(This post was submitted by reader Mandy.)
Why I’m Here
When I was offered the opportunity to write a piece about our infertility experience, I jumped at the chance!
I started my blog Hoping For Hoberts to document my experiences for myself and met some pretty incredible people along the way. It’s been an amazing support, especially as I crossed the bridge to parenthood. I was often reminded by people in real life (IRL) that I’m not infertile, but those online understood that the battle of infertility (IF) is fought as a couple. This is something I wish I had understood from the beginning and still struggle with today. The secrets of male factor infertility have yet to be unlocked and in the end, I think it was more chance than technology that brought our daughters to us.
I can’t say that male factor infertility is the worst. I don’t think there are levels of hell in the IF world, but being a fertile in the IF world is so very trying on a relationship. It’s hard not to point fingers.
After a few years, and a gut feeling, I asked a few questions at my yearly OB/GYN visit. I later received a call at work from my OB/GYN after our basic work-up stating that I was completely normal but that my partner had no sperm and that “there’s always adoption. Click!”
After I cried my eyes out to a very sweet and very 18-year-old stock boy, I went home to deliver this fantastic news. These urban legends about men not crying, they’re a big lie. Tell them they’re sterile and have been blowing money on condoms for 20 years. Suddenly I was in an infertile relationship, and all I ever wanted to accomplish in life was motherhood.
Like every other sane person, I googled my heart out! Go ahead and google all the depressing facts about Male Infertility. I was practically begging to be the problem in this equation. There have been great advancements, but five years ago there was virtually nothing.
I made a firm decision before we went in for our reproductive endocrinologist (RE) consult. I would do work up. I would do everything up to IVF. That was my cut off, I would not subject my perfectly fertile body to hormonal chaos in the name of having biological children. I had read those blogs. People got sucked in, they tried and tried and tried some more. They blew their savings and went into debt. I drew my line in the sand. NO IVF. We left our consult with an IVF work-up pending urology results.
We were referred to a wonderful, head-of-her-field urologist. At Hopkins. If she couldn’t help us, there would be no babies. (No one warned me how horrifically uncomfortable it would be to watch someone else come face to face with your husbands manhood!) There were blood tests, ultrasounds, semen and sperm analyses, and finally a diagnosis of Non-Obstructive Azoospermia (NOA). The worst of the worst. 1% of the population.
I had begged for an obstruction, for something that could be treated. My googling was for naught; no blogs, no experiences existed. I was deciphering medical journals and snippets of papers and reports. There was lots of speak of “try.” Try was something we’d been doing for quite a while.
Lines in the Sand
We were told that if sperm was found, the chances of it being viable were slim. It was our only option. The holiday season was approaching, and since we were fortunate enough to have complete IVF coverage we decided to try. What’s the worst that could happen? It could work?! The fertile could conceive?
Initially we were told we had to have donor back up, and I was fine with this. I saw it as a consolation prize. Not my husband’s baby biologically, but only we had to know. No big deal, right?
The man who cried his eyes out over the thought of never being able to conceive temporarily suspended the IVF because he decided it would be his baby or no baby. I can still feel the burn 6 years later. There were many tears shed because in my eyes all I had to do was go through with the IVF and presto, we’d have a baby. I only saw Baby, I didn’t see biological claims because either way it would be linked to me.
To know that the person I chose to marry, the person I chose to conceive with, the infertile of this equation was preventing ME from having a baby was more than I could handle. I contemplated ending my marriage. I contemplated sleeping with an undergrad who was a dead ringer for a 20 year old version of my husband. I researched donor embryos and adoption. Ultimately I decided to take a break and went to the beach. The IF monster was after us.
As we sat in a diner on a cold October night, we each pleaded our cases to each other. I asked how donor sperm is different from adoption; he asked if I would leave. I desperately tried not to view him as the obstacle between me and our baby, but it was hard.
I slowly came to understand that through his eyes it would be unfair to him to not be biologically linked to our child if I were. We agreed to move to adoption if this didn’t pan out. We became closer as a couple in those 45 minutes than we had been to that point. We found the common ground we should have started on.
Conception the High Tech Way
Thankfully when we got home our RE had a change of heart and agreed to drop the donor sperm requirement. This became a super high tech method of conception. IVF with ICSI via mTESE. Or in vitro fertilization with intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection via male testicular sperm extraction.
My googling was in vain. I just had to trust that we would find ourselves on the right side of the abysmal success rates. My husband agreed to have his manhood surgically dissected, under a microscope, in the hopes of finding a single sperm. The big day of retrieval and mTESE came and went with no sperm. Three hours of microsurgery and nothing. Everything was for naught.
I followed his wailing to the back of the recovery ward. That was the darkest day of our relationship. We didn’t speak. What was there to say? The good doctor offered to try again, after a year of recovery time had passed.
The next morning the familiar number of my nurse appeared on my phone. I almost didn’t answer. She was calling to check on me and I was going to be a blubbering fool. I was going to be forever trapped in an infertile relationship, what could she possibly offer me?
She offered me my children.
She told me that two techs worked for six hours sifting through samples and found two sperm. Two sperm, that thanks to ICSI produced two embryos, that developed into our beautiful ladies. Call it a miracle, call it luck, call it whatever you will − we won by knockout.
I couldn’t consider myself any more fortunate to have two happy and healthy little people running my life. I appreciate my journey to them, and am thankful for the experience that has brought my husband and me closer.
However, I’m still marked. IF doesn’t leave; we aren’t cured. I will forever be trapped by my husband’s infertility. I’d love to have more children. Call it greed, if you must. From time to time I do have a chip on my shoulder. I don’t think I could handle the stress and anxiety of another equally complicated try. I know the odds haven’t changed to our favor. As I’ve started to tell my ladies, life isn’t always fair and you just have to make the best of it. So make the best of it we will!
This post is part of Infertility Tales 2014, How Do You Do It?‘s series to raise awareness about infertility and its impact on families. Please take a moment to read through some of the personal stories of loss, pain, fertility treatments, and success.