by Jennifer (Jay) Palumbo
Male fertility . . . In the past couple of years, we’ve been hearing about it more and more
This is a good thing as for far too long, when there were issues with trying to conceive, the woman was always looked at (and sometimes, blamed) first. Anyone remember King Henry? Poor Catherine, his first wife, not only didn’t give him a healthy baby boy, but she had issues conceiving again. Off with her head! Yikes!
If I may share a fun story on this topic for just a moment
Every year, here in the United States, I travel to Washington D.C. to advocate to increase access to fertility care. This is something I know the amazing people at IVF Babble do in their neck of the woods as well.
Well, one year, I met with a representative for a certain Republican’s office. The actual Senator couldn’t meet with me so I got a sidekick (the Robin to the Representative Batman if you will). He was in his twenties (bless his young heart), had the most glaringly festive socks I may have ever seen and I’m certain thought menopause was a button on a remote control.
As I talked about infertility and how, when you do the breakdown, 40% are due to the woman, 40% are due to the man and the remaining is usually considered “unexplained”.
He looked at me shocked. I assumed it was because I was talking sperm and eggs before 10am!
But as it turns out, his horror was that men could have a fertility concern. He asked incredulously, “Wait… men can have infertility issues?”
I’ll spare you all the details but in short, I had a “birds and the bees” conversation with a twenty-year-old. When I was done, even his socks looked sad.
Which brings me to the joy of getting a sperm analysis. I can say “joy” because while I’ve had many an infertility test (one that typically involves needle), my husband has taken a few in his time. He also (bless HIS heart) had the nerve to complain about it on one occasion. After my murderous glare, he only ever did that on one occasion for fear he wouldn’t have the parts to give a sperm analysis in the future.
While I did enjoy my husbands animated “porn review” (note: National Geographic is just not inspirational), I was always curious about the male perspective around getting your boys reviewed. So, I reached out to a few and get their insight!
Alex, who asked not to share his last name or information.
Tobias Böcker, who started a company called Mojo Fertility to make sperm analysis more reliable and convenient for labs and thus, ultimately, more reliable for male infertility treatment and ART success rates.
Marc Sherman, after going through his personal struggle in trying to conceive for close to a decade, he founded Organic Conceptions which uses both qualitative and quantitative research practices to help support those on their fertility journey.
What were your concerns before taking your first one?
Alex: The first one I did was producing the sample at home in the specimen cup provided and taking it to the local center first thing in the morning in a paper bag before going to work. It was during the Winter, so I was concerned about being able to keep it warm on the 25-minute drive. I had it tucked under my arm inside my coat during the drive and it was awkward to drive with a sample under your arm! I was in such a rush to get the sample to the hospital I didn’t pee before I left the house and ended up with a UTI as a result!
Marc: My first concern was the problem might be an issue with me! And that all this pain and uncertainty was a result of something that I did or that was wrong with me.Like did I have too many beers in college? Yikes!
Tobias: Of course, there’s a certain level of embarrassment when thinking about producing a sample in a clinic. However, once you make yourself aware of the fact why you’re doing this, it all becomes relative. Eventually, my biggest concern was the cleanliness of the collection room!
Were you anxious about the results?
Alex: Yes. Not because I thought my swimmers were problematic, but because I didn’t want my wife to be the “problem” with our unexplained infertility. It’s very easy to take this process very personally (i.e., it’s your fault that we’re not pregnant), and she already does that enough. I wanted to have the issue, so she wouldn’t do that to herself. But my swimmers were just fine, and she took it personally for a while. I had to apologize at times for having good enough swimmers, and explain that it wasn’t just her, it was the two of us having an issue.
Marc: Absolutely – it felt like a lot on the line!
Tobias: I took the test because of suspicion so yes, I was anxious about the results.
Any funny stories or insights when taking the test?
Alex: Oh boy. Well, where do we begin? The first sample I dropped off at the medical center I had to hand the paper bag with my container of still warm sample to an older lady that was volunteering at the drop off point, so it was like handing a bag of “your boys” to your mom, which I don’t recommend!
The ones in office during the SAs & IUI treatments were somewhat less awkward since it’s a medical area. The rooms that I was in for the samples had the selection of out–of–date porn magazines you would expect, and a computer not connected to anything on the network. I had to ask the nurses several times for help because it wouldn’t load up because of the firewall or other issues.
I also had to do the samples at two clinics within the same practice, but they both had the same black leather chair in the room. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the chair after a while. I don’t want to imagine what horrible things that chair has experienced.
The last IUI treatment we went for had the room off the hall/main lobby area in the clinic. The male nurse calls me back, he shows me the room, and says to bring the sample to the nurses’ station at the end of the hall when I’m done. No bag. So, when I had my sample, I had to like hide walk it down to the nurses’ station, and I met the nurse. He then inspects it closely, does like the wine viscosity swirl in the cup like some sort of semen sommelier, and I thought for half a second if he was going to do the gargle. This was also the first time I had a man take my sample, and it felt like I was being compared to his own and the first time I worried if I had produced enough. I mean it worked, our daughter was in that cup somewhere.
Marc: Unfortunately, yes. I had to bring a sample from my home to the clinic for more testing. My wife told me to drop it off at the “brick building” in the complex. Well, there were many brick buildings and as I was multitasking,I walked into a brick building, and dropped off my sample to the woman at the front desk. Then after the most awkward experience in my life, I found out that I was not at the clinic. I was at an ophthalmologist’s office. If things weren’t hard enough… sometimes you just need to laugh.And yes, I need glasses.
Did you discuss taking a sperm analysis with other male friends?
Alex: OFTEN. One of my dearest friends, James, went through the infertility process so he was a massive support throughout the ordeal. Without his support and helping us stay centered, this process would have been so much worse. Once we outed ourselves that we were going through the process, it was part of our regular conversation not just because of the stories, but also two of our friends miscarried during our infertility process, so we were being supportive to them as we were being supported by others. I found out a lot of my friends ended up going through infertility with varying degrees of success. Since we’ve been out about our experience, more of my friends have come to me asking about the process because they were/are having difficulty getting pregnant. It’s something that isn’t really talked about, like taboo, but honestly once you break the ice with the funny stories, you can get to the serious subject matter.
Marc: Not really.
Tobias: Yes. I believe that we need to do everything we can to address the stigma surrounding male infertility. Not only for men’s sake but also for our female partners. My primary reason for speaking with my friends about this was not having someone to talk to but rather to encourage them to take a test proactively.
Any advice for those who are taking the test?
Alex: Don’t ask your partner to help with producing samples at home. The look I got from my wife when I asked was one of the worst combinations of snarl andlaughter I’ve ever seen. The big thing is to just try to relax, unzip, and get it done. And if you’re doing an at home sample, please pee before you leave to take the sample to the office.
Marc: This is hard. It will pass. It’s OK to laugh and find humor among the pain. Stay strong as your wife is experiencing much worse.
Tobias: Knowledge is power. You probably know it’s the right thing to do so just do it. In most cases, unfortunately, time is of the essence.
Anything else I missed that you’d like to share?
Alex: I was really closeted about the process for a while, but after we came out about it, the support just comes flooding it. I would honestly encourage men to talk about this sort of thing. Maybe not the full graphic details, but that “we’re having this problem, I’m nervous about this,” and you would really be surprised how many other guys are going through this process. You need to build your support system and knowing that you’re not alone is massive in normalisation, coping, and acceptance.
Marc: Every journey is unique. You need to stay united, trusting and realise that your emotional health and well-being matters. You are not just a “part” that needs fixing.