When I was single, I had a pretty good picture of what I hoped my marriage would be. I knew life wasn’t generous enough to grant my every whim, but when I was ready to marry my dream girl, Sharon, I just knew we’d have children with my blue eyes and her curly auburn hair. When we finally married in June of 2012, I thought, “things are looking great!” What I didn’t factor into that bucolic picture was something not many imagine at all: I could only be a daddy through sperm and egg donation because of our fertility issues.
Society’s Misleading Bias
Unfortunately, society’s misguided default assumption that infertility is only a female issue influenced my wife and I to suspect the issue stemmed from her. Our doctor professionally suggested we both undergo testing, but we “didn’t see the point” because I was “totally healthy” as far as we were concerned. I’m a runner, I eat well, and I’ve never smoked a day in my life. Why would we bother? We insisted she be examined first; if her eggs were fine, I’d be up next.
The analysis found her ovarian potential to be below average, with reduced overall egg quality. This meant, most likely, that her eggs weren’t viable for pregnancy. The diagnosis led us to hastily conclude our suspicions were confirmed; we had identified the problem. Examining me “wasn’t necessary,” in our naivete.
If we had simply undergone comprehensive fertility testing together, we’d have known just how much I was a contributing factor to our infertility troubles.
I was as sad and disappointed as she was on finding out she couldn’t get pregnant with her own eggs. When the doctor recommended using donor eggs as our only chance for pregnancy, I tried my best to console her as she grieved the impossibility of a DNA connection with our future children.
There were many mixed emotions that led her to go ahead with the procedure. I made sure not to pressure her, as she was to suffer more than me… or so I thought. After many months filled with tears and fears, she proclaimed her decision to move forward with donated eggs. We restarted our journey to parenthood with renewed hope.
After weighing the pros and cons between fresh and frozen donor eggs, we decided frozen eggs were the shortest path to pregnancy; it kept things simple and within our budget.
We found our perfect donor – an auburn-haired 20-something with dimples – and had her eggs shipped to our clinic so Sharon could start prepping her uterus for implantation. When all was said and done, we waited for the embryologist’s results to find out how many embryos fertilized. Much to our surprise, our doctor called with more bad news – it wasn’t working. He asked us to return to the clinic so he could speak to us in person.
An anxious 24 hours later, I was crushed in the doctor’s office: my sperm count was incredibly low – almost non-existent – and my sperm motility was poor at best. To top it all off, the morphology wasn’t stellar, either. Conceiving with my sperm would not be easy, and to continue attempting pregnancy could be expensive. I wasn’t prepared at all to go through what Sharon had – to have to accept I couldn’t have a genetic connection to our children. I felt like I was less than a man, empty… beyond a failure. In less than a 15-minute consult with our doctor, I was stripped of my manliness and all of my bravado.
I disclosed my predicament to my dad, the only man I could tell without feeling judged. He put an arm around my shoulder and said, “Son, you’re not alone. I won’t name names, but I know a couple of guys who’ve had the same problem. They’re happy fathers as we speak because they either used a sperm donor or adoption. Being a dad, goes beyond genetics. Being a parent is a courageous commitment that will bring you to the highest highs and some of the lowest lows. Sperm does not make the measure of a man.”
What my dad said about those “guys” made me curious. I did some digging online and found out males contribute to about 40 percent of infertility problems in marriages, meaning it isn’t a unique problem at all.
I initially felt sad our children wouldn’t share my beautiful wife’s genes while still having mine. I also felt guilty that here I contributed to our problem after all and had refused to be tested. Putting my pride aside could have spared her a lot of anxiety. After finding out our children wouldn’t share either of our genes, it gave me a strange sense of relief to think there was a balance.
We dreamed our kids would be a perfect blend of us. I wanted them to look like her, and she wanted them to look like me. We knew we could no longer achieve that, but we could still be parents.
We carefully studied sperm donor profiles just as we did with the frozen egg donors. That way, we could decide – as much as possible – what features our future children might possess.
Today, we have two amazing and rambunctious kids: Brandon, five, and Medline, one. People even think they look like us! They say Brandon has his mother’s eyes and Medline looks more like me. What does it matter who they look like? What matters is my dad was right, we are as happy a family as any other.