Our Infertility Journey (1.1): Who’s to “Blame”

A man and a woman on a pierCrumpled up in a ball on the sofa, I stared at the television with heavy eyes. I was exhausted, but I had that strange high that sleep deprivation brings. Although I had been up for 36 hours, my adrenaline high had yet to fully fade. I had delivered several babies, coded a patient in the intensive care unit, and admitted over 20 patients overnight. I could never go right to bed when I made it home. My body longed for sleep, but my mind wanted just a few minutes to unwind. My usual routine on post-call days was to hit the sofa for an hour of mindless TV before trudging up to bed.

Lately I had been following the reality television show, Giuliana & Bill. On this particular post-call day, the show revealed that G&B’s only option for having their own child was to pursue In Vitro Fertilization. My heart sank for them, and then I thought of myself. What if that was our only option? What if we really couldn’t get pregnant on our own after all? I tried to shake the fear. I dismissed it as emotional irrationality from exhaustion. But, the next morning after a good night’s sleep, that same sickening feeling lingered in my stomach. What if?

My husband is an eternal optimist. I love him to death, but sometimes he doesn’t just see the glass half full, he believes that it’s overflowing! When he started to question if something was wrong with our ability to conceive, I knew that the sick feeling in my stomach was more than just paranoia. It was time to get some answers.Three Hands Pointing

Dave had been diagnosed with a varicocele in college. Many men have these harmless dilatations in the blood vessels in their groin, and they are usually nothing to worry about. In general, they don’t lead to infertility if they are small, but larger varicoceles can potentially heat up the testicle, leading to damaged sperm. Countless hours of standing in the operating room with gravity as his enemy had caused Dave’s varicocele to become rather large and uncomfortable. Because this was the most obvious issue contributing to our baby making struggles, he decided it was time to get it reevaluated. Part of this evaluation included a semen evaluation.

This was Dave’s first journey into the uncomfortable world of infertility. Our medical center had one small room for sperm collection (aka male masturbation station). The idea just seemed dirty, but it guaranteed the most accurate specimen. After uncomfortably waiting his turn for the room and accomplishing his mission, Dave transported his own sample to the lab where his swimmers were scrutinized for quantity, quality, and movement. Now we waited.

I remember Dave’s voice of concern laced with optimism when he called me with the results. His genetic components were great, his sperm movement was great, but…his count was incredibly low. I tried to sound positive, masking my dismay. I didn’t want him to feel worse than I knew he already did, but the sickening feeling in my stomach was so strong that it made me want to throw up. Something was wrong! Although my mind was racing in a million different directions, I managed to ask, “So, what now?”unhappy heterosexual couple

The plan was to repeat the count just to make sure that it wasn’t a lab error. When the repeat number was worse than the first, I was devastated but optimistic at the same time. Varicoceles could be surgically corrected! And, the urologist told us that we could still get pregnant on our own; It would just be more difficult. We decided that surgery was worth a try, and we didn’t want to waste any time. But, before we could schedule the operation, I received a call from the emergency room that changed everything!

From The Mom in Me, MD