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By Gareth Down on

IVF from the male perspective

Ahead of the opening of IVF: 6 Million Babies Later, father Gareth Down shares his experience with IVF and the lesser-told story of the male struggle.

For most people, when the term IVF is used, the first thing that comes into mind is the female’s struggle to conceive, and clinical operations behind the scenes. Throughout my journey, it appeared very few gave a thought to the other half in the relationship – the impact the treatment had for the man. When we first had the diagnosis of my infertility, I naively assumed that I would not be too affected by the treatment, as it was my wife who was about to undergo years of clinic appointments, injections and procedures.

[#HiddenFaces is a Fertility Network UK video. For more information and support visit]

In our case the fertility issue was down to me, several operations in my late teens left me infertile. I was diagnosed with azoospermia – a complete absence of sperm. Initially the first thing to get my head around was the diagnosis and realisation that I would never biologically father a child. Our only hope of the child we dreamed of would be to accept donor sperm and go down the IVF treatment route. To this day it is commonly perceived that fertility issues are down to the female. Most friends on hearing the news were quick to sympathise with my wife, not thinking that the root cause was my infertility. As men, we are much less keen on talking it seems, so while my wife reached out to friends, family and online support pages, I buried my head in the sand and tried to get on day to day without dealing with the emotional aspect of the condition.

The clinic offered us counselling prior to the treatment starting and after every failed cycle we were told we could have more sessions at any point. Thinking I knew better, I declined the offer, and only had the 1 session over the 7 years. I would like to see it mandated for couples going through the process to have counselling between each cycle, as in my opinion, men are better at complying with instruction than asking for help.

There are many sides to the journey of IVF that are not obvious at first. The emotional state it puts you in affects just about every part of your life. While trying to conceive, we changed jobs to reduce the stress, suffered financial difficulties balancing the cost of private treatment against keeping a roof over our head, and had family disagreements when it became too difficult to join the celebrations of welcoming siblings’ children into the world. I struggled the most with trying to support my wife when she wanted to try again, and I had to have the level head and persuade her to wait until we could afford the treatment.

Two five day old embryos grown in the lab, one of which is Gareth’s son. Courtesy of Gareth Down
Two five day old embryos grown in the lab, one of which is Gareth’s son. Courtesy of Gareth Down

I had no luck finding any real support online. I felt my concerns weren’t worthy of mentioning over the hundreds of females facing the physical treatment. I tried to find a men-only page, in the hope of speaking with people I could relate to, whilst not offending our partners. Getting nowhere with a group, I started my own. Using a social media platform I created a male support page for men only. After a slow start, thanks to media awareness and the charity Fertility Network UK, the group has over 700 members and a sister page to support those who have had success in IVF, so stories can be shared without upsetting those still trying.

IVF: 6 Million Babies Later opens on 5 July to mark the 40th birthday of in vitro fertilisation. Celebrate at a special Lates event in conversation with Louise Brown and Roger Gosden. Book your free ticket here