The minutiae of our fertility treatment journey is better captured in my wife’s post, and as she has already written about it I am not going to redundantly chime in about the progression in fertility treatments from a midwife up to a reproductive endocrinologist (RE). All of the details aside, it will suffice to say that getting my wife pregnant was going to take some teamwork.
Initially, the finger assigning blame for difficulty getting pregnant was pointing directly at me. I suspected that I was not producing a good deal of swimmers, and had suspected as much for several years. It wasn’t until I got home from Afghanistan and my wife and I decided to start trying for a baby that I decided to look into it a little more professionally, and a little less like a hobbyist bathroom semen analyst. My first semenalysis confirmed what I already knew, but finally in quantifiable terms… which really excited my nerdy stats side. Where normal adult males produce anywhere from 40 to about 300 million sperm per “load,” I was tossing out somewhere in the staggeringly underwhelming ballpark of 3 million. Lab results on my hormone levels were also low across the board. My luteinizing hormone (responsible for instigating sperm production), my follicle stimulating hormone (this hormone prompts the production of testosterone in males), and my testosterone levels were all on the lowest cusp of still being considered normal.
“But all it takes is one good swimmer to get inside the egg and make a baby,” at least that’s what I kept telling myself. Theoretically, 3 million is 2.999999 million more than enough. As it turns out, though, the semen analysis also showed that my swimmers’ morphology was poor, and they had not-so-good motility. Basically they were lazy, bad postured swimmers who were really poor at performing their only job: to swim. At numbers less than 10% of the lowest “normal” count of swimmers, these were a woefully sad group of sperm cells.
Sure, 3 million is still a lot and it might only take one swimmer to make a baby (no matter how lazy or misshapen it may be), but I’m a paratrooper for crying out loud! My sperm should be able to literally leap a tall building in a single bound and punch their way through a cervix and an egg like the Kool-Aid Man knocks on doors! Something was not right in the downstairs mix-up, if you catch my drift.
To address all of this, the doc put me on clomiphene. Clomiphene (or Clomid) is a drug that both men and women can use to help increase sex hormone production. In males, the increase in LH and FSH promotes sperm production while also increasing the body’s own production of testosterone. After about 4 months of routinely taking clomiphene I returned for another semenalysis to see how my body was responding to the medication.
The results were pretty surprising… my count had climbed from 3 million sperm to about 90 million, and their get-up-and-go motility grade finally advanced from pure crap to barely average. The clomiphene had made such a huge improvement in the ole’ ammunition stores that I felt much more confident about blasting away at making a baby in true paratrooper fashion… now that my numbers looked remarkably mediocre. But hey, I’ll take it. Being average is good news when it comes to sperm.
What followed from there was a series of ups and downs as we tried every month to make a little John-Aaron-and-Ellie hybrid. Every month, ovulation day would come and go and about two weeks later Ellie would invariably test positive for massive disappointment. Ellie, who has always been pretty intuitive about what is going on inside her body, insisted that she felt something was wrong with her reproductive system, as well. Sure enough, she also had some physiological issues to deal with before we could have a baby. For a good recounting of my wife’s story from this point forward just check out her post on infertility here. She’s got all the interesting stats and details concerning her infertility treatments already beautifully penned and ready to read, with information that I have undoubtedly forgotten a dozen times over… except the bit about her reproductive endocrinologist; I remember her very well. Dr. W. is a smoking hottie with an RE practice in San Jose, and I was totally on board with a Husband-Wife-Hot Doctor reproductive team. SPOILER ALERT: Three three of us, together, succeeded in eventually putting a beautiful baby girl up inside my wife.
That about covers the cold hard facts pertaining to my side of the fertility struggle. What was a hell of a lot more difficult to deal with was the less-quantifiable impact of my own doubts, things that could not be analyzed in a lab and then targeted for correction. The medication, the lab work, and the repeated “donations” of sperm samples were not too bad, enjoyable even, but thoughts and feelings can affect you on a much deeper level than facts and stats can.
One thing that I carried with me throughout the entire duration of our fertility treatments, right up through the pregnancy, and even into the first few weeks of our daughter’s life, was a nagging thought: what if we aren’t supposed to have a baby in the first place? We were both facing some physiological hurdles to conception, and both of us had to be treated with fertility drugs to even be viable as parents. What if we were never supposed to go down this road? It was not going to happen naturally without some intervention, so maybe this was our bodies telling us to focus on other goals and leave the baby making to those whose bodies were already primed to pop out babies like a cheap Chinese manufacturing line. This thought was my constant companion, one that I kept to myself. It seemed to me that a doubt like that, if spoken out loud, could do way more harm than good. Saying “honey, maybe we aren’t meant to have a baby” wasn’t as likely to spark a lively discussion on predestination or fate as it was to ignite an emotional meltdown and maybe a stabbing.
So yeah, I kept that thought to myself.
Any doubts I had about reproducing faded quickly after my baby girl was born. I am sure this part reads like a cheesy hallmark card, but I really did feel myself loving her more and more every day, and with every day I became more and more committed to being the absolute best father I possibly can. Every little speed bump we rolled over on our way to parenthood, every costly insurance billing error, every negative pregnancy test, every disheartening lab result, every tear shed, absolutely everything that may have made us pause and wonder should we be doing this was wiped away the day that Wren Mari was born. It is absolutely worth it, and it is definitely what we were primed for.
Infertility be damned. We were undoubtedly meant to be parents, and we plan on knocking this parenting thing out of the park.
(the sperm image above taken from Royal Society Publishing)