Last month I had the opportunity to speak at RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association’s 33rd annual infertility, adoption and family building summit in Minnesota. I rounded out a group of four other men on a panel, Guy Talk.
The purpose of this session was to create a safe space for men to share their different paths to family building and answer questions that conference attendees may have. It was great to share a room with such a diverse group of backgrounds, means, diagnoses and goals – to take off our masks and honestly and openly discuss our struggles with infertility.
While I’m neither shy, nor overly private, it was my first time talking about my fertility journey amongst strangers. It may also have been the first time I went in-depth without following my wife’s lead and filling in the gaps – the first time I forgot about playing a supporting role and just talked.
And talk I did. The spotlight was on and I had a mic! I went from the early days of me thinking my wife was crazy for being upset over this through our various rites of infertility passage – every high and low all the way through our two rounds of IVF in search of our first BFP.
I didn’t realize until I finished rambling and I had passed the mic down the line to the next speaker that I was sharing as much for my benefit as those in attendance. The fact that I’m an open person didn’t matter one bit because I had never talked openly. This wasn’t out of fear or a persona I was hiding behind, but more a humble reasoning that no one wanted to hear my struggles – a “we’re all dealing with something” attitude. However, it was clear in that moment just how eager these thoughts and emotions were to get out – how much I wanted and needed to share. The importance and healing power of therapy was something I always assumed that only other people needed. I wasn’t above it, just an unnecessary candidate… yea right!
So to all the supportive partners out there, trying your hardest to be strong, to be a rock, to put on a game face every day…
Talk with people beyond your partner, beyond your family, beyond your inner circle. Many of us, especially men, are raised to support others, the classic provider archetype. And while we feel this stoic role allows us to expedite the healing in others, it takes its toll. Find a professional, a support group, a mentor (or all of the above) and let it all out. There is no shame, no weakness in self-care. We are not born with refined coping skills, these are learned through practice and vulnerability and it’s incredibly difficult to do that in a vacuum.
I sincerely hope I have the opportunity to return to future RESOLVE summits. I found myself as curious and engaged as the attendees and was equally touched by the stories of my fellow panelists. And armed with greater experience and EQ, I can be an even better resource for others the next time someone hands me a mic.