Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Factor In

Infertility is a couples' condition, and can be attributed to either partner. Once considered purely a "female problem," infertility science has historically placed little emphasis on the role of the male. Approximately 1/3 of infertile couples have a purely male-factor cause, 1/3 are related to the female, and another third are infertile due to combined male and female factors.
Here is a look at the experience of infertility from a male's perspective.
Thank you to *Sam and his wife for sharing their story.
Infertility is one of the most difficult obstacles I have ever had to face. It afflicts so many, but yet it seems like so few because it is terribly isolating and painful to experience first hand. I’m writing this with hope that someone will be able to identify with my experience and find the strength to tackle infertility head on and know that there can be a light at the end of the tunnel. My wife and I struggled with infertility for years, and I am happy to say that we have a positive outcome; we are now proud parents of a little boy from South Korea. Plus, we have been matched with another little boy that we expect to come home early next summer! To say that adoption has changed our lives for the better would be a profound understatement.

I’m getting ahead of myself a bit; I’ll start at the beginning. My wife and I went through several rounds of fertility treatments, which is to say that we have been poked and prodded to the point where we felt like cattle being hustled through the system. I’ll never forget my first trip to the andrology lab for a “male work-up.” That makes it sound much more glamorous than it actually is. You sit in a cold, clinical waiting room where you feel everyone’s eyes burning holes in you while you wonder if they know what you are about to do back there. Fortunately, after the first time it gets much easier. After a couple of cycles, you end up walking in there like you own the joint.
“Hey Linda, good to see you again, but hopefully this is the last time.”

We started with intrauterine insemination's (IUI) complemented with clomid and ovidrel. This process is like an arms race with infertility, gradually escalating until one of you blinks. For us this first step is where things started getting complicated. It started with a cyst on my wife’s ovary (not uncommon with clomid). She was in extreme pain both physically and emotionally and we waited for it to resolve itself. When we started back up, we tried a natural IUI (no drugs), and got pregnant! Unfortunately, we miscarried after just six days.

Unbeknownst to us, my wife had a silent case of raging endometriosis that came roaring to life with the introduction of clomid. Very quickly our focus shifted from growing our family to bringing my wife back to health. This was awful. Infertility is a strain on your relationship as it is; you really have to be a team and rely on one another for support. The emotional roller coaster of hope and despair can be debilitating. When my wife started showing severe symptoms of endometriosis, it was almost too much. First it was infertility, then the miscarriage, now this. We had a lot of guilt, mostly because we didn’t listen to out gut instincts. We jumped right to the drugs. It is so easy to get caught up in the statistics and how adding this or doing that can increase your chances. Needless to say, it was a very trying time for us.

The pain got so bad that two or three days a month my wife would be in bed in unbelievable agony. That was torture for both of us- obviously physically for her, but it was incredibly difficult for me to stand there helpless watching the love of my life writhe in agony. This went on for several months before my wife finally had laparoscopic surgery to clean out the disease. Her doctor said it was one of the worst cases of endometriosis that he had ever seen. This was when we started considering what we were willing to risk to have a baby, and when we started to realize what we really wanted was to be parents.

Our doctor said that our only meaningful chance of conceiving a biological child was to pursue in vitro fertilization. Unlike so many, the money wasn’t a problem for us because my wife’s insurance would cover three rounds of IVF. But the more we researched the procedure and the powerful drugs it entailed, the more we realized that it just wasn’t worth the risk to my wife’s health. I just couldn’t stand to see her struggle with the bouts of pain from that god-awful disease again. No, it wasn’t worth it to me to face that again.

The decision to adopt was hard for me initially. I had virtually no exposure to adoption so it was difficult for me to wrap my brain around at first. My moment of clarity came one night after work when my wife and I attended an information session hosted by a local non-profit on international adoption. I still remember the couple that spoke- the father was rugged and sported long hair and tattoos, and the mom was pleasant and petite- an ordinary family that you could find in just about any town across the country. I remember how he described their struggle with infertility, how they made the decision to adopt, and then finally about when their son came home. He got choked up, and I could just feel the love in his voice as he continued on about how happy they were to be a family. I still get emotional thinking back to that night and their story. I read all the books, articles, webpages, etc. relating to infertility and adoption, but this guy was what finally broke through to me. To me all of the information out there seems to be focused on the female experience. I guess as men, we’re supposed to be rocks and just suck it up. I think what makes infertility such a painful struggle is that the ability to reproduce is one of the most basic elements of life. When it doesn’t work, it really shakes you to the core.

When we finally made the decision to adopt, we didn’t do it begrudgingly, or thought of it as a back-up plan. It actually was a relief. We felt a tremendous weight lift off our shoulders because we now had a plan and could focus on building our family and not risk my wife’s health in a desperate struggle with an uncertain outcome.

We found a great agency that works exclusively with South Korea. The information gathering process for the application was daunting, but we had a renewed sense of resolve. We were matched to a little boy a couple of weeks after we completed our home study, and our son came home just 6 months after that on Christmas Eve! Our wait was exceptionally difficult because it turned out to be twice as long as we had initially expected. The wait is tough. You can only rearrange the nursery, and double-check your inventory of onsies so many times. But when that travel call finally comes, it sets in- your child is coming home! All of our impatience and pain transformed instantly to excitement and joy. Looking back, I can now unequivocally say that infertility has had a positive impact on my life, and I bet my wife would say the same thing too.

I often think back to that night of the information session and wonder if that guy has any idea just how profound the impact of his story has been in my life. I understand now how happy they were and how blessed we are to have our son in our lives. I tend to be an optimist in life, and believe that struggle and pain help us appreciate all of our blessings. I thank God for infertility because without it I wouldn’t have my son, nor would I have the same perspective on life and just how sweet the words “love you dada” sound.

Along our journey, when we encountered particularly disappointing news, we found strength from others who had been through this and come out the other side. Their experiences and outcomes provided us with the hope and strength we needed to continue forward. I know how hard this, but keep the faith; it really is worth every single tear that falls along the way.

I would like to give a big thank you to Erica for her hard work and vision, without which Parenthood For Me would not exist. It truly is an amazing organization. Thank you too for allowing me to share my story.

*name changed for privacy


Law Momma said...

I love this story. Thank you for sharing.

kkasun said...

Great story, thanks for sharing!!!

Lavender Luz said...

Thanks for sharing this.

Kristin said...

Wow, what a beautiful, moving story. Thank you for sharing it with us.


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