it’s squashed things can become awkward.

    I’m a lesbian and it totally sucks that my wife and I can’t blend our genetic selves. We never had an expectation that we could, though. But we talked openly about it a lot. It helped.

    “Infertile” means a lot of things and they definitely have ways around some male infertility problems. I’m sending lots of good vibes that they can work out the problem. But if not–we are really lucky to have reproductive technology to help us on our way to being awesome parents. Our daughter has a t-shirt that says, “Made with Love and Science”. It’s perfect.

    • With the advances in scientific knowledge, it may soon be possible for two women to have a biological child. Embryos have been created using eggs from two women and donor sperm. I also read an article about the possibility of taking the egg from one woman, removing the nucleus, and using DNA from the other woman to “fertilize” the egg…similar to cloning in technique.

      • I have heard about that, but as it’s not yet an option and we’re in our mid-30’s it won’t be one for us. Plus, it will surely be expensive. But I’m so excited for it to be an option for people in the future;-)

      • Funnily enough, this was suggested in a pulpy SF series decades ago. It’s a plot point in the Rissa Kergulen series by FM Busby. It’s a triggery as hell series(rape, sexual assault on both men and women), but several of the women(who are tough as balls) are semi-clones. They’re parthogenetic, created by taking one egg and using it to fertilize another from the same woman. They’re thus all different, but still very similar. I was deeply disappointed when I got older and found it wasn’t a real thing.

        (Also weirdly enough, the series passes the Bechdel test repeatedly, despite the assault issues.)


  2. I think your concern, shown by posting here, is a good sign you’ll do the right thing. Be sensitive, listen, let yourself and him grieve over what you thought your future would look like. Though also, don’t give up all hope. After 3 years of infertility we have 2 kids… It seemed pretty grim to us but the fertility specialists were very sure given our issues we would conceive so getting that professional advice is very important. Its amazing what they can do…

  3. It’s really hard. When my husband found out that his count was extremely low, it was crushing for me. We spent years trying to “fix” the problem and then eventually did IVF. Our only daughter is six now.

    While you need to support him, it’s ok to feel hurt or even angry at the fact you can’t have a child. Don’t feel guilty for having those feelings. You need to be honest about how you are feeling. I would recommend joining a support group for infertility, either online or in person. Good luck!

  4. I’m sorry you’re dealing with that. It’s not easy, for either partner. Just be kind to him, and remember to be kind to yourself. It’s ok if you feel bereaved or even angry sometimes. Those feelings are normal and they don’t make you a bad person or mean you love your partner any less. In our struggles, I think my husband appreciates it when I let him know that he’s not any less of a man, and that he is not just a sperm count and that I wouldn’t change anything about him and I’d still choose him again in a heartbeat. Keep exploring your options, talk with your doctors; it can feel empowering to be proactive. Say a lot of I Love Yous.

  5. I agree with lots of I love you’s
    And if its right for you two, maybe try to look at sex and baby making as 2 separate things in your relationship right now.

    Let your partner know that you still think he is amazing at sex, because I’m guessing that finding out you are infertile knocks your confidence hugely. Have amazing sex, enjoy each other and then later start looking into other ways to have children if that’s what you want.

  6. That’s terrible news, and I imagine it’s really hard to hear.

    My husband is trans, so like Vivian and her wife, we’ll never be able to have a child that is both of us. In an ideal world, that’s what I’d want – a baby with his eyes or his smile or his toes. Instead, I picked a donor with a similar coloration, ethnic background, and interests, so our child will hopefully look kind of like him.

    What’s important (to me) is that my husband will raise our child, and he’ll be Daddy in every way that really matters.

    It seems cosmically unfair that some people can make a baby that they don’t want entirely by accident, while other people who desperately want one require intervention, but you’re definitely not alone in this and we’re all pulling for you.

  7. I think a big thing is to take it at your own pace. Sometimes, there is kind of a tendency of (well-meaning) people to believe or encourage that once a person is diagnosed with infertility, they must leap to overcome it RIGHT NOW. And that is not the case. Take your time. Move as fast or as slow as you want. There is no right timetable for dealing with a condition like this – there’s only yours and his.

    The second thing I’d say is that neither of you should feel guilty for any choices or feelings during this. My husband and I did not struggle with physical infertility, but we did debate over whether having a child biologically was the right thing (given a serious history of mental illnesses on both sides of our families). One of the recommendations made to us was donor materials – egg, sperm, or both. And that was simply not something I was willing to do – for a variety of reasons. It’s okay to not be open to every option out there – you aren’t bad or wrong for saying “there’s certain things I wouldn’t be willing to do.” It is such a private, personal decision – you don’t owe an explanation for that. I totally understand your statement about “I want OUR child” – that was how I felt, and it made me feel sort of bad at first that I wasn’t open to the other possibilities. But it’s okay to feel that way.

    The last thing I would say is that just be a support for your partner. I’d let him take the lead. One thing I think is important is to respect his privacy. Sometimes, there are things we’d rather keep close to us, at least at first. He might not be ready to share everything with you just yet – my husband is this way; he rarely shares his emotions right away, he takes time to process and just feel them, and I have to respect that. I think the best you can do is to be ready to support him when he chooses to need it.

  8. This is very timely for me. I was feeling very alone today and this post and the answers helped a lot.
    My husband and I just got some news that makes it very probable that he’s infertile (the fun test for that is the next step) and I’m having some problems myself on that front. You’d think at least one of us would be up for it, but apparently not. It makes months of timing and plotting and concerted effort feel futile. We’d always talked about what to do if infertility became part of our reality, so it’s nice that we’ve at least talked about/considered options. But that doesn’t stop it from being upsetting, though at least now I can have a blankety-blank beer since trying is off the table until many many tests have been taken.

    Anyway, I didn’t mean to start complaining, I really just want to say… thank you for asking, and thank you everyone else for responding.

  9. You say “when I dream about my future children they are always reflections of everything I love best about my partner. ” Of course the idea that your children might not be a biological combination of yourself and your partner is a giant loss of expectation, and if that does happen to turn out to be the case after you’ve pursued whatever fertility treatment you’re willing to pursue, you will have every right to grieve it. But I happen to think that children you raise together – whether adopted or conceived with a sperm donor – will likely still reflect everything you love about your partner. They may not get it from him genetically but they’ll get it from him by him being their father.

    • I meant to add an anecdote to this…. I have a good friend from childhood who was conceived with the help of donor sperm after her parents tried to get pregnant for many many years (and this was 30 years ago so infertility treatment was different back then). She has so many mannerisms and quirks that are direct reflections of her dad that it’s completely uncanny to know that he didn’t provide the sperm that created her. Nurture is a much stronger force than we give often it credit for.

      • My mother is adopted, and people used to comment all the time about how I look so much like my maternal grandmother. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized why my mom thought that was so funny. My mom and her sister (also not genetically related) also look a good deal alike, probably because they use the same facial expressions all the time.

    • If you’re interested, there is a absolute ton of research flying around out there about the inheritability of certain traits, and adopted / donor-conceived kids play a huge part in them. One of the scariest ones, for me, was reading about prisons. They tracked children who were either adopted due to a birth parent being in prison or had a donor who had been in prison at some point. When they tracked the kids through their lives, a majority of them served time at some point (even the ones who were unaware of their genetic parents’ background). The even weirder thing was that they usually served time for an offense in the same category as their genetic parent (drug crime, white collar, violent, etc.). But then there are studies that find a lesser link. (I was fascinated by that one because, as a lawyer, there is a lot of interest in whether criminality, or the tendency towards it, can be genetically-based). Personally, my decision simply came down to knowledge – I know basically all there is to know about my husband – his medical history, his background, his foibles, etc. Donation felt more – unknown, i guess is the word – for me. There’s no way I could select for every possible thing I considered important or worth knowing. Of course, that is a matter of personal preference. But if you really want to see some fascinating research, genetic inhertability is certain one to start with – it fascinates me even now.

      • I’m interested– can you point me towards the studies you mentioned?

        I have to say, the suggestion that criminality is heritable really rankles me– to me, it smacks of eugenics.

        • I don’t think studies like that are necessarily saying that criminality are heritable; it’s more that certain genetic/personality traits are. It’s definitely becoming clearer and clearer that genetics are a lot more powerful/determinative than we would like to think*. We know for example that a tendency to addiction is heritable so that would certainly explain the drug crime connection. By the same token personality disorders like Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and Pyschopathy/Sociopathy also run in families and all of those can lead to white collar crimes.

          *I say this as an anonymous donor conceived person

  10. Wanting biological children is, for many people at least, a biological imperative. It is SO very ingrained… I am not able to have children with my partner for entirely different reasons (he is devotedly helping me raise the special-needs child that my first husband fathered, but I have sole custody, and we simply couldn’t manage a(nother) child of our own at this point). It rends my soul to have to deny him the biological children that he always wanted, but for him, having my beautiful son to love and raise is enough.
    It isn’t for everyone, but donors/adoption/fostering are all entirely valid paths to parenthood. And nothing stirs my heart more than to see my two entirely unrelated boys building their incredible relationship.

  11. I just want to throw this out there: biological or not, your kids will still reflect you and your partner.

    Growing up around you will lead them to brush their hair the same way as you or fold laundry in exactly the same way he does. They may laugh at the same things, roll their sleeves up the same way, or even mimic facial expressions. Much of what makes your partner who his is are learned habits and values, some of which he will pass down to any children he raises with you.

    At the same time, biological children may bear more physical resemblance and health history but are no more guaranteed to be like you or your partner, or share your values and interests than adopted children.

    Just a thought.

    • I was adopted at birth, and I completely agree with this. My dad has instilled in me his sense of neurotic tidiness, and my mother has instilled in me her sense of road rage. (Adorable anecdote: At the age of 5, I was riding in the car with my aunt when we came up to a stop light. The light turned green, and I apparently decided the car in front of us was not accelerating quickly enough, so I shouted “It doesn’t get any greener!” Upon bringing me back to my parents at the end of the day, my aunt only remarked, “Well, I certainly know who she’s been riding with…”)

  12. I know what you’re going through; my husband is also infertile (completely) as a result of childhood cancer. We conceived our children using a sperm donor.

    I would suggest taking the time to treat this news as a grieving process. If he is truly infertile and there are no feasible treatment options, then it is the end of an important dream for you (the desire for children that are biologically yours AND his). You should talk with him about how it makes both of you feel.

    It’s also really important to be sensitive to your partner’s emotions and ask him to discuss them with you. My husband had many feelings of grief and inadequacy and GUILT that children were something he couldn’t “give” me. He wondered if he should “let me go” and I also had to choose whether having a relationship with him was more important than having children with a known partner (it is).

    Luckily, this process actually strengthened our relationship. The process of assuring him that my love and need for him outweighed anything else was very affirming for both of us. When we decided to go with sperm donation, it was also a great way for me to discuss with my partner everything I love about him that I wanted to try to find in a potential sperm donor.

    As part of the process of using donor material in Ontario, you MUST speak with a therapist. We used a great social worker for just 2 sessions and this also helped us a lot. If you can afford any sort of counselling, even just a session or two, it’s really helpful.

    Good luck with your journey! It’s not always easy and it can definitely be emotionally draining (not to mention physically and financially draining, too!), but you CAN arrive at a place that is wonderful!

  13. If you love somebody with all your heart you will stick by them & work things out together. This is not easy, I know because after 3 years with my girlfriend I found out I was infertile.. I had surgery done for us to try have a child but it didn’t work.. 5 weeks after the surgery she left me. Being infertile is devastating alone, having your partner leave you because of that is even worse. This was last week so I am a bit broken and searching for answers. If you really love this guy you will be there for him no matter what. There are other options to have kids.

  14. After 6 years of infertility, Here are the things that I learned. Communication is imperative. Acknowledge that it hurts. Acknowledge that it sucks. Listen to each other and don’t judge. Find a support group, or someone who understands, because as much as you want to be there, and no matter how much you are there, there are only so many things you can understand.

    Also, allow yourselves to grieve. You may have a family that’s created differently than what you envisioned, and that’s ok. But allow yourselves to grieve the fact that your journey will be different than what you expected so that you can fully embrace the new journey that you and you SO will have together.

  15. In our experience it was very important to discuss boundaries (though I think this is important in any relationship or any infertility scenario). I had already said that I was not willing to go through IVF before it was determined that the problem was with my husband, so allowing him some time to think things through and decide what he was and wasn’t willing to put his body through (and then me respecting those decisions) helped us outline a plan and avoided arguing over what the treatment plan should be. It was also really important to tell him that I wasn’t going to leave him, even though the thought had never occurred to me, because clearly he felt vulnerable in that situation. It was important to actually say the words out loud that I wouldn’t leave him, that marriage was always between the two of us, and that children weren’t worth having in my opinion if they weren’t his or raised by him. And keep having sex. Try to have sex just for fun, or for intimacy, or because you’re upset and need to feel connected. It’s hard when you’re trying to conceive to look at sex as anything but a way to make a baby, but we found that just having sex helped a lot. It made him still feel wanted and desired and connected us. And lastly, I’m sorry you (or anyone else) is going through this. It can be life changing in so many ways, but it doesn’t mean it has to steal a happy life from you.

  16. I’m the infertile one in my marriage. Even though I wasn’t sure I wanted biological kids, there’s something so final about “infertile” that I grieved hard.
    Giving room for grief is important – to him and to you. It’s ok to be sad for a future that won’t be.

    As the infertile one, my chief advice would be not to give platitudes like “maybe life will find a way” or “you never know, infertile people have kids all the time, like this probably made-up anecdote” or “there is great new research that might overcome this”. It’s so unhelpful.

  17. That is a really difficult situation. But still, I think that if the couple has a strong relationship they have to be together! They have to try to save their family, moreover, we all know that nowadays there are a lot of people with fertility problems. But mostly they are trying to find the way to cope with it! Hope that one day all couples will be happy… But now if the problem related only to children… I must admit that in the XXI century there are other ways to have children apart from natural birth. I think that only if one partner wanted to be a parent and the other did not, then a divorce is a good option. In other way, it is mean to leave someone because you’re not able to procreate in the way you thought you would. I am infertile. And once my partner got to know about this problem he went into a deep depression. He dreamed of a big family with three lovely kids! But one he came to me and said that I have to move on and look at other options. He suggested the surrogate mother. At first, I said no. but soon I understood that it is our last chance! So then we started to look for the most suitable clinic for us. We stopped at the Ukrainian Center for Human Reproduction because there was a pretty cheap program, that cost us only 30k euros. Now we are going to this center for the second time to see our surrogate mother and I am so excited!

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