Japanese husbands who have kept silent about the embarrassment of undergoing infertility treatment are swallowing their pride and beginning to speak out.
More of them are attending meet-and-greet support groups for men with similar problems, and even a recently published book compiling the various experiences of men who are struggling to conceive with their spouses is striking a chord.
“I began to worry that not being able to make a baby meant that I was inadequate as a man, and because of that I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about seeking treatment,” said a 39-year-old from the Kanto region who has been undergoing infertility treatment for about seven years.
“I don’t want people to give me that ‘That’s too bad’ look. Unless it’s someone with a similar circumstance I can’t talk about it,” he said.
A 40-year-old woman who lives in the Hokuriku region had 11 embryo transfer procedures without success. That was the first time she urged her husband to undergo a detailed examination.
“I was afraid I might damage my husband’s pride,” she said.
After it was determined that her husband was the cause of the problem, he underwent surgery.
The couple was blessed with a baby daughter, who is now 3, but the woman has never asked her husband what he thought about infertility, or the subsequent medical treatment.
“I can’t imagine my husband getting counseling. If trying to conceive was something that married couples handled together, and this understanding was shared in society, I think it would make it easier for men to talk about it,” she said.
Ten percent of Japanese married couples struggle with infertility problems. The number of cases of people receiving government aid for infertility treatment has also been increasing each year. In fiscal 2014, there were 152,000 cases, about a ninefold increase from 2004.
But most treatment is focused on women even when men are found to be the cause, and men rarely seek out specialists for care.
Even so, some husbands are concerned.
Freelance writer Goro Murahashi, 44, published a book, “Ore-tachi Ninkatsubu,” about the infertility troubles of husbands last year.
Many men “were relieved to know that there are people out there going through the same emotions,” said Murahashi, whose 2-year-old son was conceived through in vitro fertilization.
When he and his wife were struggling to conceive, he said many of his peers and co-workers confessed to facing the same problem. But it was only women who were visiting the fertility clinics. After he began interviews, he realized how many men were unaware even of infertility treatments.
He said men are at a loss over how to react when their wives become depressed, and even if the husband is the cause, he may become withdrawn with no outlet to release his stress.
Typically, the cost for one IVF procedure ranges from ¥400,000 to ¥500,000 (about $3,550 to $4,460), causing even deeper concern as costs pile up.
Murahashi said he felt grief when his wife had a painful experience because of all of the grueling treatment she had endured. The couple repeatedly faced obstacles, but were able to find a clinic they liked after gathering information on their own.
“When you talk about it (infertility issues), it takes the load off, and sometimes it provides a hint of what to do,” said Murahashi.
Fine, a nonprofit organization that supports people distressed about infertility issues, has begun to hold meetings just for men where they can share their concerns. Most are nervous at first but gradually open up.
They ask each other what to say to their discouraged wives or commiserate about “being lost over what to do as the husband.” Recently, more men have been calling the NPO’s toll-free number for consultations and Fine is considering training more male counselors who have undergone infertility treatment themselves.
“Given the chance, I’m sure men also want to talk about this,” said Akiko Matsumoto, the organization’s director.
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