A veteran of many treatments, Denny Ceizyk answers some infertility questions that many men keep to themselves.
4 fertility doctors, 11 embryo transfers, 4 IVFs, $70,000, plenty of therapy, 2 cross country trips to New Jersey one month after the worst terrorist attack in American history, and our last poor quality embryo was thawed, yielding us our now 9 year old (going on 30) daughter Elliana.
That may not make me a rock star, but my six year experience with infertility has provided me with more than the usual 15 minutes of fame since the fateful day I decided to evolve from strong silent type into an outspoken advocate for baby making challenged couples all over the country.
I’ve been interviewed by local newscasters, FM radio disc jockeys, psychology journals, all leading up to an eventual call from a CBS Early News producer to fly my wife and me out to New York City to provide the guy’s view of the journey to medically assisted fatherhood to an audience of millions. I have a literary agent trying to pitch my infertility memoir, and the director of RESOLVE, the largest infertility support organization in the country asking me to speak to these issues, because, well, quite honestly I don’t mind talking about it.
All this is quite amazing considering I made my wife vow never to tell anyone when I first learned I had the sperm count of a hardcore drug addict or cancer patient early in our parenthood pursuits. Looking back, I still feel guilty that the entire time I was going through my obstructionist phases with each stage of infertility denial, my wife, Lisa was searching unsuccessfully for anything written by a guy on fertility websites that could help her understand my behavior, my attitude, my resistance to infertility.
To make up for those strong silent days, I now speak openly to the questions that husbands and wives pursuing medically-assisted parenthood struggle with, in the hopes my words might unclog their souls of all the negativity, sadness and insecurity this insane path to parenthood can often bring, giving them a voice that reassures them: “You are not alone, someone else has been there, and they made it through the storm. You can, too.”
The best thing that ever happened to me, besides marrying my soulmate, was fighting through the jungle of medical fertility science to find our soulbaby. The least I can do is help normalize the very surreal experience of adding a team of doctors to what most people consider the most intimate but life altering thing they will ever do: conceive a child.
Q. Why do men seem to seek out or receive so much less support than women when it comes to infertility?
A. Most guys I’ve talked to never give their ability to procreate a second thought. We just assume that once the time comes, we’ll slip one past the goalie and nine months later we’ll enter the fatherhood phase of our lives.
Sadly, fertility science is showing as guys (and their gals) put off childbearing longer and longer in the name of being financially ready, they increase the odds that a medical third party will be required to help out.
Since medical science has mostly focused on fixing women’s infertility to get the baby growing in her uterus, support ends up being mostly focused on women’s needs, rather than a couple’s needs.
Q. How has male infertility affected your self-image, your “manliness”?
A. “What’s the matter—you shootin’ blanks?” ranks somewhere up there in the male procreation ego with those locker room conversations about whether size really matters. In the case of sperm, how many, how well they swim, and how well they are formed translates to fertility “manliness”.
When I first learned I had a low count, I swore my package was also smaller. Maybe it shrunk like a frightened turtle from all the sudden attention, but I was very aware of my groin after learning my count was subpar.
I was told I had “lazy swimmers” on top of it all, and envisioned fat, potato chip gorging beer swilling sperm waiting for the welfare assistance of fertility treatments.
Of course that wasn’t nearly as bad as the times when “deformities” would appear in the form of pin headed or double headed sperm. I kept wondering if at some point in my past some European relative might have had an ice fishing encounter with one of my wife’s ancestors.
Q. If your partner is infertile, what kind of support have you offered?
A. At first, when it was suspected my wife was the one who was infertile, I offered no support. This was a woman’s thing, the classic cop-out for me to justify not going to any appointments where I had to hear the words ovary, vagina, uterus or fallopian tube.
Of course, that all changed when I finally manned up and filled the old sperm cup in the masturbatorium at the fertility lab. My wife was supportive from day one, and I felt like a schmuck for not being more tender and understanding when issues first came up with her biology. The truth is, she taught me how to be supportive, and I just took it from there.
Q. If you’ve ever had to consider using donors (sperm or eggs), what factors weighed in your decision, and how did you decide?
A. Our second infertility doctor (took us 6 different docs to finally get the job done), wanted to go donor after we failed our second IVF. My guess is we were screwing up his success rates (reported on a national database), so using younger biology has been shown to get the job done quicker.
The problem: my wife wanted to see my eyes in our baby, her chin, hear her grandma’s laugh in the baby’s voice. You know, carry on the family genes. This should never be taken lightly. Much like adoption, you have to be 100% certain that having someone else’s biology, most likely an anonymous college student trying to make extra dollars, is okay with both of you.
Q. If you tried fertility treatments, what role did you take, and did you feel like an active part of it or a bystander?
A. At first for sure a bystander. The words uterus/vagina/fallopian tubes give nails on a chalkboard chills to most guys (I say most guys because I used to run a fertility support group for couples back in my fertility seeking days and we frequently discussed this).
The first time I saw another guy (fertility doctor) put a large condom covered dildo (ultrasound wand) into my wife was just freaking bizarre. I wasn’t sure whether to throw up or start beating the hell out of the doctor.
Q. For people who have no experience with infertility, do you have any advice or words of wisdom for relating to a man or couple who does?
A. Yes: know what you want, and be willing to go the distance for it.
Guys especially need to get this: the whole procreation thing is something only women can do. We are not hard wired to have such a primitive urge to procreate. Why? Because we have no uterus.
I know that seems obvious, but really, think about the urges we get from having a penis and testicles. This country spends millions of dollars in erectile dysfunction advertising dollars to ensure those urges last as long as possible.
Yet a woman has a problem with an organ that was designed specifically to do one thing—grow another human being, and many guys, myself included, get our jockeys in a ruffle if a medical professional is needed to help that organ do what it was meant to do.
Society offers platitudes like “Why don’t you just adopt,” or “Maybe you should just relax,” or “Maybe it’s just not meant to be.” Any couple going through infertility has to be prepared for these well meaning insensitivities, and seek support through the many infertility support networks throughout the country.
Our fertility shrink (yes, there is such a thing now) told us, if they could do better, they would. But if they can’t do better, you may need to surround yourself with other couples going through the same thing until the emotional wounds heal.
Q. How has infertility affected your sex life?
A. The longer we went through it, the worse sex got. The spontaneous, fun, unpredictable beauty of love-making to create our offspring was replaced by the lab rat reality of pee tests to check for pre-ovulation hormones to optimize the timing of my sperm entering her uterus when the eggs were most likely to get there.
After a few months of this, an anvil went down on the part of my brain that controls erections. The libido-crushing red X marks imprisoned in the daily boxes of our monthly calendars produced paralyzing anxiety attacks as I realized we were fast approaching the optimum ovulation time zone.
Eventually we figured out that we had to separate our sex into “fun” non-babymaking sex, and try to get kinky and creative with the science part. For us that meant foreplay and intimacy replaced the “just stick it in before we miss the window” insanity and restored magic to our sex life.
Q. Final question: Was it all worth it?
A. From the moment my daughter clenched her wrinkled red hand around my finger minutes after she was born, to the image of my own face that reflects in brown eyes that look just like mine, I can say nothing I have ever done has moved me quite as deeply as finally achieving fatherhood.
The magnetic force field that binds the souls of my wife and daughter together makes me realize the incredible gift women give to the world when they create life.
I am a better man, a better husband for having evolved beyond my initial objections to medically assisted procreation. To any couple or man wondering if it is worth the struggle to go through infertility I say absolutely, 100%—Hell yes.
Photo credit: Flickr / Robert Bejil Photography