For a very long time, I’ve always thought there was something wrong with me. About 10 years ago, that was confirmed. When my wife and I went to a doctor to find out if we could conceive, our worst fears were realized – I was infertile. My wife’s reproductive system was firing on all cylinders, but mine was, for lack of a better term, a nuclear missile without the warhead installed. A crushing blow to my ego, my manhood, my self-image was a polite way of putting it. It called into question so much about me.
I wanted children. When I was a child, I dreamed of having children. At that point, I was forced to consider adoption. It wasn’t the preferred plan, but it was better than nothing. We ultimately adopted a teenager who we did our best to raise and turn into a productive member of society but, as these things happen, I had to force him from our home a few months back due to violating a cardinal safety rule. Fortunately, it wasn’t drug-related or criminal activity – it was simply actions which posed an imminent safety threat to our home, actions which he seemed oblivious about. But I digress.
There are many mental health resources for women who are unable to conceive, but too few for men. I found myself facing a stark reality – I was alone. My father sired four children, my oldest sister birthed a son, and my cousins all have some children of their own. Granted, I could explain this away as the side effect of a boyhood surgery to correct a recessed testicle, or any number of old wives tales ranging from excessive masturbation in my youth, to poor diet and a preference to briefs. The fact is, I corrected all the medical and quasi-medical potential issues and still, motility and quantity were so far lacking I received the label any hoped-to-be father feared.
Treatment options were ridiculously expensive, and there was zero guarantee of success. The reproductive doctor even told me, point blank, that my sperm were unsuitable for test-tube in vitro fertilization. He even went so far as to suggest my wife consider an outside sperm donor, which she actually declined – not that I actually would have had a problem with that notion. Still, the level of respect shown was humbling, and touching. After all the hell I put her through, and all the ways I had treated her so poorly, she still only wanted to bear a child by me, or adopt. In the end, we chose to adopt.
Adopting a child was, at least for me, a harrowing experience. I saw the word “Dad” on cards and some letters, but never heard the words said. It tore me apart, and broke me in half. It only confirmed the feelings of self-loathing I had for myself. I should have been able to give my wife a child. If it wasn’t for me, she could be enjoying the joys of pregnancy and motherhood, and bonding with a toddler now. These were just a sampling of the things which ran through my head. Worse still, ladies I knew admitted to me that, if they couldn’t conceive with a man, they had no reason to be with them. Trust me when I say this – there were way more than a few who felt this way. I was so grateful my wife chose to stay with me – many marriages really do end because of the inability to conceive – under Canon Law, the Catholic Church won’t even allow a marriage of an infertile couple to take place. Look it up!
Today, I accept my inability to give my wife a child and while she is at peace with it, it still gives me pause. Did so many women I once attempt to woo have the intuitive ability to tell that I was incapable of producing offspring? Was there a pheromone drop-off as the issue intensified? Was I simply telegraphing an aura of “no baby available” which was off putting? For a young man who was already deeply insecure, this only compounded the doubts. Today, I still struggle with this and the fact that the one child I gave a home to I was unable to make a real bond due to time (and maturity) constraints. Worse still, I wonder about how this may, indeed, validate the perceived opinions of others that I may have been seen as “unsuitable father material,” regardless of how irrational and delusional those perceptions may be. Still, it does call to mind the notion some have the virility and sex drive are directly tied to the ability to reproduce. If that is the case, Mother Nature certainly played a cruel joke of irony on me.