Did you know that 3.3 – 4.7 million men have dealt with male infertility at some point in their life? According to a CDC study, 7.5% of all sexually active men under the age of 45 will see a fertility doctor in their lifetime.
In 2008 I did not know that. I, as a lot of people do, assumed that if a couple was having trouble conceiving that it was due to the woman having fertility problems. I probably assumed this because I was a child that grew up in a home with a mother who had 6 miscarriages (one of which was twins). My mom had told me that the reason they had trouble conceiving and carrying a pregnancy to term had to deal with her body because my dad had been tested and had “super sperm.” (TMI, I know!) But that is how it was described to me. Apparently, when they were both tested, my dad’s sperm count was ruled out as a factor since he had an especially high count. Again, more than you or I needed to know, but that was my education on infertility.
So when my husband and I decided to start a family, I was ready to face infertility head-on. My mom had endured many fertility treatments and I had a feeling I just might, too. I of course was hopeful that I would be pregnant in 3 months or less. Well, 3 months came and went. As did months 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. It was discouraging especially considering that I could’ve given birth to a baby in that amount of time! I just knew that my family’s infertility was coming into play. There was never a thought that it might be my husband’s infertility. His family seemed super fertile. At the time, there were 5 kids, 8 grandkids, and 2 great-grandkids on his side of the family.
I was wrong, though. My tests came back fine. My husband’s did not. We were shocked and heartbroken to learn that he had zero sperm count. We were given a bit of hope with an invasive surgery where they tried to extract sperm right from the cells in his testicles. That hope was smashed when they couldn’t extract any.
I never expected my husband to be the one to deal with infertility. I don’t think many do and I also know that male infertility is not talked about nearly as much as female infertility. Even our doctors didn’t talk that much about it. I had to research online to find out that my husband’s zero sperm count meant that he had azoospermia and that even if they had extracted sperm, the chances of any male offspring having azoospermia, too, was almost 100%.
While I was heartbroken that we would never get pregnant together, I know my husband took it the hardest. It was his body that was holding us back and he appeared to feel so guilty about this and it seemed to make him hesitant about adoption. He grieved with me at first, but then seemed to bury his grief. I know many women dealing with infertility confess their anger at their own body and the guilt they feel for not being able to “just conceive.” Yet, as we all know, women and men deal with things very differently. My husband hardly talked about his condition then and rarely talks about it now. Occasionally he will talk about it in a kind of joking manner. This mostly happens when a T.V. show portrays a couple dealing with infertility. I ask questions and offer support sometimes and other times I just listen. I know that our two kids wouldn’t be ours without his infertility and he knows that too, but I know at times it is still hard on him that he couldn’t produce a child.
When I looked up the figures for how many men were affected by infertility, I was surprised, because you just don’t hear men talk about it. We women tend to be the talkers, so maybe we need to speak up for the men and let other men know that they are not alone in dealing with infertility. I know my husband would never be caught dead at a support group, but I sometimes think talking to someone when he was first diagnosed would have helped. Because male infertility is just as real and painful as female infertility, it’s just not as talked about.