The Empty Room: A Man’s Journey to IVF

Too often infertility stories focus solely on the women. In this special piece written last year, Paul shares his experience coping with infertility alongside his wife and his adopted dog.

After two frustrating, but transformational years trying to have a baby, my wife and I have just begun IVF. The best we’ve felt in those two years has come through rescuing a sweet little pup we named Ruby. She was 15 minutes from being put down, and now her every breath is a comforting reminder.

Because maybe we haven’t created a life yet. Not yet. But we saved one. And that’s purpose we can take away from this admittedly dark time in our lives.

When we started trying, we both assumed we’d be pregnant in the first months. We had just gotten married and life overflowed with optimism.

Who expects they’ll have problems?

We all come into the world these innocent little beings, and we just accept that of course we’re here in the world. When you’re little and running around, you don’t think that it’s a miracle I exist at all.

You just step along the path until you’re saying words and going to school and experiencing your first kiss and first job, and along the way, for me anyway, I just always knew someday I wanted kids.

Someday, of course, always someday.

That’s how the conversation goes.

“Do you want kids?”

“Oh, not now. Someday.”

Because of course, someday, if you want, when you’re ready, you’ll be a parent when you decide to be. We all assume we have control of that, so we say with naive confidence, “I hope they get your eyes,” or “I’m thinking a Spring baby.”

And then finally, everything is right.

So you decide it’s really time to start trying, and that distant someday becomes tonight, and tonight becomes the very moment you’re living and breathing.

And you’re in that moment, truly alive with the wild optimism thinking, here we go, this is a beautiful new chapter in our lives. We’re ready. How wonderful. I love you so much. How lucky we’re going to be to bring this beautiful little life into the world. Our lives will be so filled with purpose.

You don’t think for a second, maybe one morning, every month for the next two years, we’ll feel devastated.

And along the way, we’ll read all the articles and try all the things. Eat healthier. Drink less. Lose weight. Try more often and learn exactly the right times.

Then people will start to say…

“Just relax, it’ll happen. I had a friend who…”

At first, you’ll think maybe they’re right and maybe we’re stressing too much and that’s why it’s not happening. So you stress about not stressing. You get a mantra and start meditating. She starts acupuncture and disgusting herbal tea, and you go through these truly hopeful months where you really believe it will happen.

But it doesn’t, and then you hear it again.

“Enjoy your freedom while you can.”
“You want one of my kids?”
“You’re lucky you still have…”

Now when you hear those things you just think, please just stop.

Sadly, it’s you who stops talking, except to a few people, and those people mostly just listen.

But everyone wants to see cute baby pictures.

No one wants to hear that instead of adorable pictures in your dining room, you have expensive fertility drugs filled with empty hope. Instead of being sleep deprived from a constant howling infant, you lie awake thinking about the silent empty room that waits for them.

Then everyone around you is either still indulging in themselves or they’re busy in the parenting life you can’t reach. And you’re stuck in the middle, feeling like a stranger in both worlds.

So here I sit in the rocking chair in the empty room. And I wonder why I keep trying so hard to be happy. Because just as I cannot force myself to grieve when I am joyful, I cannot make myself happy when I am depressed.

So I have decided, I accept that this is a dark period in my life, and I’m going to learn everything I can from it. If pain persists tomorrow and the day after, I will find purpose for the grief, to build empathy for others, and to deepen my gratitude for someday when we become parents—however it may occur.

If I could stop wanting to be a dad, the pain might relent. But I cannot stop myself from wanting to be a dad. So I am choosing to thank the struggle for teaching me that life isn’t about finding happiness in the end. It’s about finding meaning in the middle.

C’mon, Ruby, it’s bedtime.

Paul Feiner is a writer, editor, and digital marketer from Minneapolis. He is a loving husband, a runner, a sports trivia footnote, and now father who wants to tell a story no one is telling: a man’s perspective on finding meaning through dealing with unexplained infertility.

Sign up to comment

If you already have a Fruitful account, please log in.