I am an involuntarily childless man. I always expected to be a dad and was especially broody in my mid 30’s. My reactions to my ‘broodiness’ have included: anger, depression, elation, guilt, isolation, jealousy, relief, sadness, yearning, and withdrawal. It was only through my research studies that I found I was not the only man who felt like that.
The term ‘involuntarily childless’ is usually used to describe/label people who have had unsuccessful infertility treatment. However, there is an unknown population of people like me who wanted to be parents but never sought any form of treatment. They are unrecorded and their experiences unacknowledged. A diagnosis of infertility can have significant life-long implications for mental and physical health, well being, and relationships. The vast bulk of sociological literature on reproduction is centred on women with little investigation of the male experience. This is based on the widely held but largely untested assumption that men are not interested in parenthood. Consequently, men have become marginalised as the ‘second sex’ with childless men especially missing from psychological and sociological research. For example, the number of childless men in the UK is unknown as only the mother’s fertility history is recorded at birth registration.
In my research, I have looked at how the desire for fatherhood affected men. It turns out that there is very little information on men’s experience of wanting to be a father. To find out, I interviewed 10 childless men aged 33 to 60 plus. They viewed Fatherhood as a re-connection, repayment, repeat or replacement of childhood experiences. All the men reported feeling depressed. They also talked about feelings of bereavement and isolation and some had turned to alcohol and substance abuse. Another of my studies showed childless men were just as ’broody’ as childless women. Men also displayed higher levels of anger, depression, sadness, jealousy and isolation than women in the same position. It has been suggested the lack of health research data is because men’s health is viewed in terms of employment and not their family role. I would suggest that childless men have a similar level of yearning for parenthood as childless women. I challenge the view that men are not as affected by involuntary childlessness as women. Most infertility literature highlights a transition from grief to acceptance. However, all the men I have spoken to expressed a complex constant negotiation of the loss of experience, identity, role, and intimate and wider relationships.
We need to care for men and their feelings as we do for women.
Dr Robin Hadley