Experiencing Infertility as a Man, a Therapist and a Modern Orthodox Jew

Grief. Guilt. Isolation. Eli Weinstein and his wife experienced all of these complicated emotions and more on their fertility journey. As a male, a therapist and a Modern Orthodox Jew, Eli felt particularly alone and misunderstood throughout the experience. Today he’s sharing his story and why it’s so important for him now to help individuals and couples trying to conceive.

Have you ever wanted something for years and then one day found out that it might never happen? That’s how I felt after hearing that my wife and I were infertile and might not be able to have children, due to mixed issues between us both.

Statistically, 1 in 6 couples struggle with infertility. 33% is connected to male issues, 33% to female issues and 33% to unexplained issues. So statistically it shouldn’t have been surprising, but it still was.

Mark Manson put it so well in his new book, Everything Is F*Cked: A Book About Hope:

“The opposite of happiness is hopelessness, an endless gray horizon of resignation and indifference. It’s the belief that everything is falling apart, so why do anything at all?. Hopelessness is the root of anxiety, mental illness, and depression. It is the source of all misery”

As a kid, I was indoctrinated to think you get married and have a family. Easy peasy! We were never told biologically what goes into having a family, but rather what a miracle it is. One of the hardest parts of this experience wasn’t just the issues, stress and sadness between my wife and myself, but the pressures from our community.

I come from a Jewish family and consider myself Modern Orthodox. When people get married, there is extreme cultural pressure to have a child within the first 2-3 years of marriage. People are constantly looking, judging, worrying and analyzing if you don’t drink wine, if your body size changes or if you are carrying yourself differently. A lot of religious ceremonies, holidays, events and rituals are based around families and children, which causes more pressure and stress in everyday life. And while most people aren’t actively trying to be mean or judgmental, their words or actions can still feel hurtful.

From the beginning stages, there was a lot of guilt for both of us. I felt like less of a man because I couldn’t perform my husbandly duties. My wife felt that her purpose as a woman was to give birth and now she might not be able to. We both struggled together. As a therapist, I have seen couples and individuals who have struggled through infertility and it can break your spirit. It can destroy all hope of a family and future. It can cause depression and a very critical and resentful eye towards your spouse. The worry as a couple is, will it split you apart or bring you together? We became stronger, got closer and learned to rely on each other more for support.

Still, my wife and I had very different ways of processing the information. My wife turned to friends, social media support groups and other outlets because they were there and showed her how many people out there suffer. It helped her feel normal, not weird or out of the ordinary. I, on the other hand, didn’t have the support I needed. Men don’t share much at all. Men don’t want to admit they have issues, feel emotions and are struggling. We are afraid to be vulnerable and seem weak. The constant between both males and females is, the topic is taboo, stigmatized and intimate. The constant is, it sucks and is super hard no matter your gender.

It was overwhelming to digest and swallow all the information we were receiving. We went to the doctor and found out we could try IVF. We had no idea what that actually meant but it gave us a glimpse of faith and hope. After all the prayers, crying, late-night talks and worry, we had hope and light at the end of the tunnel. What could go wrong?

What a whirlwind of emotions and feelings, ups and downs, but we had hope and we held on tight to that dream throughout all the appointments, shots and procedures.

 After months of going through the process, my wife got a call that the first attempt failed. I had no idea how to react to hearing this news. I was speechless and stunned. I was confused as to how to cope with it on my own and at the same time be there for my wife. I felt alone even though we were going through it together.

While we were flustered and thrown off course, we didn’t give up. We went back to the doctor and he suggested genetic testing (which costs more money). We then went through the same shots, doctor’s appointment and procedures and this time it worked. I can’t explain to you the pure joy and fear I felt at the same moment.

As a male and therapist, I have noticed one constant when it comes to this struggle of infertility: fear. Fear of not having your dreams come true. Fear of letting your loved ones down. Fear of letting yourself down. Fear of the unknown. Fear of judgment.

I would say the biggest help is getting the support you might need, whether its family, friends, social media or therapy as early as possible to help process the emotions and pain this process is and can cause.

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