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Men and women react differently.

Although the inability to have a child often is devastating to both partners, men and women have different reactions to infertility, according to Su Phipps, assistant professor of nursing, University of Oklahoma College of Nursing. She coordinated a study of infertile couples who have not miscarried and are not undergoing in vitro fertilization or attending infertility support groups.

Prior research has tended to concentrate on the woman's experience while virtually ignoring the man's. "We found that both [sexes] experienced strong feelings of sorrow, isolation, urgency, guilt, and powerlessness. But as a rule how these feelings were expressed was very different."

In general, women are more verbal and tend to seek out support during times of stress, while men use avoidance, minimization, and denial and mute their emotions. These differences were accentuated during the infertility experience. For example, the study showed that husbands often viewed their wives' need to talk about their infertility as a demand for the husband to find a solution, while the wives saw it as a coping strategy. In turn, the wives were protective of their husbands and didn't always share feelings with them. Women also described more feelings of low self-esteem because of their inability to have a child than did their husbands.

Men, meanwhile, were more ambivalent than their wives about the changes a baby would make in their lives. They also expressed more concern as to whether a child was worth the ordeal of infertility treatment, particularly when they wanted to protect their wives from the emotional and physical effects.

Both males and females reported that their experience with infertility health care experts was almost entirely negative. They viewed it as impersonal and insensitive, focusing on the "cure" of gaining a child, rather than a holistic approach of dealing with all the emotional, as well as physical, issues a couple faced.

Infertility now affects one of every five couples of childbearing age in the U.S. The number of infertile couples is expected to increase in the future, due to a growing population of childbearing age, postponement of pregnancy, and a "silent" epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases.

"These facts make it critical that we find ways to improve the experience these couples have with the health care establishment," Phipps maintains. "In addition to the medical procedures necessary to treat the problem, nurses can use their information to assess the meaning of infertility for each spouse and then for the couple. The knowledge ... can be very helpful in allowing nurses and other health professionals to assist couples in a sensitive holistic manner and to help spouses support each other by understanding each other's individual ways of coping with infertility."
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Title Annotation:to infertility
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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