The Adia Interview: Charlie Druce Author of ‘Ripping Up The Script’
19th November 2019
Like many people, Charlie Druce and his wife assumed that when they decided to start a family, that decision would be swiftly followed by the arrival of the first child. However, like the 1 in 7 couples who experience fertility struggles, their road to parenthood was not as simple as they may have hoped.
Charlie has since channelled his experience into a book ‘Ripping Up The Script: One Couple’s Journey Through Infertility, A Man’s Perspective’ – with the aim of opening up the discussion about how infertility impacts male partners. To mark International Men’s Day we sat down with Charlie to discuss the unique grief of infertility, the strain it can put on relationships and how humour can help men navigate the difficult conversations a fertility journey can bring.
The Grief of Infertility
14 years ago, when Charlie and his wife embarked on their journey to parenthood, they could never have expected what lay ahead. A multitude of IVF treatments, a miscarriage and an adoption process later, they are now parents to a teenage son. Charlie is bright, friendly, with a sharp sense of humour, but it’s evident that the impact of their fertility struggles is something that stays with him to this day. “We’re quite far away from that fertility journey now, but one of the things that I feel very strongly about is you never really get off that journey,” he tells me. “It obviously goes away – and you’re not at the coalface of it anymore – but it does go on, rippling through your life in some ways.”
My conversation with Charlie echoes the sentiments of Julia Bueno, the author of Brink of Being, who recently spoke to Adia, about the longstanding grief both baby loss and IVF attempts can have on a couple.“Grief is a thing you have to confront and wear on your sleeve when you’re going through infertility. We talk about it being a roller coaster. The levels are complex and several-fold.” he explains. “The depths are a complete lack of self and all that entails, including the loss of relationships. Infertility is a sense of grief which jumps out of the shadows and tugs at your sleeve every now and again, for the rest of your life.”
Despite his tangible grief (or maybe because of it), Charlie speaks eloquently and empathetically about his experience. He is an active member of various Facebook communities, dedicated to supporting men going through their own issues with subfertility, and is considering retraining as a therapist, specialising in infertility and baby loss. It’s clear that he is passionate about helping others and that his book is just one of the many steps he is taking to do just that.
Seeking Help & Support
Breaking down the barrier of silence is, Charlie believes, one of the most important things we can do to help people deal with infertility. Whilst there is less stigma, and more support, than ever before, he still feels that more can be done to encourage a more proactive approach to reproductive health. Languishing in denial is a common, and sometimes damaging, side affect of a culture where fertility isn’t always understood or talked about. “You have to be ready yourself, to face infertility. Until you decide yourself, right ‘Let’s go and see the specialist. Let’s go and talk to one of the experts’, you’re not ready. If I told you to do that a year before you were ready, you would just look at me blank-faced and say, ‘No, I don’t need that right now’. And that’s a key thing” he says. “Somehow our culture and facilities needs to encourage people to get there in a better way – faster and sooner – that’s why platforms like Adia are so important”
The conversation around mental health has also come on leaps and bounds in the last decade, and the emotional impact of infertility is now widely understood. Charlie was lucky. He had friends who had been through similar struggles on the road to parenthood, so whilst the support systems were nothing close to what they are today, he had a small network of people he could lean on. However, he still believes that men and couples should not be afraid to reach out for professional help if they need it, something he wishes he had done. “We didn’t have counselling as a couple at the time. My wife was having some therapy, she did some work on her issues going through it, but I didn’t and we didn’t as a couple – and we should have done. We got through it but we know lots of couples who didn’t.”
Men & Infertility
As the title implies, Charlie’s book focuses very much on the male experience of infertility, something that, despite progress, is still largely neglected and often avoided. Whilst the tyranny of toxic masculinity is slowly being dismantled, there is still an inherent expectation for men to be the strong ones – the protectors. This means we have many men growing up believing emotional vulnerability is a sign of weakness. When faced with infertility, these men not only need to get their heads around the medical jargon of the fertility clinic, but they also have to learn a whole new way of expressing their feelings. Charlie believes that this isn’t only a societal issue, but a practical and clinical one.
“Culturally a bloke grows up wanting to look after and take care of, provide all of those things. So he’s a bit bereft of those anchors when facing infertility.” Charlie explains. “But this also happens clinically. The focus still is on women because, even if it’s male factor, which 50% of cases are, after the initial tests and treatments are done, the baton is then handed over to the woman.” he says “Obviously she takes centre stage, as she should do because the whole process is happening within her body. But the whole clinical process up until now has left the man pretty much on his own.”
This lack of gender parity throughout the infertility process can have a huge impact on relationships, Charlie explains. “I strongly feel that men and women are more different than we think. Culturally we’re flattening out, and that’s great. But my experience of marriage and the infertility journey is that just as we’re coming together, we begin pulling apart. I wanted to explore the strengths and weaknesses of that in writing.”
For Better Or Worse
Charlie decided to write his book over a decade after he and his wife stopped fertility treatment. This was a conscious decision – to protect his own mental wellbeing but also, so he could give a broader more objective stance on infertility. “I wrote a bunch of stuff as I was going through it, which kind of felt like the counselling I never had, but I put it to one side for a good decade and I’m very glad I did.” he says “I think if you are trying to help other people, a bit of distance is good”
Revisiting his notes wasn’t easy, like opening up a Pandora’s box of feelings that had been locked away for over a decade. From the graphic depictions of injecting his wife with IVF drugs to detailing the miscarriage that compounded their grief, two months into a long-hoped-for pregnancy – there was no emotional stone left unturned. But it was the impact infertility had on their marriage which was the most difficult for Charlie to revisit. “That was the hardest thing to write about, the degrees of separation, the one that I felt from my wife going through the process” he recalls. “They were the most painful things to write about without a doubt because they were the most painful things to go through.”
It’s both refreshing and heartbreaking to hear Charlie speak with such honesty about the impact fertility struggles had on his marriage. He and his wife are still together – I ask him how he thinks they survived such a turbulent period when so many couples don’t. “We had a strong relationship, to begin with, but it was seriously tested by infertility. Marriage kind of comes and goes in waves of closeness and distance like any relationship does, and you have to ride those waves,” he says. “We had a place that felt like base camp and we just had an ability, thankfully, to step back from the brink at the worst times. We had an ability to kind of pull ourselves back and get back to base camp.”
Laughter As Medicine
Whilst the book is emotionally raw in places, it is also laced with humour and includes anecdotes that would sound just at home down the pub as they do between the pages a book about infertility. Like the story of the man who struggled to focus on the task in hand (so to speak) when asked to give a sperm sample at the fertility clinic. He booked himself in for an hour at a Travel Lodge, where he successfully produced the goods (‘the hotel receptionist didn’t charge him as she felt so joyfully sorry for him’ Charlie recalls with a dry laugh).
Humour is a powerful tool that can be harnessed to open up difficult conversations and it’s something Charlie consciously included when writing the book. “I try and put quite a lot of that in there and that’s part of the blokeyness of it. Humour breaks down barriers. It’s why when blokes talk about IVF, they end up talking about porn in the sample room. It’s funny on some level and that’s the way they connect, right?“ he says “And I think there are a lot worse ways to connect.” This combination of light and shade is what makes ‘Ripping Up The Script’ such an enjoyable read, a relatable and digestible book that will help men going through the same thing as Charlie. “I just think it’s important to level it all out. On the one hand, infertility is a dreadful thing to go through. On the other hand, it’s life – and life has to be looked at in the eyes somehow.”
A Light At The End Of The Tunnel
As the book details, ultimately, the couple’s multiple rounds of IVF were unsuccessful. Charlie and his wife took some time to reconnect with themselves, focusing on their individual careers and travelling the world. When the time was right, they decided to look into adoption, a decision that Charlie believes no couple, especially those who have been through fertility struggles, should take lightly. However, after the unpredictable game of chance that was IVF, the structure of the adoption process was a welcome relief – as was meeting the baby that would become their son. “Once we got to adoption, it felt good. People have been taking other children into their families ever since humans have been on the planet. It suddenly felt like a light at the end of the tunnel” he says. “Even though we weren’t able to have children biologically, in some way adoption felt like a positive, natural thing to do – in a completely non- altruistic way, it just felt right.”
After speaking to Charlie about his experience, I reflect on how lucky his teenage son is to have him as a father. With men like him – kind, empathetic, unabashedly vulnerable, and passionate about dismantling a culture that leaves men on the emotional sidelines – raising sons, I’m left feeling hopeful. Hopefull that the next generation of would-be fathers, including his son, will be better equipped to navigate the emotional obstacle course of infertility and to reach out and ask for help when they need it.
“I gave him a copy of the book” Charlie informs me. “I felt very proud that I could give it to him, he wasn’t the lead character but he is part of our story” And what does he think? I ask “He hasn’t read it yet, he’d much rather read the Beano” One day, Charlie, I’m sure he’ll understand, and will feel just as proud of you for writing this important book, as you felt giving it to him.
If you would like further support, you can join Adia for free today, where you will be able to access advice directly from our panel of fertility experts as well as nutritional plans and guided meditations created specifically for those struggling with infertility.