The Reality of Male Factor Infertility
“Infertility is largely thought of as a woman’s issue, but male infertility can affect at least one-third of couples who are struggling to conceive.”
~ Hallie Levine,The New York Times
I have written extensively about my experiences and perspectives with regards to subfertility. However, one topic I haven’t touched on is male factor fertility challenges. I’ve noticed lots of media articles related to male infertility in recent months. A few things that keep coming up is that although male factor issues may contribute to between 30 – 50% of fertility challenges in couples who struggle to conceive (depending on which country you are in) there is still a low level of awareness around this reality. This creates confusion for couples who find little support and clarity on how to move forward.
When our first year of trying to conceive didn’t go as we’d hoped, my husband went to have a sperm analysis done. We were told that his sperm count results fell within the normal range and that although the results could be improved upon, he shouldn’t have any problem conceiving. It was a relief and we felt confident to move forward with our journey. A few years later, after making great efforts to improve both our health and fertility wellbeing, and having gone through a couple of pregnancy losses, we decided to get a second opinion to assess where we were. This time round we discovered something that hadn’t come up the first time. Although his sperm count and motility were at what was considered a ‘reasonably good level’, the morphology was not looking great. It was quite a shock to learn that this new bit of information could potentially affect our chances of having a baby. As one would imagine there was a lot to work through emotionally.
Dealing With the Physiological Problem
Fortunately, after numerous questions and some research, my husband and I found a good urologist. They ran a series of tests and identified low testosterone levels as one of the underlying issues. We also got some advice from the Fertility Naturopath who I had been going to for acupuncture sessions. With the information and support we’d gathered, we managed to plot a path forward. The three main things that we did to help rectify the underlying issue included the following:
Supplements: Since low levels of testosterone seemed to be a root problem for my husband, the urologist and naturopath both prescribed male fertility support supplements for him to help correct this. The supplements helped to balance he’s hormonal health and as a result it also improved his sperm quality.
Nutritional Support: Our naturopath and wellness coach suggested making dietary changes in order to support better fertility. The changes were made easier by the fact that my husband and I were already eating healthy for the most part. We were actively trying to improve our health. Neither of us are smokers, nor do we drink alcohol. So, it just meant making a few more tweaks to what we were already doing, like cutting down on his caffeine and processed meat intake and including more of the fertility enhancing recommended foods in his diet.
Exercise, Weightloss and Lifestyle: When we were starting out our fertility journey, my husband and I were both overweight. After my PCOS diagnoses, we made some drastic lifestyle changes, and although it took a while to figure out an eating and exercise programme that worked best for me, we were on a much healthier path and improving our fertility. As our journey has progressed, repeat tests have shown a significant improvement in my husband’s fertility over the course of the year. To date, my husband has lost over 30kg, so I am incredibly proud of him and the commitment we’ve both made to our wellness journey. We’ve taken this as encouragement to keep doing our best to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle as a way to support our fertility. One of the major lifestyle changes for my husband was that he was lucky enough to change jobs. As a television sports journalist, he’d spent many years doing shift work. It was a highly stressful environment and the erratic working hours meant erratic sleeping patterns too. Getting a new job at a different media agency where he worked more normal hours, doing work that he loved at a much calmer pace was a much needed life change.
The Emotional Fallout
This was probably the more difficult part to get to grips with. For one, I had spent several years working on my body and health to give myself the best chance of conceiving. Now, it was a little scary knowing that there was now a new added roadblock in our path to parenthood. My husband and I had to be very sensitive in the way we communicated with one another. I knew that on some level he felt emasculated. It became very clear to me how little support there is available to men who may need someone to talk to. We took our time to process and discuss our feelings around the news. It was important for us to reframe the situation and remind ourselves once again that this was ‘our problem’, a challenge that we were facing and solving together as a couple, and not make it a reason to disconnect from or blame one another. We also managed to have a joint appointment with my naturopath, which was very helpful in allaying our fears and giving us a sense of direction. As we started to take steps forward, our new challenge seemed less daunting, and as things continue to improve fertility-wise, we find ourselves feeling hopeful. At the end of the day, as I have probably mentioned before, I feel that even if IVF turns out to be our only chance, we know that when the time comes we will be in a much healthier space to tackle that journey.