We all have expectations in life. From a young age, we have this ideal of life and what it should be. As we grow older, we imagine ourselves with a great job, a house, and a perfect family to go with all of it.
Over the past four years, what I imagined my life would be is completely different. I’ve had to re-imagine my future as my wife and I struggled to build our family, just one year after getting married and only 26 years of age. I couldn’t have done it without a couple of important things that helped me pushed through all the hardships. This my journey.
As we tried to get pregnant, we thought that all we’d have to do is stop taking the pill and stop using condoms. After almost five months, nothing was happening. My wife, Ellen, wasn’t getting pregnant. We purchased all the tools to help us try to conceive: ovulation kit, thermometer, pregnancy tests, and everything in between.
We had some added stress in our lives because I didn’t have a stable job and jumped from contract to contract through the entire year. I did end up getting a new job and it was great at first, and luckily I now had health benefits as well.
Just three months after landing this new job and having tried to start a family for about five months, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. We were devastated. Hearing the word “cancer” at 26 years old really affected me. How did this happen? What did I do wrong? Why me? Why now? And many more questions ran through my head as I tried to make sense of it all. I was scheduled to have surgery in less than a month to remove the affected testicle and I was scared. It was my first surgery. More questions ran through my mind: “Would I need chemotherapy?”, “Would I need more surgeries?”, “What about our attempts to build a family?”
Thankfully, I had a friend who also had testicular cancer at a young age. Through discussions with him, I found out that chemotherapy can greatly affect sperm production. Taking his suggestion, I went to give a sample to the local fertility clinic to see if I could freeze my sperm before my surgery and potential chemotherapy treatment.
The results from that sample shattered our world yet again. The person on the other end of the phone with the results said, “We couldn’t find any. You don’t have any sperm.” It’s a condition called “azoospermia”. For something that’s supposed to be in the amount of tens of millions, I had none; zero. My wife immediately felt something was wrong when she saw the look on my face as I told her the news. We wailed, wept, and held each other tightly. First cancer, now this? The same questions would run through my mind: “Why me?” “What did I do wrong?” “Why now?” The fertility doctor suggested it was likely due to the cancer. All other tests I did came back normal, nothing else could’ve caused it. He also said that there would only be a 2-3% chance of it ever returning naturally. He also mentioned a surgery called Micro-TESE where they cut open the testicle and try to retrieve sperm from directly within it.
We decided to tackle one hurdle at a time, starting with my cancer.
I’d give one more sperm sample before the surgery but the result was the same: zero. I went into surgery early one morning, said goodbye to my right testicle, and woke up in recovery. The post-op appointment would reveal that the cancer was likely contained and may not have spread. The doctor also said that I would not need any chemotherapy or additional surgery. I would however, need constant monitoring throughout the rest of my life to ensure that the cancer does not return. I’d have appointments every 4 to 6 months to do Ct Scans, Xrays and blood work. A small price to pay in comparison to additional surgery or chemotherapy. I am thankful I didn’t have to go through that.
Now that the cancer situation had been addressed, we moved onto the next step in trying to build our family.
Our best chance of conception was IVF (in vitro fertilization) along with the Micro-TESE surgery which the doctor suggested. I sacrificed my right testicle to cancer and I was ready and willing to risk my other one just for a chance to start a family. Although the doctor said there was only a 2-3% chance of my sperm returning, he did say that there was a 50% chance of finding sperm directly within my testicle. We were also faced with yet another hurdle: what if they couldn’t find any sperm? What then?
Following the surgery to remove the cancerous testicle, we changed our entire lives. We started eating and being healthier and we did our best to save money for IVF. Throughout that time, we also slowly came to terms with using donor sperm in case the Micro-TESE surgery couldn’t retrieve any. I told myself that whatever child(ren) would come, they would come from pure love.
Needless to say, it was yet another incredibly difficult year. Friends around us were easily getting pregnant and having babies, we cut back spending wherever possible, and we weren’t so happy in our jobs.
Then the time finally came. Although we didn’t quite have enough money yet, we embarked on the IVF process, purchased vials of donor sperm, and booked the Micro-TESE surgery.
It feels like the most complete wrong and backwards way of conceiving a child. Both of us weren’t even in the same room and I was unconscious while the surgery was being performed. It’s a blessing and a curse. We’re glad to be able to have the opportunity to have our own children, but there’s no intimacy, and there are many fears.
Fear that the surgery won’t yield any sperm. Fear that we won’t collect any eggs for fertilization. Fear that we won’t get any embryos. Fear that all this hard work will be for nothing.
Only one of those fears came true. After returning home from the Micro-TESE surgery and my wife’s egg collection, a phone call notified us that they didn’t find any sperm and used the donor sperm instead.
We were once again devastated. Devastated that life didn’t go our way. That life hit us in the face. As the days went by, we found out that we had two embryos. On the fifth day, we had to decide whether to implant one or both. It was a difficult decision. We wanted children so badly and we really enjoyed the thought of twins, so that we wanted to implant both. However, we decided to only put one in and we froze the other.
A couple of anxious-filled weeks later and we get results from my wife’s blood test. Since I was recovering from surgery, I was the one at home to receive the phone call while she was at work. I hear the words “Congratulations, your wife is pregnant”. In that moment, I couldn’t be happier. I immediately hugged my dog and said “You’re going to have a friend to play with!”
After a couple more weeks, we finally went in for the ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy. What we saw next completely shocked us. There were two sacs, two babies. Our little miracle embryo magically divided into two and created identical twins.
We cried tears of joy the entire time and throughout the drive back home. We simply couldn’t believe it.
The entire pregnancy went smoothly. As the due date came closer, we became more excited. We knew that having twins would be a challenge, but were ready and looking forward to it. We did all the normal first-time parent things like pregnancy classes, buying cribs, clothes, stroller, items, creating the nursery and even trading in our vehicle for a minivan since our family would soon be doubling in size.
A month before the twins scheduled due date, my work let me go and they didn’t give a reason. Luckily I got a new job a few weeks later, but it was still yet another blow, just before what was supposed to be the best time of our lives.
Two weeks before the scheduled C-section, we had an ultrasound and everything was perfect and on track. My wife was almost 34 weeks along. Four days after that ultrasound, my wife realized she hadn’t felt the babies move in a while. Knowing the twins well at this point, we knew they moved a lot. We immediately went to the hospital.
They took us into a room to hear their heartbeats and there was silence. My heart sank at that point but the nurse said she’d get an ultrasound machine because it’s better.
Upon seeing the initial images on the screen, we knew they were gone. They didn’t move. Having been in attendance to many ultrasound appointments, we knew what the images should look like. I was in complete denial.
The nurse left the room to get the doctor. He came in and his first words were “So, I’m just going to confirm… ” We were completely devastated once more. Our lives would yet again change forever after that fateful weekend.
We were left completely depressed, broke, and no babies to show for all our hard work of trying to start a family. We were back to square one.
We went to support groups for infertility and loss. They really helped us get through. I also started writing my thoughts and found it helped even more.
I kept writing and we eventually decided to transfer the remaining frozen embryo. Surprisingly, my wife got pregnant again, and although we were happy, we were also cautious. Loss was all we knew about pregnancy, so it was difficult to cope with at times.
Around 20 weeks, a scan revealed there was a high probability of having a baby with Down Syndrome. A blood test with 99.9% accuracy would later confirm the diagnosis. Our baby would indeed have Down Syndrome. Our doctor somewhat assumed we’d terminate the pregnancy, but we decided to continue on. Of all the challenges we have faced, we knew we’d be ready for this one too. We tried so hard to start our family and we had so much love to give. We loved this baby so much already.
All these things happened to us within a span of four years. Our baby daughter was born in March 2014 and there have been many ups and downs, including her heart surgery to repair a defect which is relatively common in people with Down Syndrome. She’s the love of our lives and as most parents would say “We can’t imagine our lives without her”.
I look back at everything and think “Wow, I made it through all that?” While actually being in those particular moments made me think, “How the hell am I going to get through this?”
Somehow, I found a way. I’d get up every morning and look at my wife and say, “I love her so much. I can’t go on without her.” So I kept going. People around me would give advice or suggestions on what to do and how to cope. Sometimes I took it, sometimes I didn’t. I always did what I thought was best for me in any given moment.
The support groups also helped and I continued writing and turned it into a blog. What I found was that people were inspired by my story, and in turn, they inspired me to keep on going. They also provided me incredible amounts of support through comments and social media as my wife and I would go through difficult times.
I never knew that sharing my story with others would be this helpful. So I encourage you to share yours. I hope it helps you along your journey and inspires others.