We’re Going on a Sperm Hunt

We’re going on a sperm hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not VERY scared.”

If I’d ever imagined a caricature of conception, then the egg would have been cool and mysterious, aloof even. Perhaps wearing a headscarf and sunglasses and looking more than a little disdainfully at the sperm rushing towards her, falling over one another like over enthusiastic puppies, unable to contain themselves and certainly with no lack of energy and focus to get to their goal.

It turns out in our case the egg could have been wearing a high-vis jacket and neon flashing sign and attempting to fall under the feet of the incoming sperm. For all the good it would have done. Because at some point in the last three years we went from falling pregnant with relatively little effort to a sperm count of virtually zero.

It’s a position that even has our fertility consultant a little baffled, as there is simply no logical explanation for such a dramatic change in our fortunes in the absence of an abnormal hormonal profile and any illness or trauma. Even from a lifestyle perspective, Ian is, if anything, in a better place now than he was three years ago. In fact the favoured explanation at the moment is that we were simply very, very lucky to have ever fallen pregnant before. 

It’s taken a while for me to write about this because it is obviously not just my story to tell. And whilst Ian is not silly enough to believe that a sperm count is any kind of reflection on his masculinity, or worth as a father, other people are not always so sensible. And somehow it’s still more “acceptable”, or at least expected, in this day and age for a woman to have fertility issues than for the problem to lie with the male. Of course, in reality, all fertility problems belong to a couple – there is no fault, or blame or responsibility. It may be Ian’s body which is the predominant problem, but it’s an issue for both of us as a couple. 

I want to write about it, though, because it seems that no one else is. It seems like severe oligozoospermia (low sperm count) and azoospermia (total lack of sperm) are not common causes of secondary infertility (infertility occurring after a previous successful pregnancy). I can believe it’s not that common. And I also wonder if dropping sperm counts do perhaps happen, but go unnoticed, since the only indicator is reduced fertility. If we had only wanted one child, or if Thomas had been our second instead of our first, there is a good chance we would never have known. But I also think that perhaps it doesn’t seem that common simply because no one is talking about it. I want to stand up and say that this happens.

Secondary infertility can be hard enough and lonely enough without shrouding it in further secrecy. People are fond of telling us that we have one child, of course we’ll be able to have another. We’re living proof of the existence of physiological changes that can actually render that impossible. And already having one child doesn’t make it any less painful when your heart and your arms ache for another.

Where we are very fortunate is that we live in a day and age where diagnosis and treatment are possible. Less than half a century ago we would simply have become “that couple” who longed for another child but just couldn’t have one. We’d probably have blundered on with “trying” for the next five years or more, perhaps never truly coming to terms with it. But now we have sensitive techniques for testing fertility problems. We have In Vitro Fertilisation and Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) techniques, which require just a single sperm for each egg collected during an IVF cycle, which is then injected directly in to the egg.

We even have surgical sperm retrieval procedures.

And that’s our golden ticket.

After discovering Ian’s very low sperm count at the end of last year, we had a consultation with a private fertility specialist. (No NHS options for us, given that we already have Thomas.) The plan was to proceed with ICSI, but to be sure we’d have plenty of sperm, especially if the first cycle failed, or we decide on a couple of years that we’d like to try for number three, we decided to freeze some sperm.

Here the real problems began. The diagnosis officially became azoospermia when all efforts yielded zero sperm.

Our only options for another child that is a full biological child to both of us and a full biological sibling to Thomas was to go in and hunt the sperm down surgically. So last Tuesday, we did just that.

Ian was scared for obvious reasons. I was scared for more subtle reasons. Because this was our last chance and finding no sperm would mean the end of the line. (We’ve already discounted donor sperm as I don’t want Thomas to have half siblings. Who knows if this decision would be different if we were trying for our first child.) Although I’ve now had more time to get used to the possibility of an only child, it’s still not my preference. I felt like everything rested on the short twenty minute sperm hunt and the skill of the consultant.

The news is good. Not brilliant, but good. He found sperm, and enough to freeze. The less good news is that we only have enough for a single IVF/ICSI cycle, which has immediately upped the pressure I feel for it to work. So if you’re reading this, I’d like to ask you to keep everything crossed for us.

I’ve said before that I’m trying to avoid asking “why us?”, when the question could just as easily be “why not us?”. 

Because yes, secondary infertility exists. Even secondary azoospermia exists. And it’s heartbreakingly hard. But no matter what happens now, at least we can’t say that we haven’t given it our very best shot.

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12 Replies to “We’re Going on a Sperm Hunt”

  1. Thank you for writing about suh a personal and delicate topic. I feel like just because you may already have one child, there’s an unfair perception that you can’t be unhappy if it doesn’t happen again. Keeping fingers and toes crossed for you both, xx

  2. I have followed your story since we were admins on AT together. I wish you all the luck in the world and so hope that this will result in your much longed for second child. If not then I hope you find peace in the fact that Thomas is amazing and wonderful and you and Ian are both clearly fantastic parents.
    Thinking of you.

    1. Thank you Amy. It means a lot that you’ve followed along. As you can imagine, that became a place I didn’t really want to be anymore. I hope all is ok with you x

      1. Thanks Caro. I totally understand why you didn’t want to be there. To be honest, I found it draining and infuriating toward the end. All is ok here, I fell pregnant last year but miscarried just after Christmas. I’m now awaiting AF. Good luck with everything coming up. You’ll be in my thoughts. x

  3. Fingers firmly crossed for you.

    It’s amazing that technology has moved on from those times you were talking about, so much so that they can now FIND sperm in such a way.

    1. Having now done even more research, it seems these techniques are only 25-30 years old – odd to think that neither Ian or I could have been conceived in this way. Pleased that at least we have options, even though they are difficult, expensive and may ultimately still end in failure. I’m just happy to be able to try.

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