With Father's Day just around the corner it is hard not be reminded that on Sunday June 19th, families across the globe will gather to celebrate the rock of the family - their good old Dad. But, what about the 'Dads in Waiting', those who are struggling to conceive?
For the last 12 years, I have worked for Barbados Fertility Centre and have spoken to hundreds of men about their infertility problems, albeit reluctantly on their part! Infertility is a hard subject for any couple to talk about and I am often amazed at the strength of these couples on their quest to have a family of their own. The simple truth is that men do not want to talk about their fertility and it is a serious knock to the male pride to learn that they have a low sperm count. But there are many treatment options available depending on the diagnosis.
Male factor affects one in twenty men, so is actually very common, around 90% of cases that we treat will require intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). This procedure requires fewer normal sperm than nature and the sperm is injected directly in to the egg to fertilize.
Infertility is a medical condition defined when a couple have tried to conceive for 12 months or more with no success. It affects one in six couples worldwide. These are the facts, but knowing that you are not the only man in the world to go through this is little consolation, when you are alone in a room trying to produce a sample.
To write this blog, I spoke to two male patients from Barbados Fertility Centre about the highs and lows of male infertility and am truly grateful for their insight and their courage for sharing with me, I know it was difficult and I thank you.
Peter is the lead singer in rock band in New York, he laughed telling me that he has spent most of his life trying to not to get anyone pregnant! But now in his 40's all that changed when he met his dream woman and they wanted to start a family. He shared this news with all his family and friends, and was really proud of himself for reaching a level of maturity that he was now ready to be a father.
But after two years of no success, he came to the conclusion that something must be wrong with his dream woman and insisted that she get to the doctors and find out what was wrong with her. He admits, he was mortified when her tests all came back normal and the Dr now wanted to see him and check his sperm count.
He said. "Sitting in that Drs office in New York, I felt about 15, I actually went bright red when the Dr started explaining how sperm works and asked me to produce a sample! My pride was seriously dented and I couldn't believe my masculinity was being put under such scrutiny - how dare they! But, my wife was so supportive and that reminded me why we were going through this, she would make a great Mum and I had to do this for her and be the grown up that I thought I was, I really really wanted to be a Dad as well."
The next blow came for Peter when the results of his semen analysis showed that he did have a low sperm count and that the motility of his sperm was poor, meaning they had little swimming ability to reach the egg naturally. The best option for them was to undergo IVF with ICSI. Peter said, "I actually left the Dr's office and cried like a child, I also behaved like one for the next couple of weeks. I was distant with my wife and lost all interest in the bedroom. I felt inadequate, but yet again my wonderful wife took all this in her stride and assured me that she loved me and that we could do this together. My love for her only deepened when she demonstrated that she could be strong for both of us."
The next challenge the couple faced was the cost of treatment in New York, they were quoted at least $25,000USD, which was much higher than they expected. Again Peter's wife came to the rescue by researching treatment options outside of the USA and they were delighted to learn that treatment in Barbados was only $5750USD and they could have a relaxing holiday at the same time at the JCI accredited fertility centre.
The couple were able to get accommodation for $50USD per night and return flights from New York for only $500USD. Peter said, "Going to Barbados for treatment was our best decision, we saved so much money and I was so relaxed there. I even managed not to turn beetroot with embarrassment when asked to perform in the boy's room!"
They stayed in Barbados for two weeks while undergoing treatment and then returned to New York for another two week wait to see if they had a positive pregnancy test - thankfully they did and their son Dylan was born in January 2016.
Peter said,"I can look back and laugh now at how badly I handled the news that our infertility was down to me. I'm so glad I finally saw sense and went ahead with treatment. Dylan is my pride and joy, I'm over the moon. I encourage any guys out there to talk to your partner and seek medical help. It was difficult to admit to myself but Dylan was worth the embarrassment. Good luck!"
Steven is a plumber from London who has just turned 40, his wife had just turned 30 when they decided to start a family. Similarly to Peter, this couple also told all their friends and family about their plans and it soon became common knowledge that they were struggling.
Steven said, "In my work I spend all day in the company of other men on a building site, and many jokes were made about my inability to conceive. I'm quite a laid back person and let them have their fun, but inside I was starting to panic, suppose there was something wrong with me?" My wife was convinced it was just taking time because she had been on the pill for over 10 years, she was sure at her age we wouldn't have any problems. But months of disappointment turned in to a year and so we made the appointment to see our local GP. We both underwent tests and sure enough the problem was me. I had antibodies in my sperm that prevent the sperm from sticking to the egg. We would need IVF, but the waiting list in our area was at least 2 years on the NHS. We decided to look at private treatment and were shocked that it would cost us over £10,000."
The couple had already booked a dream holiday to Barbados that summer and decided they would go away, relax and think about their options for IVF treatment. It was during that holiday that they drove past Barbados Fertility Centre. The couple looked up the centre and called to make an appointment while they were on the island. Their decision was made and they scheduled to return to Barbados three months later for successful treatment, which only cost them £3000.
Steven, like Peter will be celebrating his first Father's day this year. Steven said. "Our daughter Leila was born 4 weeks ago and I am the happiest man in the world! All my colleagues at work stopped making fun of me and were actually really supportive when I told them of my diagnosis."
If you would like to know all the facts about male infertility then join our FREE online seminar on Saturday July 2 at 10am, you can listen in from the privacy of your home and ask questions directly to the medical team in complete confidentiality.
USA residents click here to register
UK residents click here to register.
Let's start talking about infertility and help you to be a Dad.