The path to parenthood is not always a straightforward one. With one-third of all infertility cases being attributed to the malefactor, fertility struggles affect both men and women. Dealing with an infertility diagnosis may come as quite a shock and many-a-times leaves men unable to respond to the situation.
Charles from Dreaming of Baby speaks with TJ Farnsworth, Founder and CEO of Aspire Fertility. TJ Farnsworth shares his journey from undergoing fertility treatment to fatherhood and why this experience led him to his own fertility clinic.
Daniela: Good afternoon, and welcome to Dreaming of Baby. We have with us today TJ Farnsworth from Aspire Fertility and Charles from Dreaming of Baby who shall be discussing male fertility and the path to parenthood. We’re aware that it’s not a much talked about subject and this makes our conversation today all the more imperative. We’re eager for what you have to share with our readers today. Before we start, it would be great if you could introduce yourself and your experience in this field to our readers.
TJ Farnsworth, Founder & CEO of Aspire Fertility: Certainly! My name is TJ Farnsworth, and my wife and I went through fertility treatment to start our family. After our experience, I left my position as the CEO of a large company providing cancer services in communities across the country, to start Aspire Fertility. I felt like quite a lot about the fertility process could be made better, and I felt a strong personal passion to try and improve the process.
Charles: Thank you, Daniela for introducing our guest. So TJ, can you tell us a little more about your motivation for leaving? Was there something you thought could and should be done better?
TJ Farnsworth, Founder & CEO of Aspire Fertility: Absolutely. The whole process for us, the clinics we visited, were entirely focused on the outcome. It all felt very impersonal, and a cold lack of empathy for the process. Yes, we wanted a positive outcome, but for us this was a two-year process. That journey, of two years, was completely ignored. The emotional strain is immense. The strain on my wife, on me, and on our marriage, was something we were dealing with alone – and that is a far cry from what we felt like it should be.
TJ Farnsworth, Founder & CEO of Aspire Fertility: A great outcome was important to us, but the journey is still a scar for us – and we don’t think it has to be that way.
TJ Farnsworth: “A great outcome was important to us, but the journey is still a scar for us – and we don’t think it has to be that way.”
Dealing with a male factor infertility diagnosis
Charles: Sounds like a reasonable expectation. When it comes to male factor infertility, what would you say are the hardest parts of the diagnosis to deal with and how can this part of the experience be improved?
TJ Farnsworth, Founder & CEO of Aspire Fertility: The men are a complete afterthought. The process for men is embarrassing and just as emotional as it is for our partner, we just deal with it differently.
TJ Farnsworth, Founder & CEO of Aspire Fertility: The collection rooms for semen analysis in the clinics we visited were either a complete afterthought or completely disgusting. And the setup for dealing with such an embarrassing appointment was completely ignored.
TJ Farnsworth, Founder & CEO of Aspire Fertility: And when setbacks happen- as they do- the men are again mostly ignored. We feel like we need to be strong and supportive for our partner, but a lot of the time we don’t possess the emotional vocabulary to deal with our own emotions and make sure we say the ‘right’ things. We are ‘fixers’ and that isn’t helpful in these situations.
Charles: Do you think it would be better served for male patients to have more one on one interactions with the doctors?
TJ Farnsworth, Founder & CEO of Aspire Fertility: I do, especially if male factor is a part of the diagnosis. That said, I think men knowing they have one-on-one access to the nurses to talk openly with would also be helpful. A licensed marriage and family therapist on staff at fertility clinics can help male patients through discussions ranging from how to be supportive, to how to deal with the impact of male factor being a cause of infertility. Not all clinics will have something like that, but I think all patients should ask their care team to be clear about making access to information and staff just as important as for female patients.
Charles: Excellent so in your own experience which was the hardest part of dealing with male factor infertility?
TJ Farnsworth, Founder & CEO of Aspire Fertility: I think the hardest part is emotional. The embarrassing collection room experience is one thing, but you get over that quickly. As a guy, and I know other men like me, I always wanted to be a dad, ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a dad. And I knew that my wife wanted to be a mom more than anything else. As a husband, you feel as though you are letting your wife down, as though you are a failure. And you know your wife feels like she is failing you too, and you cannot do anything about those problems. Nothing you can say will make it better or “fix” it for yourself or your partner. And then when a failed IUI, or IVF cycle happens or a miscarriage happens, you feel the need to be strong for your partner. It feels as though you aren’t given the opportunity to be hurt or to grieve, because you have to be the supporter. Which is a cycle, because your partner knows you – they know you’re hurting, but you aren’t opening up with them. It’s not something anyone talks about, so it is completely uncharted territory for most men – and they feel emotionally lost on how to support themselves, and their partner. That was certainly the hardest part for me.
Experiencing fertility treatment
Charles: It is my understanding that after providing the sample and receiving the analysis the next step is often a urologist? What is that part of the experience like?
TJ Farnsworth, Founder & CEO of Aspire Fertility: It can be seeing a urologist, but not always. I did see a urologist to get my initial semen analysis done, so I had kind of gone about it backwards. Once we got to treatment in a fertility clinic, we had moved on to IVF. For most patients, especially those with male factor (which is about 1/3 of all couples), IVF is going to be the fastest, most cost-effective way to a baby. It just isn’t what most couples want to hear – us included.
Charles: That not being what you want to hear; is there a better way to explain why this is the case to men going through infertility issues?
TJ Farnsworth, Founder & CEO of Aspire Fertility: Well, I think for most couples, and for both men and women, IVF sounds very scary. And very expensive. And most importantly, it sounds like there is a REAL problem that is BIG.
TJ Farnsworth, Founder & CEO of Aspire Fertility: I think for men, understanding the 1s and 0s – getting the data about why IVF is their best option, getting it early in the process, and in a way that makes sense to them, helps the process. I can tell you that we would have gone to IVF much sooner than we did had it been explained to us in a way that laid out the facts.
TJ Farnsworth: “I think for men, understanding the 1s and 0s – getting the data about why IVF is their best option, getting it early in the process, and in a way that makes sense to them, helps the process.”
Fertility Treatment: You have a choice!
Charles: So, having experienced this yourself, what would have made that communication process easier?
TJ Farnsworth, Founder & CEO of Aspire Fertility: I think it would have been better if someone had given us better choices. Choices were made for us, assuming what we would want to do. Almost like a script. If someone would have sat us down and explained that IUIs have an 8-12% success rate, and with medication have a much higher chance of twins and triplets, and explained that the number of IUIs needed to reach the potential success rate of a single IVF cycle (which has a MUCH lower chance of twins) will cost a lot more – and you’ll probably still need to do IVF- we would have taken a different path. We probably would have done an IUI or two without medication so that we could have emotionally checked the box, but we would have been in IVF faster than we were.
TJ Farnsworth, Founder & CEO of Aspire Fertility: As a result, we spent a lot more money than we needed to, and shed a lot more tears than we needed to.
Charles: Switching this over to someone who has just been diagnosed with male factor infertility, what are the biggest questions they should be asking to ensure they get to the type of information that will help them make the right decisions?
TJ Farnsworth, Founder & CEO of Aspire Fertility: I wouldn’t dwell on the cause, I would focus on the steps. There are a lot of reasons for male factor, and based upon their specific diagnosis, they need to focus on what comes next. And understand the potential outcomes of that next step. Will a surgical option help? Is there more than male factor at play? What are the chances these things will be successful? And understanding that IVF is the best chance of success, always, I would be asking at every step whether or not IVF is really where they need to be. We spent a lot of time and money trying things only to get to where we should have been a lot sooner.
Charles: Based on the emotional impact of such a diagnosis, it is understandable that some men may seek outside help in dealing with the situation. I understand some clinics offer in-house counselors. How important is this and why?
TJ Farnsworth, Founder & CEO of Aspire Fertility: Yes, I think men should reach out to support groups, others they may be able to find online and who they can talk to. Certainly, finding a counselor who understands fertility is a great option. These professionals will be able to help men understand, process, and deal with their diagnosis – and give them the tools they need to be able to support their partner in the journey to creating their family.
Charles: As a final question; what would you say to someone recently diagnosed? Many thoughts obviously flow through their mind and some feel helpless, but what is the main message you would give?
TJ Farnsworth, Founder & CEO of Aspire Fertility: It’s not your fault, and you have a lot of great options for you to seek in becoming a dad. Be positive and be patient.
Charles: Thank you for joining us today. It has been a pleasure.
TJ Farnsworth, Founder & CEO of Aspire Fertility: Thank you.