Sperm! Testes! Penis!
Are you smiling a bit? I definitely giggled a little typing these words out like the mature adult that I am. These aren’t anatomy terms usually spoken about in everyday life, but they became game-changers for my husband and me. We also discovered that they aren’t spoken about too much in infertility circles either despite male-factor infertility contributing to around a third of infertility cases.
My husband and I tried for fourteen months before our doctor finally admitted something amiss was happening with our baby making plans. We were almost 100% confident the complications were due to my delicate and mysterious female workings, but we agreed that we better cover all our bases and we sent my husband in for a sperm analysis.
You can imagine our shock when his tests came back finding 0 sperm. You read that right. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. There was a preliminary diagnosis called azoospermia. Our fertility journey did not start how I had mistakenly presumed with the focus on the female anatomy. It began with a physical of my husband, two more sperm analysis tests, and a testicular biopsy where they had to take more sample than usual because of my husband’s condition.
I have never seen my husband so uncomfortable as the day I brought him home from hospital and ice, pain meds, and tight underwear were his best friends for the next few days.
The results came in and they were hard to hear. My husband didn’t even have sperm at a testicular level that could be extracted and used for IVF. His official diagnosis in the end was unobstructive azoospermia with no explanation about why.
The next few months were rough. We were both grieving, but my husband had lost something profound and I felt so helpless about what to do to support him. He turned inward with his feelings: his self-esteem and self-worth had taken an extreme hit and he was struggling to process where this left him in his identity as a man. I’m a fairly pragmatic person and thought it would make us both feel better to forge ahead to choose a donor. Next steps would ease his grief, right? Wrong. He wasn’t ready and, at first, I felt frustrated and a bit of resentment. Didn’t he want a family no matter how it came to be? I had to take a step back, however, and realize that my husband desperately needed time.
Time to grieve, time to struggle with what this meant for who he was as a man, my husband, a dad and all the implications that came with going the donor route.
Our fertility specialist reassured us that the azoospermia was not my husband’s fault, but my husband still – years later – has days where he feels crushing guilt. He has seen what my body has gone through trying to have a baby. He has held me while I’ve sobbed the ugly kind of crying that ends with snot on everything. He replays shoulds and what ifs from childhood like if he had made one choice even slightly differently it would have changed our present. I feel like it’s important that I tell him regularly, therefore, that he is my family with or without children. I will always love him and I will 100% always choose him even if I built a time machine and went back with this knowledge. The only thing I would change is my wardrobe from high school (baggy everything was not a good look – yikes!).
I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the one to support my husband through his grief. I felt like I had to resolve his pain, or be his confidante and help him work through his feelings around infertility. He actually found it more helpful to talk to a third party, or strangers on the Internet, which has tons of very supportive communities. Infertility is not easy on a marriage and we’re still kind of figuring out how to best support each other through all the highs and lows. Male infertility is certainly not something we thought would be an issue for us and it’s been tough, but I feel we’ve also grown really close through it. I realize now that I just need to be what I’ve always been to my husband: a wife who loves him very much and is standing next to him holding his hand when it feels like the world’s gone a little topsy-turvy.