Saturday, April 30, 2016

NIAW Post for Miss Conception... 1 in 8 Isn't Limited to Women

#NIAW Bloggers Unite Conference~ Day 8
Hosted by Miss Conception Coach

As one part of NIAW, I was asked to be part of a bloggers unite conference this week (thanks to @MissConceptionCoach- see web link above to go to her site/blog). Those of us participating wrote about different angles of infertility, and all pieces are also centered on the theme #StartAsking. I'll be sharing the posts from the other women each day, and one day mine will pop up as well. You can read them all here, on the link above, or at the featured blog itself (which will have a link at the bottom). 
Here's today's post, Day 8... MY POST!!! :) :) :) 

1 in 8 Isn't Limited to Women

#StartAsking About Male Factor Infertility
Like millions of other couples, our fertility journey has been quite an emotional roller coaster for all the typical reasons- stress, finances, fears, heartache, surgeries, IUIs, miscarriage, heartbreak, seeking support, insurance policies, IVF, the list goes on and on and on. However, our specific situation is not like many others... we are exclusively dealing with male factor infertility (MFI) and can only experience pregnancy with the use of a sperm donor. 

Throughout our 4-year journey of trying to conceive, I've come across many couples with MFI but most are still able to conceive using the male partner's sperm. Sometimes it's a matter of low sperm count, sometimes it's a varicocele that needs to be corrected, sometimes it's unexplained, etc., but most of the time they are still able to conceive together.  In 4 years, I've only come across ONE couple in our situation, but they've chosen to keep their story private (respectfully and understandably so), so as happy as I am to know we aren't alone, I still kind of feel like we are in many ways. 

According to current statistics, infertility affects 1 in 8 couples. Male factor infertility is said to account for about 30% of infertility cases. Of that 30%, I'm not sure of the stats of male factor ONLY.  Due to the 30% statistic, I know we are obviously not alone, but MFI is a topic that most are uncomfortable going public with... therefore couples like us are left feeling lost, alone, and in the dark when it comes to seeking out specific support systems. We have, however, come across many couples using egg donors, and although we are extremely thankful for their support and complete understanding, it's still quite different in a few ways. Women using egg donors to get pregnant can still first-handedly experience pregnancy and form an immediate bond over 9 months with their child since they are the one carrying. Men using sperm donors to get their partners pregnant sadly don't get that same type of first-hand bonding experience with their child during pregnancy. Sure there are ways to bond, but it's still not the same. Women are also more open about their struggles than men are, so men like my husband are left with no one to talk to who truly gets it and has walked in his shoes. 

I know there must be millions of couples in our situation. I know it's a tough thing for men to deal with and be comfortable speaking up about. I know it's a hard thing to accept. However, I haven't found anyone in our position who is also open about their journey... and that's still very difficult for us at times. This leaves couples like us feeling like we are battling this alone and that no one totally understands our struggle in its entirety. 

In our case, my husband is completely infertile.  There are no sperm and there will be no sperm.  There is no hope for us and there likely won't be a sudden miracle of sperm development. We can't make a baby together without sperm; it just ain't gonna happen.  After a year of trying to get pregnant, my husband went for a sperm analysis.  When that resulted in zero sperm (which, until then we didn't even know was possible), he was sent for another sperm analysis. That test resulted in zero as well, so he was referred to a reproductive urologist (who, yup, ordered yet another analysis). After 3 tests showing zero, a physical exam, and some blood tests, the Dr. determined that my husband had 2 varicoceles AND a chromosomal syndrome called Kleinfelter's Syndrome, both of which can be infertility factors.  My husband had surgery to correct the varicoceles and we had to wait 3-6 months to see if it would help sperm production.  When it didn't make a difference in our case, he had to have a sperm mapping procedure (a needle biopsy on both testicles- 32 needles in all, conscious, and fully aware of all that was going on!) to see if any sperm could be found and frozen to be later used for IVF. Although he took a major hit for the team, we didn't get any sperm out of all those needles and had to accept the fact that hubby's double whammy of Kleinfelter's on top of the varicoceles was a big likelihood of why we needed to move to a sperm donor if we wanted to experience pregnancy (which we totally wanted). To this day, some people still don't get it and tell us that stress can play a factor and we could someday conceive on our own... but without one of the 2 key ingredients to making a baby, it literally just cannot happen. IF it miraculously did, we would totally be making headlines! In the meantime, we have accepted it and now just hope to spread the word so others can be educated on the topic and/or don't feel alone if they're struggling too. 

For many couples fighting infertility, their fight ends when they get pregnant.  For some others, it ends when they give birth to their child(ren).  For us, our fight won't ever really end. We have the rest of our lives ahead of us with the constant reminder that our family has different biological/genetic makeups. We will someday have to explain to our son that half of his genetics are somewhat unknown to us and we can only give some answers based on a piece of paper (our sperm donor profile). We dread the fear of our son possibly someday hating us because he's different from his friends in some way or lashing out against my husband because their tie isn't like other fathers/sons.  One thing I'm absolutely sure of, though, is that my husband will be an amazing dad. He already is. In a strange way I almost think his infertility is his superpower. It's causing us to love and appreciate each other more, have a heightened appreciation for pregnancy, for our baby, and moving forward becoming parents. Sometimes you have to find creative ways to turn your struggles into your strengths. My husband is great with kids and we often coin him "The baby whisperer".  His ability to love and adapt to other people's babies makes him well prepared to tackle our future together.  None of our friends or family have to deal (or have dealt) with that.  Our struggle is only half over. We still have an eternity of "what ifs" and the fear of difficult questions and conversations when the time comes.  There will be no right or wrong answers and I know that we will figure it out as best we can when the time comes, but it's lonely knowing our friends/family can't understand firsthand what our experiences and struggles are like for us. 

I have hope for the future, though. I have hope that infertility will someday become a more acceptable thing to talk about. The only way to make something less awkward is with more and more exposure of it. We all need to start speaking up more, start asking more, start sharing more, and start supporting more. I can honestly say that, although our friends and family doesn't 100% understand what we are going through, they are 100% supportive and we are extremely thankful for that. 

#StartAsking About Support
The support piece didn't always come easy for us at first; we had to work for it in a sense. We had to be willing to speak up and start talking about it. My husband and I both used to tend to keep things in, especially when it came to stressful or emotional issues.  I've always been a very shy person and would only open up to others when comfortable. When we first found out my husband was infertile, we both fell apart. We were lost, confused, angry, broken, shocked, and just didn't understand. Neither of us were able to function at work the next day and we slowly started to talk about it to a few coworkers when it was obvious something was up with each of us at our jobs. Slowly, we began to realize a few things that happened from sharing our stories... people listened, people supported, people grieved with us, people cared, people wanted to help, and occasionally, some people understood. Every so often in sharing our story, we would hear "I know someone else who struggled" or "I struggled too".  Little by little, over time, we've met MANY people who either struggled to conceive themselves or know someone close to them who has. It truly is 1 in 8. Think of literally all the people you know (or have known) and divide it by 8. About that many people are struggling somewhat with conceiving (or may struggle when they try). That's A LOT of people! So why aren't more people talking about it? 

I think somewhere along the way, infertility automatically became a taboo topic. Understandably so... you feel alone, you feel broken, you feel ashamed, you feel like you're different or that there's something wrong with you. But that's not the case. I think people naturally kept it in and were too afraid to talk about it. Thankfully over time, people did start to talk about it more and more, and now it's finally becoming more acceptable and widespread.  Without opening up about our struggle, infertility would have crushed and broken me for sure... no doubt about it. I literally would not have survived the last 4 years without being able to open up about it and connect with others in our shoes. The only way to make something more comfortable is to talk about it, teach about it, ask about it, and spread awareness. In a sense, I love seeing infertility stories highlighted in the media. I'll never love the fact that infertility exists, but I love when awareness is spread in hopes of helping out or educating just one more person. Many celebrities have felt comfortable stepping forward about their struggles in past years as well, and all of it just reassures me that we are slowly winning this fight by raising more and more awareness. We may never be able to make infertility disappear, but we can make it a comfortable topic and help others in need so they don't have to struggle silently and feel like they're alone. 

Start sharing... however you're comfortable doing so. We have only received positive support from sharing our journey. Here are some ways that may help you get the ball rolling...
- Tell a best friend. 
- Tell your family.
- Tell a coworker.
- Find support online forums. 
- Find support on Instagram (#ttc).
- Follow infertility blogs. 
- Start your own blog. 

In my opinion, we all need to spread awareness in whatever ways we can.  Not only for ourselves and our own support systems, but also for everyone else struggling quietly out there.  I know there are some insensitive and naive people out there with some occasional crazy comments to take us down, but the only way to stop them is to educate them on the reality of infertility.  It's everywhere.  It doesn't discriminate.  Affecting 1 in 8 couples means that every human on the planet should know at least one couple (likely wayyyy more) dealing with infertility.  If everyone was more open about their struggles, others would be more understanding and more supportive.  Sure it will take time and effort, but the only way to make it common info is to talk about it and open up.  The only reason my husband and I have gained so much support to carry us through the last 4 years is because we opened up. So now I do it for the millions of others still trying.  The fight doesn't stop here for me.  My husband and I will still keep talking about it for the rest of our lives because it's forever a part of us.  It's a part of our son's life and it's a part of the lives of 1 in 8 couples.  Start talking; Start sharing; Start supporting; ... #StartAsking. 

#StartAsking Questions...
- About male factor infertility
- About low sperm count (and the MANY things that can affect/alter it)
- About azoospermia
- About Varicoceles 
- About Kleinfelter's Syndrome
- Low testosterone 
- About sperm donors
- About egg donors
- About support (from family & friends)
- About support groups
- About recommendations for local fertility Drs. 
- About insurance coverage 

We can't gain answers and support if we don't start somewhere. Start asking and start fighting. You are not alone. 

Thanks for reading!

Stacy Ricci

*About us: 
My husband & I are high school sweethearts (together since '99 and married since '07) and started trying to conceive in 2011. Over the past 4 years, we've dealt with the news of male factor infertility (combination of Kleinfelter's Syndrome and Varicocele issues), Scott went through many painful and uncomfortable procedures, we did 6 IUI cycles, dealt with a miscarriage, a fresh IVF cycle, and a FET cycle. We are currently (and finally!) 27 weeks pregnant with our first child, due this July. We started our blog 3 years ago and it focused on our story and our journey to parenthood, with all the struggles in between. Although we are currently pregnant, our fight hasn't ended. We may focus on pregnancy posts for now, but we still have a lot ahead of us and it doesn't mean we have forgotten the struggle. The struggle made our journey, made us stronger, and paved our pathway to parenthood. To see more on our story, visit <3 

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