Alex was diagnosed with azoospermia. Alex and his partner are now parents to a daughter conceived with the help of donor sperm.
My path to parenthood was not at all what I expected. Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a dad. I was always good with kids, it just came pretty naturally to me. Part of that may be because I have two younger sisters, plus two younger cousins that grew up on the same street as us. It always sort of felt like I was the oldest of five, which often meant helping out with the younger kids. As I got older and had more cousins and a niece being born, it was quite often I had people tell me I would make a great dad. It honestly felt like a life calling of some kind, one I never imagined would be in jeopardy.
My wife and I met when we were 16, dated through the last two years of high school and all of college, and got married at 23. Since we had already been together 7 years, the plan was to have children pretty quickly. We started traveling and enjoying married life, and eventually decided to wait a few more years. As we approached our 5 year anniversary, we decided it was time to start trying.
“Each month that passed caused more and more stress in our lives”
My wife is a teacher, and we were naive enough to believe we could time a pregnancy perfectly to align with her summer break. After a few months we realized that wouldn’t be the case, but thought “oh well, we can announce our pregnancy at the holidays!” Wrong again. Each month that passed caused more and more stress in our lives. My wife was becoming increasingly triggered by things like pregnancy announcements, baby showers, and birthday parties. As we approached one year of trying to conceive, my wife asked her OBGYN for some additional testing to try and identify any possible reason why we weren’t succeeding. After everything seemed normal, the doctor suggested that I get tested. To be honest, I thought it was a little ridiculous. I had spent months consoling and reassuring my wife, telling her “it will happen eventually, it hasn’t been that long.” I honestly believed that, and only agreed to get tested to hopefully give her some peace of mind.
The night my results came in is one I will never forget. My wife received the call while waiting for me to finish a meeting, and when I returned to the car she was sobbing. She broke the news to me: there were zero sperm. Zero?! Zero. My jaw was on the floor, I was completely speechless. We called the doctor together and I asked lots of questions. How does this even happen? Wouldn’t I have known? Could it be a mistake? Do we have any hope? What do we do now?
“Varicoceles are very common and can sometimes cause infertility in men”
We quickly scheduled a re-test, which confirmed the zero count. We also did blood work to rule out any genetic disorders or hormonal deficiencies that would cause infertility, and everything looked normal. We then met with a urologist who specialized in infertility. I learned that the absence of sperm is broadly called azoospermia, though it can have a variety of causes. During my initial visit with him, he noted the presence of a varicocele, which he suggested be surgically repaired. Varicoceles are very common and can sometimes cause infertility in men. He seemed fairly confident and believed that this would give us the best odds of ever finding sperm. Since there wasn’t any other obvious explanation for my azoospermia, we were fairly hopeful that this could be our solution.
After the surgery, we had to wait six months for the follow up appointment. At this point we had already been trying for over a year, and six more months felt like forever. But what choice did we have? We spent that six months grieving, traveling, daydreaming about getting good news, and discussing alternative options should we receive bad news. On the day before Thanksgiving in 2017, we finally had our follow up appointment. The urologist walked in and said “Ok so you know there’s still zero sperm, right?” I was devastated. Thinking back on that day still puts my stomach in knots. I had been trying to prepare myself for the worst, but it still broke me. 18 months and a surgery later, we were still no closer to having a child.
Immediately after breaking that news to us, the urologist suggested a possible micro-TESE procedure. For that surgery, he would make an incision and try to manually extract sperm with a microscopic needle to be directly injected into an egg. He said there weren’t great odds, and it would be expensive, but that it was our last remaining option if I wanted biological children. We went home, fake smiled through the holidays, and weighed our options. After lots of research and discussion with my wife and our doctors, we eventually decided that micro-TESE wasn’t for us. That meant saying goodbye to my genetics, and grieving the loss of the child we couldn’t have.
“Eventually, we both felt ready to move forward again”
We needed to allow time for that grief, and honestly to try to find happiness again. We gave ourselves a year to seek counseling, travel, and come up with a plan. We started to open up to friends and family about our situation, and even met people who had been through the exact same thing. After feeling alone for a very long time, we started to feel supported and understood. Eventually, we both felt ready to move forward again.
One thing that my wife and I both really wanted was for her to be pregnant. Pregnancy and childbirth was such a major part of the experience we had always dreamed of. For us, that meant using donor sperm. We searched through several major cryobank websites and compared donors. I made a spreadsheet to track all of their medical histories, interests, physical traits and more. We selected a donor, purchased his last four vials, and started preparing for medicated IUI cycles. After our second IUI, we had our first ever positive pregnancy test!
Our greatest wish came true when in February we welcomed our perfect baby girl into the world. It took us four years and an unexpected path to find success, but I would do it all again to get to her.
If you have any questions or would like to connect with Alex you can find him on Instagram @pursuingfatherhood where he provides valuable support to the fertility community.