In the United States, 1 in 8 people will experience infertility. Within this group approximately 1/3 of cases are male factor infertility. There are numerous kinds of male factor infertility with different causes and treatment options. One patient, Stephen R. has come to Conceive Nebraska to provide some personal insight.
In 2016 Stephen was diagnosed with male factor infertility caused by primary testicular failure. This condition was diagnosed with a sperm analysis and a wide array of blood testing. Stephen’s condition was not known until the test results came back. An initial semen analysis showed a mere 200,000 sperm and testosterone levels lower than that of a geriatric male. Primary testicular failure cannot be fully reversed but some of the parameters have been improved with Clomid therapy and a varicocele repair procedure. Along with his wife, the family has gone through three failed rounds of IVF and are preparing for their fourth attempt in early 2021.
What was it like to get your diagnosis?
Stephen: “At first, I could not believe what the doctor was saying, but after time I was able to come to terms with it. The whole experience felt very weird, I did not feel at all prepared.”
How has your life changed since your diagnosis?
Stephen: “I’ve had to go through some different treatment options – like surgery for a varicocele repair and adding Clomid in as oral treatment. Every night I am taking loads of vitamins when I did not take any before. I try to be proactive about my testicular health by making small choices every day, such as not taking part in hot tubs.”
How do you feel about the options you have been presented?
Stephen: “There are no options to ‘cure’ my kind of infertility. It felt like they just shrugged and said, “that sucks” and offered some vitamins. The doctors recommend IVF to overcome the hurdles created by my infertility and that is incredibly frustrating. Why does my wife have to go through all of this when it’s caused by me?”
What was your varicocele repair like?
Stephen: “It was incredibly painful. The surgeon repeatedly said that it would be a breeze and I would be back to work in no time. He lied. It was horrible and incredibly painful. It took me a month before I was able to return to work. Thankfully, once I healed it was a part of my past and doesn’t have any lasting impact to this day.”
What is it like, being on Clomid?
Stephen: “Being on Clomid is a huge struggle. I experience extreme ranges in emotions that I am unable to control. I also experience hot flashes, which is something I never imagined as a man. It’s a tough drug!”
What is an IVF cycle like for you?
Stephen: “Going through IVF is rather boring, as a man. My job is to hold my wife’s hand, stand by her side, and support her. I am the designated shot administrator, but otherwise I’m really not needed.”
What do you wish people knew about male factor infertility?
Stephen: “No one really knows much about male factor infertility. When it came to face our diagnosis there were no options to fix it, just ways to work around it. I really wish more people knew about male factor infertility and were advocates for more research that could lead to treatment options.”
What would you like to say to men who are hesitant to get tested?
Stephen: “Getting tested can be really intimidating, but it’s important. No matter what results they find, it does not have to define you. There are options and you can fight.”
What would you like to see change about infertility and its treatment?
Stephen: “Paying for infertility treatment and testing is hard. I would like to see an expansion in infertility coverage from insurance, or extra financing options. Money should not stop someone from being able to parent. I also hope that through awareness, advocacy, and persistence the scientific community will further research male factor infertility so there are more options outside of IVF treatment for people like me.”
What advice do you have to share with those battling infertility right now?
“Getting the diagnosis can be overwhelming and feel like the end of the world. Just because it is scary, does not mean it has to be the end. There is life after infertility. Whether you go through fertility treatments, expand your family through adoption, or choose to live childless there is more out there. Infertility doesn’t have to be the end; it can be the beginning of a great adventure.”