By Dan Barker, husband of Dr. Nichole Barker, one of the physicians at SRM’s Tacoma location
My goal: To candidly describe what my fertility journey was like as a guy…
Like most guys I spent most of my adolescent life under the impression that if I had sex there was a 98% chance of a resulting pregnancy. Almost like I was a marvel superhero and the power of male fertility was something I was born with and had to use with extreme responsibility. Thor has his hammer and I have mine right?
This is why I took extreme measures to avoid using my supposed superpower. I assumed I had it and I only wanted to use it at the right time for the right reason. I always assumed I could summon this power when needed because I was a guy who could take on the world. Things drastically changed when my wife and I tried to have a baby and we told there was less than a 1% chance to conceive on our own. To make things worse we learned it was because of me. Suddenly I went from being Thor to being the lamest superhero ever. Dude this sucks.
It turns out the chances of pregnancy in ideal conditions are much lower than I realized. I was pretty devastated to say the least. How on earth could this be? I had millions of reasons why this shouldn’t be a problem for me right? Turns out it takes more than an army. This was my first lesson. You have to have vitality and motility and I had low levels of both. This reminded me of being a kid playing electronic football except I only had 5 players on the field and when you turned on the board they didn’t move an inch. Being a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan, this was all too familiar. Common guys we are never going to win this way!
Unfortunately, I couldn’t coach my men to victory but thankfully for us, my wife was a fertility doctor. You would think this would help us “increase our chances” or perhaps “make the process a bit easier”. Unfortunately, neither are true. In fact, it made things a bit worse because my wife knew the science and percentages of the process. Her intimate knowledge made things even more stressful for her and that made me feel awful. I had to partner with her and trust the process and that was not easy.
At the beginning of our IVF journey all l I had to do is provide a sperm sample which was something I’m pretty sure I could do in my sleep. This however was different. There was something very important at stake and that made things incredibly nerve-racking. I also had to do it at a doctor’s office and that wasn’t my normal playing field. Not fun.
We also had to do a lot of waiting which was especially challenging. Waiting for the various tests results to come back often seemed like a lifetime. This was especially true when it was a repeat of the same test trying for a better result.
The IVF process was more physically taxing for my wife than it was for me. She needed to take shots, a lot of them. She also had to have an egg retrieval, several of them. Viable embryos also needed to be surgically implanted. All of this under a strict timeline provided by our doctor. I wanted to fix things for her but I couldn’t. Seeing my wife brave the IVF steps was incredibly difficult for me. I have a new love and appreciation for her as a result. She is amazing. As a guy I kept to the checklist of things we had to do. That often made it seem like I didn’t care. I was good at making sure we checked things off the list, but I wasn’t very good about being sensitive to how difficult it was for my wife to go through.
Everyone deals with stress differently and this was certainly true for my wife and I during both of our IVF cycles. I used 4 main things to reduce stress or get my mind off things. The first two things resonated with my wife, the second two not so much.
- Faith – A lot of my strength came from my faith and beliefs.
- Fitness –My workouts definitely helped me reduce stress levels.
- Work – I poured myself into my work. More so than normal.
- Video Games –Proved to be an effective way to pass the time.
At times my wife felt like I wasn’t overly affected by the situation but in reality, I was. I was just a bit better at hiding or pausing my feelings for periods of time. I also wanted to be strong for her when she needed me. Even though I may have been worried or stressed my wife was the love of my life and I wanted to be there for her. Particularly since this was a result of my infertility.
Despite having extremely low odds resulting from, low motility and vitality, poor fertilization, frozen embryo transfer, and suboptimal rising HCGs, we were blessed with 2 children from the IVF process. I remember when my wife called me with the news that she was pregnant with our first child. I was at work and I almost felt numb with excitement. We were not out of the woods yet by any stretch, but it was a huge milestone for us given the circumstances.
It’s pretty amazing how we frame things when we look back over our experiences retrospectively. I can definitely relate to fertility as being a super power now that I’ve been through the process with my wife and am more educated as to how it all works. My misperceptions made the initial journey harder. I’ve learned that even in the best, most ideal situations things don’t always work out. Adversely, I learned that even with low probabilities, miracles do happen every day. Perhaps my account will help others better understand our story and help them get through their own fertility journey.
Find Dr. Nichole Barker and more about her life as a mom and reproductive endocrinologist on Instagram @fertilityspecialist_dr.barker