PATRICIA Chiegboka is a Clinical Psychologist and in this interview with KATE HALIM, she highlights some of the psychological effects of infertility on men. Excerpts…
What are the psychological effects of infertility on men?
One of the psychological effects of infertility on men is confusion. The man doesn’t know where the problem is coming from. He is confused about what is happening. He would initially have hope that his situation would change at some point, but when that does not happen, he begins to question his manhood.
Some men would secretly subject themselves to fertility tests. While some of them suffer from low sperm count, others suffer from high sperm motility where the sperm dies before doing the job of fertilisation.
A man who is unable to impregnate a woman will feel less of a man. He will feel inferior among his fellow men as some of them also taunt him with his challenge. Some may go to the extent of shouting down during a meeting telling him that when men are talking, he shouldn’t talk. This makes him feel psychologically down. Such men even turn against their wives, blaming them for the problem because of the pressure from his peers.
When such a man sees his colleagues’ children growing, he will experience a mixture of feelings, such as pity for himself or jealousy staying around those who have children. These men who don’t have children don’t want to be around children. It reminds them of their inability and they begin to doubt themselves.
Many men would exercise patience with their wives, trusting God that things will change, but given the cultural pressure to get married, they become psychologically unsettled. Our cultural setting doesn’t help matters. If a man gets married and doesn’t have children, people will start taunting him. His fellow men might even approach his wife for sexual favours just to find out if the problem is from him.
Our cultural setting will make a man feel worse about his situation because of the expectations that are coming from these cultural backgrounds. The mounting pressure from family and friends exhaust the man psychologically and they start releasing negative vibrations. That pressure will also be transferred to his wife and quarrels will spring up from trivial issues at home. If care is not taken, that marriage will not stand the test of time.
Some of these men, out of the fear of not being regarded as men by their colleagues engage in extra marital affairs just to see if they can impregnate another woman especially if they had a child before marriage, and are experiencing secondary infertility.
Apart from medical reasons, what are some of the psychological reasons that can cause infertility in men?
When the pressure of responsibility is so much on the man, he won’t be able to function well sexually. It weighs him down. Men love sex and it goes well when a man is happy. But when he doesn’t have money and finds it hard to meet up with his responsibilities, his sexual relationship with his wife may be impaired and many things might go wrong.
The way a man feels about himself and his inability to be a man in every sense of the word to his wife and family can affect his sexual activities. This, in turn can affect his ability to get his wife pregnant. When there are many challenges, men find it difficult to get it right during sex. Early ejaculation, weak erections are some of the psychological effects that will hamper infertility especially in men who have low sperm count.
How can these men manage their situation?
Some of them go through religious counselling. Their pastors tell them to trust in God that there is no condition God cannot change. They are encouraged that the challenges will clear with time and with positive results.
These men can also manage their situation by opening up to genuine friends about their predicament as against
ones who will spread their problems around town through gossip, worsen their situation through bad advice. These friends and family members can serve as backbone and pillars of strength during those trying times.
They can also come to psychologists for counselling when the situation becomes too difficult to manage. Some of them are told to come for counselling with their wives to identify the root cause of their psychological issues.
How does a psychologist come into the treatment and management of infertility?
Psychologists advice them to shut out external stressors, side talks, and pressures and focus more on enjoying themselves instead of focusing all the time on just having children. Most couples have not learnt to compartmentalize their issues and they allow it to affect every area of their lives, and that has a negative effect on couples trying to conceive.
Through psychological management, we get these couples to get over their stress. It can involve deep relaxation therapy or muscle relaxation therapy. They are also counselled on how to respond to the people who add to their stress and how to keep such stressors at bay.
If there is so much stress at home, a woman may not relax and enjoy sex with her husband in the long run. Frigidity may set in and that will hinder all their efforts to overcome their infertility. That is where relaxation therapy comes in.
Psychologists help also by advising couples to give each other unlimited comfort. They shouldn’t be stressing each other out. Couples trying to conceive are advised to be one another’s spouse, parent and friend. It will help them overcome their challenges faster.
But when dealing with men who have paranoia, tact is required. Some of these men subconsciously blame their wives for their predicament. Some of these men avoid medical tests but subject their wives to all manner of tests, they are advised to be one with their wives in this situation.
If along the line, it is discovered that some couples can’t have children physically, after discussing with their gynaecologist, adoption and surrogacy are suggested to the couple. It is always good for the couple to agree to do what is right for them. They can do it officially so as to ward off problems in the future. They can get a surrogate mother to carry their babies for them for a financial reward. When there is agreement between them, they can fight the cultural stand.
How does infertility affect women?
It is said that it is only a child that gives a woman a say in her matrimonial home. If a woman does not have a child, her marriage is in jeopardy because of our cultural perceptions and understanding.
An infertile woman is the worst hit in relationships. The man might sneak out and establish relationships that will bring him children whether he is the one responsible for the situation or not, but the woman cannot try that. A woman needs little encouragement from her husband to get pregnant, but when she is being neglected emotionally and physically, how can pregnancy occur?
Most women who are going through infertility challenges are always afraid of losing their home. They feel incomplete, less of a woman and are very emotional especially when they see their mates and their children enjoying life.
These women are always in a state of quagmire. They suffer name-calling, snide remarks and negative behaviours leave these women drained emotionally and psychologically. These women don’t know where and who to run to. They are in constant states of confusion. She cannot even go out to try elsewhere.
Infertile women are never happy. Their husbands might also turn against them in the long run and begin to emotionally and physically abuse them. Some of these women end up in psychiatric homes because of the emotional torture they have gone through in the hands of their spouses and their family members because of their inability to have a child.
What kind of psychological treatment would work for such women?
They are treated with medications and psychotherapy. Psychologists also get people who are important in their lives to stand as support systems for them as well as provide a means for their financial empowerment to keep them busy. Once that is done, their self-esteem is lifted, and they start thinking positive about themselves. This will increase their chances of getting pregnant. If these women are spiritually, physically, emotionally and psychologically relaxed, achieving pregnancy becomes easy.