Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Zero means Zero - Leander Kellogg

During our sixth year of marriage my wife and I realized something was different. We had done nothing to prevent pregnancy and had spent the last six or more months tracking ovulations, temperatures, and other activities that remind me of scenes from the Raising Arizona movie. My wife completed a cycle of Clomid. Still nothing, not even a near miss. So we decided to begin formal infertility testing. I was scheduled first for a semen analysis. At first I thought nothing of it, just another step in starting our family.

After several days and not hearing anything I contacted the lab to find out if they would be giving me the results or if my doctor would be doing the honors. I was told that my doctor would be receiving the results that day and that he would discuss them with me. And then the lab assistance mentioned nonchalantly, “Your results were zero.” I was confused. Zero? How is that even possible? I asked her what she meant by zero. She explained that there were no semen, dead or alive, in my sample and then she ended the conversation and hung up.

Zero. For the first time in this whole process, I was faced with the reality that I was the “problem”. The “why” we could not have children. Regrettably, I had always figured it was my wife. Society seems to always assume…it’s the woman; but it now appeared that I was the reason.

I spent the rest of that afternoon glued to a computer screen searching for anything that related to male infertility, to zero sperm. I learned that afternoon that the condition of not having sperm is called azoospermia. It can be genetic, it can be caused by illness/disease, or it can be caused by lifestyle such as weight. I learned that “normal” sperm count could be in a range of 20 to 150 million sperm per milliliter. And low sperm counts begin at or below 15 million sperm per milliliter. And I had zero?

The doctors office called later that day and scheduled my wife and I to come in the next day. In full disclosure, I was embarrassed. So I kept my “discovery” to myself. Knowing that everything would come out the next day. At the appointment the next day, our doctor confirmed what the lab assistance and shared with me, that I had zero sperm. Equipped with my new found knowledge, I started in with question after question. I wanted there to be some hope, some chance of fathering a child. “What about certain procedures, or medication, etc.?” He patiently listened and then leaned forward and said, “Leander, zero means zero.” This statement silenced me. There was such permanence to it…zero means zero. He explained that in most cases, low sperm count could be as low as 100,000 to 500,000, and yes that is something to work with. However, my sample had nothing as far as sperm was concerned. He apologized for the news and then suggested other options such as adoption.

This was in April 2003. The following summer was our most challenging yet. We both grieved in our own ways. It would be years before we learned in an adoption training that infertile couples do in fact go through a grieving process after learning that they will not have biological children. For years, I kept my azoospermia a secret from most friends and family. Our united answer to those who inquired was simple, “We just can’t have children.” Period. No explanation. However, I stopped hiding the answer after several situations when people in adoption presentations confronted me with, “How does it make you feel that your wife can not have children?” There it was, my own false belief that I too once held, that infertility is always the woman’s “fault”. And so, in one particular presentation, I paused and admitted publicly for the first time, I AM UNABLE TO HAVE CHILDREN, not my wife.

I now believe—that for me—that acknowledgement was a final step in my grieving process; even though it came several years after adopting our son. Our society sometimes ascribes certain attributes to masculinity and what it means to be a man. For this reason, I suppose, we rarely talk about male infertility. I found few resources in my search for answers and experiences from others, especially from a gospel perspective. And yet, some estimates put male infertility at 40% of being the cause that a couple can not have children. means zero; and I am ok with that.