Eighteen months after he and his wife started trying for a baby, James D’Souza, a secondary school teacher, underwent fertility testing. Sperm analysis revealed that his count was fine, as was his motility (his sperm moved well) but there remained a problem. His morphology was zero: none of his sperm were formed properly. D’Souza was in his mid-thirties, fit and healthy, a teetotal non-smoker. Alongside the shock, and eventually the grief, the news prompted deeper questions about his identity. “Guys who are dealing with infertility are confronting their masculinity in a way that no other man does,” he recently told me. Deemed ineligible for IVF through the NHS, over the next decade the couple paid for three rounds privately. Each failed. Well-meaning friends would ask how his wife was coping, assuming that D’Souza was fine. Similarly, most online fertility forums focused on women.
D’Souza became involved in a handful of peer-support Facebook groups that emerged for men dealing with infertility, but nowadays says he’s put off by their “toxic positivity”. “The women are more emotionally aware and open. The guys who are trying to conceive are all, ‘You’ve got to try this, never give up, keep going.’ No one wants to hear from people like me, who have tried fertility treatment and there’s no happy ending,” he said to me, speaking on Zoom from his office, his voice a rapid-fire staccato, his energy apparently undimmed by a day of lessons. “‘Never give up’ is a dangerous phrase. ‘Never give up’ is: ‘I’m going to smash my head against a brick wall.’ No, you need to deal with reality: IVF fails more times than it succeeds.”