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A man's guide to IVF

Christopher Scanlon
Published: February 17, 2013 - 11:59PM

The bright red vinyl couch is the first giveaway that this is no ordinary hospital room. The second is the small portable TV in the corner with a woman groaning while giving head to a man with no pubic hair. I have my little plastic sample jar and a disposable mat to pop on the couch in case of — ahem — spillage.

Welcome to conception IVF style.

I didn't bank on this. If I ever thought about having children at all — and I didn't — I doubt my minds' eye would have included a room decked out like a brothel.

And then there's the issues that I suspect men who conceive naturally never have to consider, such as how long is acceptable to stay in the sperm collection room.

If I'm too quick, for example, will the woman behind the counter who dispenses the sterile jars and mats think that I'm a premature ejaculator? Alternatively, if I spend too much time, will she think I'm a perv who's decided to make the most of the Medicare-subsidised porn?

But then, this is just one more challenge on the path to IVF. We'd been "trying" for seven months. Under normal circumstances, this isn't long (even though it felt it; conception sex is not what it's cracked up to be), but my wife Kasey had been diagnosed with endometriosis and polycystic ovaries and had been told by her gynaecologist that she would be infertile within a year. As each month passed Kasey's gynaecologist had been giving us ever-sterner, more serious, advice about abandoning the fantasy of natural conception.

I was reluctant at first to sign-up to IVF. Anecdotally, I've been told that this is not uncommon. Men are like oil tankers when it comes to IVF: they take longer to come around to the decision to do IVF than women, but once they get a head of steam, they're harder to stop, even when their partner, exhausted by the rounds of injections, inhalants, and examinations, has decided to cease treatment.

My reluctance about IVF partly came from the uncertainty of its impact on our relationship. You don't get far on the IVF journey before you start hearing horror stories about wild mood swings and even total relationship breakdowns.

Coming home to see Kasey shooting up on the couch everyday with a new concoction of drugs to get control of her cycle, stimulate the growth of eggs and trigger ovulation, and then vomit in the toilet — or sometimes the car — was as difficult to watch as it sounds.

Add to this the concern that IVF is, at its core, a business. Despite brochures bearing photos of happy parents with newborns, the process of baby-making via IVF is as much about delivering profit as it is about delivering dreams.

It also turns a natural process into one that is heavily technologised. While the gender stereotype has it that men like gadgets and all things that go "PING!", there are limits to everything.

IVF is to natural conception what drinking one of those nutritionally engineered diet shakes is to eating food. Sure, they may have the same outcome (or not), but one is pleasurable while the other isn't just unpleasurable, it's the pure negation of pleasure.

And then there was the very real possibility that we wouldn't end up with a baby anyway, just a lot of debt. We've all seen the images of needles delivering sperm directly into the egg, creating the impression that IVF is all about scientific precision. The truth, though, is that IVF is anything but an exact science. Treatment regimes are tailored to the couple, and often the treatment has to be tweaked and re-tweaked over many cycles.

I had the added complication of religion. I'm Catholic. And despite being the kind of Catholic who disagrees with pretty much everything that comes out of the Pope's mouth (doesn't matter which Pope, they're mostly as bad as one another) the claws go deep.

Here I find myself in furious agreement with Tony Abbott: we both think the church has got it wrong when it comes to reproductive technologies. I suspect that this is the first and last time Mr Abbott and I will agree on anything.

Despite these misgivings and reservations, I couldn't not try IVF. And we were lucky. It took one cycle to get pregnant with our daughter Violet. Others aren't so fortunate.

But for many men, even those who aren't lumbered with cultural and religious impediments, IVF remains a taboo subject.

I've heard stories of men refusing to even front up for a fertility test, refusing to provide sperm when they're in the midst of the IVF cycle or forbidding their partners to talk about it with friends and family.

I'm not suggesting that IVF was easy for me. It wasn't. But it was much easier for me than it was for Kasey. If you ever wanted proof that God is a man, just have a look at IVF. Women get turned into a science experiment, while men are under doctor's orders to have a wank.

While it sometimes felt like it, I had to remind myself that I was much more than just a sperm donor in the IVF process. I also needed to be available for Kasey, both emotionally and physically. After all, in the greater scheme of things, many children have been conceived after a bit of awkwardness on a couch.

Christopher Scanlon is a Melbourne writer and co-founder of, a site for emerging journalists.

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