For those going through fertility treatment you will have done well to miss the Rhod Gilbert documentary about male fertility. First aired on BBC Wales and then available on BBC i-player (link below) it’s gained a lot of attention in the fertility community and quite rightly so.
In this documentary Rhod takes a much closer and comical look at why male fertility is such a taboo subject, the personal challenges men face and why there appears to be so little support for men.
What makes this so powerful is seeing him share his own personal journey. Naturally, he brings his own very unique take on things to the table and comedy works fantastically well in breaking down barriers but there is a definite vulnerability there to see.
Rhod’s personal journey, and those of the men he spoke with, is a story that is going on all over the country. There are some stark facts in this documentary that for many are a real shock.
Many men don’t think about their fertility and the lack of education in this area is startling. Within the documentary we see Rhod attempting to talk with men about their fertility yet very few people come forward to talk with him. This seems so representative of the problem we have within society around male fertility.
The mental health impact of male fertility
This documentary touches on all the important areas of male fertility but the focus on mental health is especially important. For many men coping with a diagnosis of sub or infertility can be absolutely devastating and can strike deep into a man’s feeling of masculinity.
Many men feel the need to be strong for their partners, that they can’t show weakness and that they should just “man up” and get on with it.
As Benjamin Zephaniah says within the programme
“this culture of not talking is killing us”
Men need and deserve the opportunity to talk and get help.
I was particularly interested to see Rhod’s attempts at trying to find a male fertility support group. I believe this documentary was first due to be aired at the end of 2019 / early 2020 and at that time there was no support group for men.
Things are changing in this area and Fertility Network UK launched the first online male fertility support group in April 2020. I’ve been incredibly lucky to be the co-host of this group and we’ve had men from all over the world join us. None the less it still takes a lot for men to show up and join us and for some the nerves and fear of judgement are too much.
Those that joined Rhod’s pub meeting expressed how they didn’t know where to go or who to talk to. Do gooder “mates” would fire off stupid quips and jokes which clearly weren’t helping guys, making it even harder for men to speak up.
None the less for those who have spoken out and got support all expressed how a weight had been lifted from their shoulders. Speaking is by far the best thing any man can do to help him with his fertility.
Getting the right investigations and support
Towards the end of the programme we see Rhod visit a male fertility clinic where he is offered an advanced fertility assessment.
As I’ve seen countless times in clinic his results showed that there was something else not right with his semen analysis which hadn’t been picked up prior to his IVF treatment.
So many men are left sidelined throughout treatment and are only ever investigated when IVF has failed countless times. The heart ache and expense of this is just crazy and as we see with Rhod there could have been a very easy solution.
His final piece to the camera at the end of the programme for me is very telling. Having clearly worked on his fertility during the documentary it’s sad to hear that he was struggling to keep on top of his lifestyle and diet changes. He talked about eating more comfort food, drinking and not exercising over lockdown which to me really demonstrated how hard it can be for guys to keep on track with their fertility. With no support, no one to talk to it’s far too easy to lose motivation and focus. Keeping healthy and therefore keeping on top of your fertility takes an amount of discipline, focus and commitment and for some men they will need someone to help them with that.
There is help out there
I’ve worked with couples trying to conceive for many years now and I have a real passion for ensuring men get the help and support that they need. Everything that Rhod talks about in this documentary is exactly what I’ve heard from the many men that I’ve worked with and from those who join our support group.
If you’ve been affected by male factor infertility then please don’t struggle alone. Reaching out and just speaking with someone can make a massive difference. I offer 1:1 support and welcome all men to join the Fertility Network UK online male support group. Further details can be found on the events page of the FNUK website https://fertilitynetworkuk.org/
About Ian Stones
Ian is considered one of the UK’s leading fertility experts helping couples wishing to start a family.
In particular he supports men by identify key issues that may be affecting their ability to conceive then, through his unique system, helps them to improve their lifestyle, diet and overall health to maximise their fertility.
Through his close partnerships with the Agora Clinic, he seeks to improve the information and support available for men at all stages of fertility treatment.
If you’d like to have a chat and find out more then get in touch to book a free discovery consultation.