By Kevin T. Jordan
Published in Resolve for the future and beyond, Summer 2014
Taking these past few months to write this article, what has emerged as the most pivotal revelation has been a deeper understanding of how I grew up from a place of privilege, with access and support in ensuring I would accomplish any and all of my goals. Sure, I had to work for it. However, as I grew up, I became aware of my privileged background and how I was used to getting what I wanted to achieve. Experiencing infertility not only challenged this paradigm within my marriage, but also dealing with infertility as a male.
After years of dating my high school girlfriend, getting a college degree, securing a good paying job and buying our first house, it was easy for me to think we had made it to a comfortable stage in life that would center around enjoying building our life together and eventually starting a family. After six months of trying to get pregnant, that privileged perspective I had subconsciously grown up in, began to erode. After a year of being unable to conceive, despair had set in. We knew what we wanted and could not have it. For the first time in my life, I felt defeated — unable to achieve this goal.
Upon receiving the diagnosis of “unexplained infertility,” I had to be strong for my wife. This was difficult. The scientist and engineer in me just wanted to find a solution, but I had to accept that it was not that simple. The option to pursue IVF would be rather invasive for my wife. I needed to consider not only my desire to have a family but the cost that these procedures would put my wife through — physically and emotionally. I was not going to make her take my last name, much less manipulate hormone levels with no root cause explanation or do painful exams that leave one emotionally and physically distraught for days. It was time for a more thorough reflection. I needed to really question what was really important here.
Re-orienting myself to the idea that I may never see my wife pregnant, may never feel our baby kick inside her, may never witness my wife give birth — I determined that I needed to rebuild my concept of “family.” Both raised as Catholics in our homes and education, we both came into our marriage with a desire to have a family. However, in encountering infertility, I began to passionately question and consider answers to the particular philosophy: “What is the definition of family?” I found the need to take up this question all the more emphatically when I would encounter questions and advice ranging from the likes of “You guys have kids?” to the bold and unasked for, “When you have kids and become a parent, it just changes everything…” I still have not found the perfect response to these insensitive remarks when I encounter them in moments at the workplace, in the grocery store, or at the doctor’s office. As a guy, sometimes I just want to put on my uber-masculine face and curse them out, and other times I just don’t even have the energy, time, and patience to explain to them their inability to see how those comments and questions are extremely hurtful to a married guy in his late twenties trying to mourn the fact that he may never be a dad
In the meantime though, as I still search for the perfect response, I have started to harness my frustrations in a constructive manner. Numerous passions have come to fruition: adopting two dogs, quiting my engineering job to start graduate school in a new discipline, running a marathon, and starting a peer-led RESOLVE support group (just to name a few). My experience with infertility has led me to all of these new journeys. And yes, some are particularly challenging — but nothing has been as challenging as facing my infertility on a daily basis in a society that often times fails to make space for masculine sensitivity. Men are expected to “grow up” and “take care of the family” but what happens when these traditional expectations cannot be reached? I wish that in all of this, in coming out and writing about my infertility, more awareness will be made to the male experience with infertility and more discussion will occur about new conceptions of manhood and family.
In writing all of this, I have had to wonder, how have I transitioned from where I was three years ago from despair to contentment...maybe even happiness? Subconscious at first, it become more obvious that for the first time in my life I felt like I was being who I was called to be, I was being myself. Did this necessarily remove all the pain? No, but it has been humbling for me to see the perspectives of those around me and be resolute in my convictions that I have held all my life and act on them in a visible, valuable way. Am I saying it is necessary to have infertility to gain this perspective on life? Absolutely not. However, being able to recognize these defining moments in life as not just a time to mourn, but a time to grow will make the experience that much more bearable. I know it is has made me a better person, a better husband, and maybe someday...a better dad.
Kevin T. Jordan lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with his wife and their two dogs. Previously an engineer, he is currently a graduate student in medical physics where he intends to improve patient outcomes for those battling cancer. In his free time, he is an avid runner, reader, downhill skier, and traveler who values spending time with family and friends.