Fertility is a game of numbers: Sperm counts, cycle lengths, percentages of success. The figures are seldom cheerful. Especially if, like me, you were never a big fan of maths at school:
• All it takes is one sperm to fertilize an egg. A healthy male produces around 400,000,000 sperm each time he.. um… “does his thing” (I’m picking most workplace servers are set to reject posts containing the “E” word) that’s a 0.00000025% success rate!
• And even if one little trooper successfully battles his way through to his destination, the egg may not even be there waiting for him to report for duty!
• It is estimated that around one in five couples (that’s a whopping 20%!) now need assistance with reproduction.
• For those going through fertility treatment, the chances of success have massively increased over time with advances in medicine, but they are still not overly great. On the first round of treatment, usually less than half of patients are successful. That steadily increases as rounds increase, but it is still no guarantee of pregnancy. I know several couples who have tried time and time again to no avail.
We had accepted the odds were not in our favour, especially after our initial test results, so when our specialist suggested I try taking a drug called Clomifene it was a case of “why not?”
Clomifene is usually used on women to help with fertility, but there had been cases of it being prescribed to men with positive results. “There is one slight issue” our doctor said. “When you get it from the pharmacy, Andrew, the chemist will look at you strangely and ask if you’re sure it’s for you.” Sure enough, upon placing my order, the pharmacist came around the counter to check that the medicine was in fact for me. “Yes, I’m acting as a medical guinea pig” I said and asked if he knew of any good lettuce suppliers nearby.
Because there are no fertility facilities in Hawke’s Bay, we spent the next few months travelling to and from Wellington a lot. Fortunately it’s one of our favourite cities. We found a very good, affordable central hotel and Wellington quickly became a second home for my wife and I.
One of the fundamentals of fertility treatment involves a room, a man and a plastic container. It’s not the most romantic of settings and the container never buys you dinner afterwards. But it would become a familiar setting. At least they changed the magazines pretty regularly.
Our first trip down provided some success: After 3-6 months of medication THERE WERE SPERM! Ok, so there weren’t many and they weren’t moving, but it was a start. Back home and back to the pills.
Our next visit proved even more fruitful: There were sperm and a few of them were doing laps and lifting weights! Ok, not entirely accurate, but they were moving – we on the right course to possibly getting somewhere. Wellington on a Plate was on at the time, so we treated ourselves at the good news.
The third visit produced even more active swimmers and we were able to start looking at beginning IVF treatment for real. As I said, no guarantee, but so far ahead of where we had been a year or so previously.
Next the roles would be reversed somewhat.