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Battling Male Factor Infertility to Become a Father | Joe's Story

After becoming a dad with the help of IVF, one dad shares why he feels it's so important to talk about men's fertility issues.

June 13th, 2023 | 6 min. read

By Sierra Dehmler

After undergoing a procedure as a teen that would alter his family-building experience forever, Joe shares his journey through being diagnosed with male factor infertility, becoming a father, and why he's decided to be open about his story.

In this article:

Meet Joe

Joe grew up on Long Island and attended college at the U.S. Naval Academy before his military service. After serving in the U.S. Navy, he moved to Washington, D.C. where he worked for the FBI. 

"Luckily, I met the woman who would become my wife there," says Joe. "Erica and I met at a happy hour, which led to a 3-year long-distance relationship while she attended law school."

Joe and Erica got married after she graduated from law school, and shortly before she commissioned in the U.S. Army as a JAG officer. Erica was stationed in Germany, which led the couple to uproot our lives and live overseas for three years.

Thinking About the Future

Their time in Germany came to a close when Erica was stationed back in the U.S. at West Point for another three years before she departed the Army. 

"It wasn’t until we returned to the U.S. that we started having discussions about growing our family," Joe says. "I’m ashamed to admit that I was not 100% fully onboard with the idea, but not long after those discussions, we decided we were ready to have a baby."

Being Diagnosed with Male Factor Infertility

After Joe and Erica decided they wanted to expand their family, Joe went to his doctor to ask about fertility testing. Joe was especially proactive about diagnostic testing since he had undergone surgery as an adolescent that had the potential of impacting his future fertility.

"My primary care doctor assured me it shouldn’t be an issue, but reluctantly referred me to a urologist," Joe says. Unfortunately, the urologist Joe saw also recommended against pursuing fertility testing. Joe pushed back against their advice and did his best to get an evaluation, which made his eventual diagnosis of male factor infertility all the more devastating.

Receiving dismissive responses from the doctors he was asking to help him was incredibly frustrating, Joe says. "I was started on Clomid [a medication that can be used to increase FSH and LH in men], and while my sperm levels increased, they never reached a level that would allow us to conceive naturally."

Their First Fertility Clinic Experience

Before they found Illume Fertility, Joe and Erica worked with a different fertility clinic, who recommended they pursue in vitro fertilization (IVF). Sadly, their first round of IVF resulted in only one viable embryo. 

"That clinic never ended up calling us to let us know the pregnancy results from Erica's blood test," Joe says. "I called them shortly before they closed and they very cavalierly told me the result was negative. It was probably the hardest day of me and my wife’s marriage."

After having such a negative experience, Joe and Erica decided to look elsewhere for help building their family. Their search led them to Illume. "The initial conversations we had with the nurses and doctors [at Illume] gave us a positive indication that our experience here would be more personal," he recalls. 

Embracing Parenthood After Struggle

Thankfully, the couple was eventually able to conceive with the help of IVF and the team at Illume. They welcomed their long-awaited baby boy, Calvin, in July 2021 and were overjoyed to finally become parents.

As their son grew, Joe and Erica decided to begin planning for a second baby, which led them back to Illume. "It has been a completely different experience this time around," Joe says. "The process at Illume was the same - but we were very superstitious and stayed at the same hotels and had the same meals that we did for our first embryo transfer with Calvin."

Preparing for Baby #2

However, once they found out they were pregnant with Baby #2, the couple reacted in an unexpected way:

"To be honest, a lot of the gratitude and shock we experienced the first time around was replaced by the preparation of childcare, our home, and doctor's appointments," Joe admits. "It’s not something I’m proud of, nor did we make a conscious decision to act this way, but at times, we would find ourselves complaining, and I would have to remind myself what we went through to get here."

This isn't uncommon for parents after infertility. Fertility warriors are almost expected to be endlessly grateful and constantly acknowledging how blessed they are to be having a baby after fertility treatment, but some parents-to-be simply want to move forward with pregnancy and finally have a somewhat "normal" experience.

Editor's Note: On June 12, 2023, Erica had an emergency C-section and their baby girl, Noah, arrived a bit ahead of schedule! Joe reports that Noah is spending a little time in the NICU due to her early entrance, but both mom and baby are doing well.

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Learn what to expect from this essential step in the fertility testing process and how your results will inform you and/or your partner's treatment plan. 

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Thoughts on Male Factor Infertility

While Joe knows that having this knowledge sooner may not have changed the trajectory of his life, he says that he does wish his parents would have been more proactive and honest around the surgery he endured as an adolescent - and how big of an impact it could have on his fertility.

"I don’t know what finding out earlier would have done, but it’s definitely a conversation I would have liked to have had with someone I was considering starting a family with before they made the decision to marry me," Joe says. "A big source of guilt during my journey was the burden I placed on my wife who had to endure the lion’s share of pain and procedures."

Another difficult experience? Father’s Day, says Joe. "Before I became a dad, Father's Day would turn my daily anxiety about our infertility from a 10/10 to an 11/10." He's not alone in feeling this way - holidays can bring up difficult emotions for those struggling to become parents.

Why He Shares His Journey

Though his path to fatherhood wasn't easy, Joe tries to use his experience to support and uplift other men struggling with either their own or their partner's fertility issues.

"If this is weighing on you heavily, you’re not alone," Joe offers. "In fact, if you’re out with your buddies, bring it up to them in a way you’re comfortable with - odds are, at least one of them is also going through fertility challenges!"

Joe feels it’s important to open up about infertility as a man because there is so much pain in the process - and it’s a different kind of pain than what your partner is experiencing.

"Speaking about these things with just your wife can sometimes lead to unproductive conversations or a lack of understanding," Joe says. "Having more people to share your experience with can be very cathartic and offer much-needed support."

His advice? Find your people.

Joe encourages those in similar situations to not be afraid to connect with other men about infertility. Not everyone will deal with their emotions in the same way, but support is out there, and there are lots of helpful resources to explore.  

He chose to attend Illume's Men’s Support Group in order to find an outlet. "The first few meetings were difficult as I shared my story," Joe says, "but it became something I looked forward to - it really bonded me with a group of people I otherwise never would have known." 

Want more? Watch a replay of Joe's conversation with Patient Advocate Lisa Rosenthal to learn more about his experience attending support groups while battling infertility.

Sierra Dehmler

Sierra Dehmler is Illume Fertility’s Content Marketing Manager - and also a fertility patient herself. Combining empathy gained on her personal journey with her professional experience in marketing and content creation, she aims to empower and support other fertility patients by demystifying the fertility treatment process.