A man’s fertility diary: ‘When will it be my turn to tell the lads some good news?’
03rd Dec 2021
This will make you laugh, it will make you cry. Our male columnist shares the ups and downs of his own fertility journey
The sun is setting as I share a beer with my friends on a rooftop bar in Barcelona. As I gazed across the haphazard rooftops, it felt as if nothing could sour this moment. Then my best friend makes the announcement. It’s congrats all around as I fight my true feelings of despair and feign enthusiasm. This empty feeling overpowers. I feel terrible and he can see right through me.
Why can’t I be happy for him? As I pump his hand and clink cheers, I can’t help wondering when will it be my turn to tell the lads some good news?
Male fertility issues
Myself and wife, both early 30s, attempted to get pregnant for three years, both super healthy, non-smokers. We tried everything from hypnosis and acupuncture to crystals in an effort to have a natural pregnancy.
Infertility is defined as failing to conceive after one year. It affects 15% of couples under 40, regardless of race or nationality. Within that 15%, male fertility issues are the cause one-third of the time. There is no medication for this, just lifestyle suggestions and it’s an exceptionally under-researched part of fertility medicine.
Hardly off the flight home and I’m storming into the kitchen with a black plastic bag, throwing out booze and coffee to make room for those fancy vitamins. I tell my wife we’re stepping up our game and timing our lovemaking down to the millisecond, no more romance in this house. Bear in mind that it takes three months to form a sperm cell, so give yourself that time and take the pressure off.
Anyone trying without luck should perhaps get a semen analysis test. With a little mindset shift this can be easily turned from an awkward situation into a comical, and in fact enjoyable, Tuesday morning, costing about €120.
It will give you the sperm count (number of sperm), motility (how fast they swim) and morphology (the shape of the sperm). Although 50 million sperm sounds like a lot, many more things are actually needed for a positive result. It’s usually the motility that’s the problem, so there are some easy lifestyle changes men can make.
In case you missed it, smoking kills, especially sperm. If you are a grown-up, human man then we shouldn’t even need to mention recreational drugs. Our next villain is stress and he’s a sneaky one because he makes things much harder psychologically. Ironically, it’s the infertility that stresses you out in one of God’s “mysterious ways,” I believe he calls it. There is some inconclusive evidence that caffeine elevates stress, but only in large quantities. I can’t say I was in a rush to ditch my cup of morning Joe.
This journey is not without some poetic justice. We know the mother doesn’t drink for at least nine months, so why not let us guys join the sober parade. That’s right, alcohol prevents oxygen and nutrients from getting to those little swimmers, I’m afraid.
Aside from eating well which will help with libido, relaxation and weight (also important), you can also take appropriate vitamins recommended by your doctor.
And, I’m just going to say it, the scrotum is the ugliest part of the male anatomy but for good reason, as it keeps sperm cooler than the rest of the body. So don’t go heating it up or you’ll boil away those little guys. The famous mistake is taking baths but also beware of just sitting down all day, even in the car or taking a jacuzzi. Switch the tighty whities to loose cotton boxers. Bizarrely, cycling a bike is also linked to low sperm count.
There are myths about the type, frequency and positions during sex in order to get a better outcome. Best to focus on timing the ovulation and get down to business, people. It doesn’t need to be fancy.
Inevitable there are poorly phrased questions from friends and family. I always had a prepared, deflective statement like “we’re having too much fun trying to actually get pregnant” or ask them to explain specifically how it works – that worked a delight on my great Aunt Betty.
Taking a couple of healthy years with lots of sex actually doesn’t sound like a chore and will absolutely improve your quality of life and relationship. It’s a difficult and private struggle for a couple, and it will either drive you closer together or rip you apart.
Going for treatment
If you’re getting anxious, start researching fertility treatment costs early so that you can take that option if required. It is becoming much more normalised and advanced. However, depending on the treatment you need, it can take months and can break your bank, so keep that in mind the next time you drink a beer on your bike wearing Y-fronts.
I hold my wife’s hand as she’s brought out of the fertility clinic theatre, dazed with a sedative. I help her into the recovery bed. There were two weeks of waiting after that in which neither of us slept or ate, certainly didn’t get any work done. Finally, we get to hand my mother-in-law the card. “To Gran” it simply says. We watch the tears roll down her face as she congratulates us. Tears of joy, relief maybe, or even sadness for us, for our own secret struggle.
Three years of trying and IVF was, unfortunately, our undoing as a couple but the little princess we have from it was worth all the stress and strain.
Here’s to life.
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