Richard Clothier is a 40-year-old father-of-one. That might seem a pretty standard statement to make of someone, but not for Richard. It is a sentence that five years ago he felt may never have become a reality for him
Richard has poor sperm motility, morphology and a low count. Something he knew nothing about until two years after his wedding to wife, Terri.
The couple, from Dunstable, in Bedfordshire, had the same hopes and dreams of children all of us have when first married, just a day after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
“We’d often joke the race was on to see who’d be first to get pregnant,” he told IVF babble.
Little did he know that the couple were about to go on one of the hardest journeys they’ve ever faced to realise their dream.
Richard and Terri met in a nightclub in 2008 and married three years later at Bisham Abbey.
The couple both were keen to have children and started trying straightway.
“We really didn’t mind what gender, we just wanted to start our family,” the marketing manager explained.
But when two year later nothing happened, the couple were in despair. They went to their GP and after a series of tests, they were told Richard’s sperm was ‘a little lazy’ but to keep trying.
Their GP told them they’d be ‘pregnant by Christmas’
Christmas passed, followed by a second similar opinion, which lead them to make an appointment with a locum for a third opinion.
“We were told we were not going to conceive naturally with my numbers,” Richard says.
The following three years were a huge rollercoaster of emotions for the couple.
“I was riddled with anger, guilt, isolation and deep self-loathing,” Richard says. “I saw to it that the conversation would focus on how my wife felt, the various appointments we’d have, and any efforts we could make to help improve our chances of success. For me, the concept of coming clean about how I felt did not seem like an option. I just couldn’t bring myself to share how this was affecting me.”
And it wasn’t just Richard who felt the sadness of their situation
“My wife was deeply saddened about what was happening to us, it affected her daily life and we regularly avoided certain situations that we already knew were triggering further feelings of sadness and isolation. I can remember us buying the Cards Against Humanity Game, and I secretly filtered-out all the cards that mentioned anything related to babies.
“This kind of activity became strangely normal, particularly during the last two years of our fertility journey.”
One of the fortunate aspects of the journey was that the couple’s relationship was never tested by their experiences
Richard says: “In some respects, I think it brought us closer together. I consider myself very lucky that her sadness and frustration was reserved exclusively for our situation – not its cause.”
The couple did a lot of research and found that improving diet and lifestyle can improve sperm for some men, so Richard changed his diet and introduced alfapha sprouts, lentils sprout mix, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, essential fatty acids and nuts.
“I also took one brand of supplements and three months later there was an improvement to my sperm, but it was so small it couldn’t be attributed to the tablets, and was certainly too insignificant to push us any closer towards the realms of not needing fertility treatment.
“I will never know if these changes helped our chance of success, but I also figured at the time I’d be healthier anyway, plus if the ICSI worked, which it did second time round, it wouldn’t do the health of our baby any harm.”
Asked whether they told family and friends about their situation, Richard said they did, but found little empathy
“Some people were nice, patient and subtle, others, not so much. I learned that someone holding expectations for what others should for them can be a recipe for deep disappointment and resentment,” he says.
The couple are now parents to their 18-month-old son and Richard will talk about his experience at this year’s London Fertility Show.
“Towards the end of our fertility journey, I started to talk about how I was feeling and how our experiences were affecting me. I didn’t expect this at the time, but I found talking about it to be very cathartic – so this is my motivation for taking part in the open forum at the fertility show.
“I will also be running a closed door seminar at the event with tips for what men can do to help themselves through the journey, and to try not to feel guilt, shame or embarrassment about acknowledging infertility and that they too are struggling to cope,” he explains.
Richard is keen for more men to talk about infertility but what more can be done to normalise it?
Richard says: “A change has to start with us – how can people know what we’re thinking and how it affects us if we don’t tell them?
“When the subject of male fertility sparks media attention, it is usually the same few men talking about it. This concerns me because unless more men speak out, the same voices time and time again will start to lose impact. If you’re a man reading this and you have a story to tell that you think can help others, don’t hold back. Granted, it’s no mean feat to go on record about infertility and how it affects you, but the more men who do it, the more likely we are to see a change to the stigma.
“I wanted to spend time in the company of other men with similar life experiences, supporting each other, exchanging horror stories and tips for getting through. I couldn’t find any support groups and quickly cleared the search history when I did look online. Had I known of any supports groups specifically for men, I’d have travelled far and wide to get to them.”
Richard remembers at a fertility clinic open day, he was looking forward to meeting other men to start a conversation, exchange numbers and chat about similar things, but it did not go to plan.
He says: “To my horror and deep disappointment, no other men wanted to talk. Everyone kept themselves to themselves. This triggered an even darker time for me – a time I will never forget. That experience (and a couple of others) serve as my motivation to get other men talking.”
Since he has started to talk openly about his condition, other men have approached him and talked about their own experiences. What piece of advice or message would he give to others going through what he has?
“I have banged the drum for talking about your experiences as a means to help alleviate some of the stress. But equally important is who you talk to you.
“Put a great deal of consideration in to you who you share your feelings with:
- Is there a chance they/their partner might become pregnant?
- Do they hold expectations for what others ‘should’ do for them?
- Are they so fixed on their views (about any subject) that they simply can’t consider someone else’s perspective?
“Ask yourself those questions for each person you consider sharing your feelings with. If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of those questions, move on to the next person.
“Conversely, if you’ve seen someone display high levels of emotional fluency or empathy towards others, this might just be your gold nugget for sharing your private feelings. And for me, this turned out to be the most unlikely of people.”