Picturing Infertility: A Man's Point of View

In this digital age pictures are everywhere.  We have those “old school” cameras (some even still use film), digital SLRs, small pocket cameras, cell phones, iPads…it seems every device has a camera.  These cameras are constantly capturing images of life and helping us share them through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever new social media channel may crop up next.  It’s a constant barrage of “look at life” in a manner only still images can provide.  Still images are great for catching that instant, that frozen moment but they do so without context.  No audio to help the viewer orient themselves, no sequence of images to show what happened right before or right after that perfect moment. In the absence of these, the viewer is left to define the context themselves, building a perception of reality. 

Take a look at the image above.  What a beautiful moment in time.  It’s an image of a beautiful barn housing the celebration of a joyous event in the lives of two young adults who just exchanged wedding vows as they begin a new life together.  Looking at this moment in time from this perspective you would naturally form the view of a reality that is quiet, serene, and perfect.  Now depending on your own unique life experiences this image will invoke an emotional response.  Maybe thoughts of “how beautiful”, “how blessed are those in the image”, “oh how I’d love to be at that party”, or “why can’t I have an experience like that?”  Without information to define the context we formulate our own, and based on our current reality this context is accompanied by a unique emotional response to the image and those in it. 

As the photographer of this image I had the privilege to be in that moment and can view the image in its actual context.  The image was captured about two hours after the area was inundated by torrential rainfall, and tormented by damaging straight-line winds that toppled trees, damaged houses and knocked out power to the area for hours (including this barn that was without power when the image was taken).  What you don’t see is a flooded dirt road leading to that barn that was becoming nearly impassable for the cars attempting to make it to this celebration.  You don’t know that Courtney and I contemplated turning back from attending based on the weather, the road and the fact that we felt sure our car would get stuck in the red clay soup that had formed. 

Now take a look at this image.  What do you see?  A happy father and mother with their beautiful little girl.  A beautiful picture simply capturing a moment in the happy life of an All-American family.  What emotional response comes as you see this instant in time?  Over the years my response to these type of pictures on Facebook, Twitter or wherever was something like “Lucky them”, or “I wonder if they realize how good they have it”, and even “why can’t I have that?”  Those were my responses based on my experience and where I was in the journey of life.  Again, looking at the context the picture doesn't provide I made up my own. 

What I didn't see from this picture was the two young engineers who met each other, got married, built a house and planned the perfect life together.  The 5-year plan that led to starting their family of 2.5 kids after they had their 5 years to enjoy life together.  What I didn't see is how that plan didn't pan out and 5 years turned into 8, with the additional 3 being filled with struggle, strain and a continual rise and fall of emotions for both the young man and his loving wife.  I didn't see the countless doctor visits filled with lukewarm news of hope and harsh realities.  I didn't see the tests, procedures and clinical “encounters” that were the foundation of moving that picture from a couple of 2 to a family of 3.  The image doesn't show the pain of hearing “with another partner each of you may be able to procreate but together it’s just not going to happen without some help.”  It’s impossible to see the failed attempts of prescription drugs and prescribed “procreation attempts,” followed by an unsuccessful IUI and ultimately 3 rounds of IVF.  The camera can’t capture the feeling of helplessness the man experienced the morning they went to see the first heartbeat and were told instead that they’d “lose their baby.”  Those pictures didn't show me the pain the man experienced watching his wife try to grasp for hope amid a miscarriage and a D&C procedure.  Two more rounds of drugs, 15,000 miles on the road to doctor’s offices in a single year, and something that is supposed to be a natural part of life becoming highly clinical.  An image can’t show you the 9 months of waiting for the other shoe to drop amid a parade of good news and blessings and how the joy of those times are tempered by that. 

Given the context what story does that picture tell now?  What is the theme of latest chapter stroked by God’s pen for this family?  It’s a couple that has grown closer through an experience that tears many apart.  It’s a family that is run by a little girl who is full of life and truly is the epitome of God’s gift of life.  A family that will forever be reminded of the struggle each time someone sees their moment in time and says “what a beautiful little girl, what a perfect family…when are you going to have more?”  But being reminded of that struggle is not a bad thing at all.  It’s a constant reminder of the gift of life, the sovereignty of our God and how we are executing His plan…not ours.  As a man who’s lived through infertility and not being able to naturally do the one thing that you should be able to naturally do, I see my experience as a blessing.  It makes me cherish my daughter even more, it keeps me humble as the patriarch of a beautiful family and reminds me every day to take the opportunity to tell my story in the interest of helping others who may be viewing those images and formulating the same false reality.  Through the burden a blessing has been born.  Sometimes God needs to lead with a storm to provide the peace and build character.  Moses’ story in Numbers 11 is a fantastic reminder that God is and will always be with us.      

I hope that during Men’s Health month sharing the context of these images and their actual reality will help others in their walk toward God’s plan for their lives. 

A Nuclear Engineer by education and the grace of God, Rob splits the atom for a living and educates others about the same as a hobby.  A perfectionist to the degree 0.2% short of a fault, Rob enjoys landscaping, building things with his hands and being a pretty decent husband and father.  75% lover and 25% fighter, he’s a good guy to know and a hard guy to forget.  As a humble but motivated introvert, he enjoyed writing his bio the least of all.  

It's not just women that long to hold a child and celebrate a day set aside to honor parenthood. Men most definitely long for those moments too. As we approach Father's Day, we look forward to celebrating the day with joy but not without the memories of all those years we were both in a season of longing and waiting. I am honored to bring to you a story I have been longing to share with you for some time... our story through infertility from my husband's point of view. It is our prayer that his words bring encouragement to those who are still waiting and true gratitude for the blessings in your life to those of you looking forward to this upcoming holiday. You are not alone.