Lee Wray gives a candid and honest talk on his emotional journey to fatherhood
When IVF babble heard Lee Wray give a talk at the recent London Fertility Show, his warm and likeable personality came bounding across, and with a gentle self-deprecating sense of humour it has undoubtedly stood him in good stead on his difficult and emotional journey to becoming a father.
The emotional impact of infertility on men can often be overlooked.
Lee described the range of emotions he has experienced since discovering that the problem lay with him and the impact that his reactions have had on his wife.
While diagnosis is obviously key in addressing infertility, the way in which that diagnosis is communicated to a couple is obviously very important.
Lee found out that he had Azoospermia (the name given to the condition in which there are no sperm in the semen) in his own words in a rather blunt way.
He said: “The GP hadn’t come across this very much before and so clearly wasn’t very comfortable with us – the conversation went something like ‘they’re all dead’ which wasn’t hugely helpful!”
Having digested this life-changing fact, Lee and his wife set about trying to work out how they were going to conceive the family they so desperately wanted. Lee said that he had found the internet really helpful – finding other people who had been through similar experiences to share with as well as all the information that can be found. He did issue a word of warning though: “if you come across someone who has had a bad experience beware their opinions are skewed by that…”
Looking back he can now see that he went into major ‘fix it’ mode – trying to sort everything he could.
“I was the one who found the clinic, I wanted to understand what counselling we needed, what we needed to do – and in doing so completely disassociated myself from it.” He found using the internet served him as he could be more considered looking at a screen rather than having to be emotionally engaged. While this was much easier for him his wife found this really difficult. He philosophically states that now he realises that was just how he needed to be.
He focussed on all the things he could do – the appointments, the ‘dealing with’ everything practical. He is very clear now: “ I wanted to be the rock – my wife found it very difficult that I wasn’t opening up to her.”
He now understands that his wife felt very much that he wasn’t considering her whereas part of the problem was that he was over considering her as he didn’t want to burden her with everything that was going on in his mind. He felt that she was going through enough as it was. She was having a very difficult time with all the various tests and procedures she needed to have – in his eyes through no fault of her own.
Lee was determined to go through the entire process fully supporting his wife as much as he could – he was there through all the physical procedures including the injections and insemination and – in his mind – through all the emotional ups and downs. He recalled the bizarre feeling of being at the head end during the insemination and laughed as he recanted how it was important to keep the sperm warm – “so my wife kept it in her cleavage which I thought was absolutely hilarious!”
On a more serious note he acknowledges that the whole journey was really tough. “it was just a sea of things happening.”
The couple made the decision to use a sperm donor to fulfill their dreams of having children.
At each stage they found it emotionally confusing – never really knowing what to expect, how to feel – even when it came down to the birth. He now realises: “every step, every emotion, every thought is a fiction – the baby is not a reality until it is being born.”
Through much of his ‘coping and fixing’ his wife felt unsupported.
She was very frustrated that something that comes so easily to others was going to be so difficult for them. Lee felt very guilty having to put her through something so difficult that was nothing to do with her as it was all because of his problem. He knew right from the beginning that she would struggle as she is an intensely private person which meant it was difficult for her to open up and talk about what they were going through. He laughs as he adds: “she would be here today and would happily talk to you but she’d really rather not.”
He feels very strongly that it is vitally important to give yourself enough time to process and come to clear decisions at each stage of the process: “One thing I am very clear on and which I am so glad of now – I was completely confident of every decision we made at every step of the way. So important to me that I was confident using donor sperm”
An important issue when it comes to using donor sperm is whether there is any contact between the donor and child.
Lee and his wife had an anonymous sperm donor which means he can’t find out who they are but his children can when they are 18, if they choose to.
After their experience both Lee and his wife felt so grateful that they wanted to give something back so they decided to do egg sharing, After they had done it they wrote a message for the recipient of the eggs, saying why they had done what they’d done.
After they’d written their own reasons down they asked their donor to write something to that effect.
That was how they found out their donor was – in Lee’s words – “genetically awesome!” Amusingly there were a lot of differences between him and Lee – he had kept all his own hair (Lee hasn’t!), he was tall dark and handsome (Lee is small and blonde) as well as several others. Lee made it clear that the fact that the donor was clearly a genetic god was not as important as the fact that he said he is happy to be contacted by any children created because of him which was really good to know.
It was very important to Lee to understand exactly what he was doing in order to create his family. He had always imagined his children, running around, looking like him.
Lee had to process these feelings and realised that the reality is we never actually know what our children will look like. He had to think very carefully about letting go of all of that conditioning and all the expectations he had always had of having his own children.
Deciding to use donor sperm it was really important to him to take the time to understand what that meant to and for him. As it turned out his children looking like him has been a total non-issue.
He says simply: “They’re my sons’ – I’ve changed their nappies, cleaned up their sick, taught my older son to ride his bike – I am the one who has shared all those magical moments with them.”
Article author: Moira Smith