‘I will keep going on about male infertility until men start talking about it more, and everyone starts listening’ writes Benjamin Zephaniah (Illustration: Tim Alden/i)
Apparently, men are talking a lot more. They are talking about sexuality and identity. They are talking about relationships, addiction, mental health, and films that make them cry. It is great that men are talking about all these things. But sadly, men are still not talking about male infertility.
I’ve been going on about infertility for ages. I even made a television programme about it, and for a while some men were talking about it. Although most were telling me how brave I was for talking about it. Of course, women experience infertility too. In fact, in many cultures women are blamed for it.
And when I say blamed, I don’t just mean there’s an argument between a man and a woman and the man storms out saying, “it’s all your fault”. I’m talking about women being physically punished or banished from the village.
If you think that sounds like something that would happen in some small, remote place in an undeveloped country, think again. I’ve seen it with my own eyes; so-called barren women being spat on with so-called holy water by priests in churches in England.
I know of a woman who was beaten by her husband, then sent back to her parents for not bearing a child after a year of marriage.
I’ve heard women being told that their infertility is a punishment for sins they have committed, and then told it’s sinful to get treatment.
Trust me, I could say a lot more about what I’ve seen and heard about the treatment of women when it comes to infertility, and I know that my experiences as an infertile man come nothing near theirs – but I told the editor that this would be about me.
I used to sit in parks watching men playing with their children and feel terribly envious. Then feel profoundly guilty for feeling terribly envious. Every few weeks I would have to suffer (what I thought of at the time as) the humiliation of going for sperm tests. As a young man I watched my friends having kids. Some would complain about how expensive they were, but then say that I was lucky, because I was having fun, and getting away with it.
I was married once. Me and the then wife decided we could make up for all the heartache by adopting. After all, there were back then, (and there are still now), a large number of mixed Black and Asian children who needed parents. But I wasn’t allowed to adopt because I had a police record – albeit one that has been clean since 1976.
Our situation at the time was perfect. We lived in a house, with spare rooms, a large garden and a school at the bottom of the road. So, we were ready for children. Although the reasons for marital break-ups are usually complex, my inability to father children played a major part in ours.
“You’re 64 years old now, you should be over it,” I have been told. Well, here comes a cliché: I’m learning to live with it. I stopped thinking it had something to do with my manliness years ago, round about the time I stopped thinking about my manliness.
I stopped worrying about my legacy when I started coming across children that were raised on my poetry, and I have now met six of the seven children who I was told were named after me.
What I am noticing now at my stage of life is the number of times I get asked to attend events by people who end invitations saying: “Bring the kids.” Or, when I tell people that I don’t have, or can’t have kids, they start their next sentence with “at least”: at least you don’t have to deal with kids when you travel; at least you don’t have to worry about your kids coming home late at night; at least you can get a good night’s sleep. And recently I was told: at least you don’t have to worry about teenage pregnancies. The strange thing is, even though I don’t have any kids, I still worry about all those things.
People who don’t want children can’t understand what all the fuss is about, but when the urge to have children hits you it is like nothing else – especially when you are surrounded by everyone else’s kids. The truth is women do talk about it more, while men, or should I say many men, go out of their way not only not talk about infertility, but to cover it up. And I could say a lot more about the things that men do to cover it up. But I’m not one of those men.
My time has passed now, I’m old, and I’m running out of space on this page. Still, I will keep going on about male infertility until men start talking about it more, and everyone starts listening. I want to stop crying about it and go down the pub and talk to the lads about it over a pint. Which might be easier if I liked pubs, or drank.