Our Story, Part 4: Operation Voltron

Clomid For Men

In our last installment of the Infertilit-He story, I described the process of undergoing a barrage of tests hoping to find the causes of my fertility challenges… only to receive the news that, more than likely, I would never know why I wasn’t producing sperm the way I was supposed to.

At the conclusion of those tests, my doctor put me on Clomid (a drug usually reserved for use by women) in the hope that it would give my reproductive system a little nudge that would allow me to get my count somewhere into the 3-9 million range so that we might have a shot at insemination.

Editors Note:  Remember, my wife also has fertility issues.  Hers have to do with hormone levels and the production of eggs.  That meant our best hope for conception lay in either insemination or IVF.  Obviously, the easiest and most cost-effective option was insemination.  So, that’s where our collective focus was, initially.

Beginning in June of 2010, I diligently took a half pill of Clomid (25 milligrams) every night before bed.

I was a little nervous taking what had been described to me as a “woman’s drug.”  But, my doctor assured me that this medication wouldn’t suddenly cause me to develop breasts or instill the overwhelming desire to watch the Kardashians or any of the Real Housewives franchises.

I was still a bit skeptical… but I took the pills.

For 90 days… I took the pills, without fail.

The doctor had warned me that there might be some side effects since we were tinkering with my hormone levels.  (Making your testicles work “just a little bit harder” is how he described it)

Those side effects included some instances of an upset stomach and what I can colorfully describe as an occasional bout of “sore balls.”

It was nothing awful, just more annoying than anything. 

My wife would probably tell you that mood swings were also included in that list of side effects. 

In my opinion, the presence of mood swings during this time remains inconclusive.  I mean, my Florida Gators had just come off back-to-back 13 win seasons and in the span of less than a year apparently had forgotten how to snap the ball from center to quarterback, a problem that would plague the team all year en route to a miserable season.  So, yeah, I was in a bad mood, but I’m not sure I would blame it entirely on the drugs.

Some Good News

After that initial 90-day cycle, it was time to go back to the doctor to see if the medication was working.

I have two distinct memories of that visit:

  1. My hormone levels were raised to the high side of normal.  More importantly, my new sample showed that I had about 4.5 million sperm.  This was HUGE!  Remember, only a few months prior I had given a sample with only 16 sperm.
  1. When discussing the side effects I was experiencing, the doctor told me I essentially had “morning sickness” and that it should go away the longer I took the drug.  He said, “Women have morning sickness when they are pregnant because of the natural spike in different hormone levels that comes with being pregnant.  In your case, we are artificially trying to raise your testosterone level but that change in hormone levels brings about similar side effects.”  He went on to say that he probably should not have used the term “morning sickness,” to which I wholeheartedly agreed.  In fact, I told him.  “If you could just pretend you never said the words morning sickness that would be great, especially since if this ever got out to my best friends I would never be able to live it down.”

So, based on that positive news, I was instructed to keeping taking the Clomid for another 3 months.

At the conclusion of the 6th month, I went back in and received similar positive news:  A count above 4 million.

This was, relatively speaking, great news. 

The Clomid was working.  I wasn’t anywhere near a normal count of 20-million plus, but I at least had a few million and was “in the game.”

More importantly, this meant it was FINALLY time for some action… and FINALLY time to start taking control of these infertility issues.

“Operation Voltron:”  a-k-a Deposit-a-Palooza

Armed with my newly-enhanced sperm count, my wife and I went back to our Reproductive Endocrinologist (Fertility Doctor) to work out a strategy.

Plan A, according to my doctor’s recommendation, involved me spending the next 2 to 3 months coming in and making a “deposit” every five or six days. 

The idea was that any samples close to 5 million would be frozen.  Once they had enough frozen samples, they would combine them together to make one “Super Sample” that would be used to inseminate my wife.

It sounded like a great plan. 

It took me a few moments to remember where I’d heard a plan like this before.  Then, it hit me…

We are trying to create the Voltron of sperm samples!!!

(For those of you who were not of cartoon-watching age circa 1985, let me explain.  Voltron was a series that featured a team of humans who rode around in these sort of space vehicles.  They were moderately bad-ass individually.  But, when faced with tough challenges, the team’s vehicles could join together to form one, giant SUPER ROBOT.  Click here for a demonstration:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kF7cuJ3V5HY )

Hell yeah, I could get on board with that!

With Operation Voltron in full affect, I proceeded to schedule several months worth of the above-mentioned “deposits”

Just to be absolutely clear here, when I reference deposits, I am NOT talking about the kind covered by the FDIC. 

I am talking about (how shall I say this delicately?), the act of “wackin it” on command into a cup to then be analyzed by scientists.

Looking back, I can honestly say this was one of the most, um, “unique” experiences of my life.

Every five days I would stroll into the fertility doctor’s office, fill out the form that includes a box that I was required to check that described the method by which I would deliver a semen sample for analysis.

You had two choices:  MANUAL or OTHER

Obviously, I knew what “manual” meant.

But, “other,” I wasn’t so sure.

I really wanted to ask the nurse about “other,” but I could never work up the courage to do so. 

To this day, believe it or not, I still don’t know what “other” constitutes.

The thing is, I probably would believe anything someone told me. 

  • A needle?  Sure. 
  • Osmosis?  Okay, I guess so.
  • The Olympic Kama Sutra team helping you deliver your sample?  Unlikely, right, but who knows.

I have talked with several male friends who have similar fertility challenges about the “other” box.  None of them know what it means.  And, none of them have the courage to ask about it, either.

Maybe we’re just not meant to know.  Maybe the “other” box on the semen analysis sheet is one of those great mysteries of the universe that should be kept that way.  You know, kind of like the island on Lost.

Now, there are plenty of other entertaining boxes and questions on the semen analysis sheet:

  • Number of days of abstinence?
  • Any lubricant used?
  • Are you taking any medications other than what was prescribed by the fertility doctor?
  • Was any of the sample lost?  (Good… Lord.  Seriously, I don’t think it’s possible for an adult male to read that question and not laugh)

But, the thing is, NONE are as vexing as the “other” box.

Getting back on topic…

Along with filling out that form… came (pun absolutely intended, haa!) the actual act of making the deposit.

Now, I’ve talked in a previous blog post about the absurdity and awkward-ness of sitting in the waiting room of a fertility clinic as a single male bound for deposit-ville.  There is only one reason you’re there alone… and everybody in the waiting room knows it.

Making a single deposit is embarrassing enough.

But, when you have to do it every five days for months at a time… it becomes this sort of bizarre sexual/clinical Groundhog Day experience.

I was coming in right before work on Thursdays or Fridays, so the nurses were the same almost every visit.  On about the third trip, they even stopped saying their usual hello, the just handed me the form and did their best to expedite my time in the building. 

It also seemed like the same patients (at least the ones I made eye contact with) were there on Thursdays an Fridays, too.

I was officially a regular at the fertility doctor.

I felt like Norm from Cheers… only when they handed me a cup it wasn’t filled with whatever beer they serve in Boston.

It was sterile… empty… and staring up at me… daring me not to “lose any of the sample” so that I wouldn’t have to check the above-mentioned box for this mistake.

Looking back, though, the process wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

It was actually something of a learning experience.

There’s a saying that goes “repetition is the mother of learning.”

What I learned from these many visits is that I wanted to be a parent pretty badly. 

I learned that it’s pretty easy to say you want something… to say that you want to be a parent

But, taking action to get that something… is something else altogether.

I learned that if I was willing to take action that is awkward, absurd and embarrassing… that it meant I must really want to be a father.

Being able to realize that was an important moment for me.

Mo Deposits… Mo Problems

Unfortunately, my epiphany didn’t prevent Operation Voltron from running into a giant brick wall.

After making approximately 15 deposits, the clinic broke the bad news that they had only been able to freeze two samples.

Quick explanation:  Let’s say you give a sample that has 4.5 million sperm that is then frozen.  When the doctors unfreeze the sample, they do a process called “washing” the sperm.  In that process, you lose about half of the sample.  So, a frozen sample that’s 4.5 million will only yield you about 2 million when it’s un-frozen.

The majority of the samples I was giving were nearer to the 2.5 to 3 million range; which meant (feel free to go ahead and do the math yourself) that It would take like 20 or 25 visits to make our SUPER SAMPLE.  It would also cost me about 100 dollars per month, per sample to keep off that stuff frozen.

Additionally, the doctors don’t like to freeze samples less than 3 million.

So, my wife and I were faced with a decision.

We could keep the plan going, not knowing how many more months of deposits it would take to get one, usable combined sample for a round of insemination.

Or, we could proceed with a try at IVF.

If you’ve read the quick version of out story… you can pretty easily guess the decision we made. 

10 February 2012 ·