ASRM Updates 2008 -- Update 5

Posted on January 20, 2008 by Inception Fertility

Fertility Flash. Among those attending the conference from PFC were Dr. Philip Chenette and Dr. Isabelle Ryan and Peggy Orlin, MFT. Their reviews cover the following topics: Update #1: Ovarian Stimulation Techniques, Update #2: PGD and Aneuploidy Screening Techniques, Update #3: Egg Freezing, Update #4: Acupuncture, and Update #5: Men and ART. Update #5 Men and ART The Mental Health Professional Group (MHPG) course entitled Men and ART: The Missing Voice, blended medical, psychological, ethical and legal information relating to men who participate in Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). The legal issues confronting single men and gay men considering the use of egg donors and gestational surrogates continue to be controversial. Adoption legislation in many states prohibits gays and lesbians from adopting. In a study reported in 2005 by Gurmankin, et. al, 44% of ART programs responded that they would not turn away gay couples seeking surrogacy with one partner’s sperm and 48% responded that they would turn them away. This is in contrast to the higher rate of acceptance of lesbian couples. In lesbian couples seeking treatment using donor insemination, 82% of ART programs agreed to treat versus 17% who refused to treat them. Though often presented exclusively to women, men can also benefit from the use of stress reduction strategies and following a healthy life style which includes regular exercise, normal body weight, no smoking or recreational drug use and avoidance of environmental toxins. In addition, the effects of aging and cancer on sperm quality should not be overlooked when men seek reproduction assistance. (See articles on: Sperm Aging: Fertility Flash Feb. 2004, Sperm Fragmentation: Fertility Flash March 2005, Cancer and Infertility: Fertility Flash Oct. 2004). The psychological component of this course was compelling. Approximately 50% of cases of infertility involve at least some degree of male infertility. Why is it that most infertility references are traditionally directed at women? By definition, Infertility is “ the inability of a woman to conceive after some months (12-24) without contraception, or the inability to carry a pregnancy to term.” (Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, 1989). Ancient biblical references and popular literature focus on women’s infertility – e.g. Sarah and Hannah in the bible, Sylvia Plath’s Barren Woman, Jane Smiley’s 1000 Acres. The list is long. Google hits by gender for infertility and psychology show 542,000 for men and 700,000 for women. The cause of this discrepancy is multifaceted. There are fewer psychological studies on men simply because men have a lower study response rate than women. A variety of successful techniques have been developed to overcome male related medical issues. Additionally, most men spend less time in treatment and experience fewer invasive procedures than women. In general, it is more socially acceptable for women to express their feelings regarding infertility. The opposite is true for men whose fertility often is a taboo topic. Furthermore, some cultures protect their men from the unacceptable stigma of infertility and even falsely describe men as having “poor” coping skills. Despite these discrepancies, men do have feelings about infertility and may need support and assistance to better cope with the diagnosis. A study by Mason MC in 1993 found that men felt guilt, shame, anger, isolation, loss and a personal sense of failure. This is not all that different from what women feel, but each individual’s coping mechanism is unique. We all, however, find ways to protect ourselves from what we perceive as painful information. These coping skills can be divided along gender lines. There are ways that many, but certainly not all, men commonly protect themselves from the pain related to his or his partner’s infertility diagnosis. Frequently men are able to distance themselves from the feelings. They appear to have the ability to take painful information and put it in a little box that they then file away in the back of their minds. The box stays tightly shut. Other men want to problem-solve for their partner or avoid the topic completely, throwing themselves into work or hobbies. Some men become extremely optimistic to avoid or counter their partner’s pessimism. These are different styles- not right or wrong. For many of us, particularly women, the closed box technique does not work. The box is opened often, and feelings appear to refuse to stay tucked away. When partners have different coping styles, it’s important to both learn to tolerate and support these differences. Sometimes that is easier said than done... Peggy Orlin, MFT

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