When I was approached to write a blog post for Des Moines Mom, I was…perplexed. What could I (a wannabe mom) possibly have to say to a community full of real-life mothers? A community I so desperately want to belong to.
I’ve always dreamed of the day I would have children. Whenever someone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer came simple: a mom. I’d spend time imagining life with children: what we’d name them, how we’d raise them, what they’d look like. Would they have my husband’s kind eyes and my soft smile?
I never envisioned my lifelong aspiration of becoming a mother would end up being the most difficult, emotionally exhausting, and incredibly heartbreaking journey of my life.
The Beginning of a Long Road
My amazing husband, Brian, and I immediately began trying to start our perfect family after our wedding in November 2018. He shared my dream and was eager to upgrade his title of Uncle Bam Bam to Daddy. We love kids so much that we had 10 of our friends’ kiddos in our wedding party!
However, month after month we experienced negative tests, unwelcome Aunt Flo arrivals, and a type of sadness we’d never felt. What’s wrong with me? Why won’t my body do what it’s made to do as a woman?
At a time when everyone around us had kids or were getting pregnant, we were buying pregnancy tests in bulk, peeing on ovulation sticks, and scheduling sex. Intimacy as a newlyweds was supposed to be fun; for us, it felt like a second job.
Fertility Testing & a High Dose of Hope
At the beginning of 2020, we questioned if we should go to a fertility doctor. Is it too soon? Should we keep trying? On a whim, I called Mid-Iowa Fertility in late February to see how long we’d have to wait for a consultation. Much to my surprise, they just had a cancellation and we could have it.
To say I was nervous for that appointment is an understatement. When we sat across from the doctor, I word vomited our health history and the last 14 months of our lives in about three minutes. The doctor and my husband shared a smile. I think they knew I meant business!
Testing started that day with an ultrasound and continued the following day with Brian’s sperm sample and my hysterosalpingogram (HSG).
As the doctor was preparing for my x-ray, he said, “I’ve got bad news. We didn’t see any sperm in Brian’s sample.”
Right as he said that, I felt the cramping from the dye being inserted into my cervix. I began squirming and tears sprang to my eyes. What does he mean they didn’t find any sperm? Don’t all men have SOME sperm?
The doctor helped me up and said, “Everything looks great on your end. Do you want to tell Brian or should I?”
I asked him to––because how is a wife supposed to tell the love of her life something so devastating?
You never know how bad you want something until you’re told it may not be possible.
They started Brian on Clomid right away. Did you know Clomid (used to help women ovulate) can also be used to treat male infertility? I’ll admit, I was overly optimistic. He’ll take these pills and soon we’ll be pregnant, right?!
When his next specimen showed no swimmers, he was diagnosed with azoospermia––a condition where there’s no sperm in semen (affecting about 1% of men). Many forms of azoospermia are treatable, so at least we had that going for us.
This diagnosis led us down a long, emotional path (right in the midst of a global pandemic, may I add). It started with a referral to a urologist, an MRI, more lab work, more sperm samples, and an eventual referral to a urology surgeon at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC).
We had a consultation with this doctor who ordered MORE tests to check for chromosome abnormalities. If that came back clear, our next step would be Testicular Sperm Extraction (TESE) surgery. During TESE, an incision is made in the scrotum and they cut into the testicles to extract viable sperm for IVF.
When everything came back normal on the labs, Brian made the difficult decision to move forward with TESE. He said, “Babe, as much as I don’t want to have my nuts cut open, I have to or I will regret it the rest of my life.”
On August 13, we headed to Iowa City for surgery.
It was our last hope.
The surgeon sat down with me after surgery and said Brian did great. But, I’ll never forget the look in his eyes when he told me they didn’t find any sperm in either testicle. Our dreams were shattered in that very moment.
Once Brian was more coherent, I had to tell him the results. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done––a piece of my heart is still in that recovery room at UIHC.
About a month later, we learned Brian’s biopsies revealed a very rare condition called Sertoli Cell-Only Syndrome. In simple terms, it takes Sertoli cells and germ cells to make sperm, and Brian is missing the germ cells. He didn’t do anything wrong—this is how he was born.
I always knew he was special.
Picking Up the Pieces
The days following surgery were full of shock, anger, and incredible heartbreak. The grief was different than anything I’d ever felt. Pain erupted from somewhere deep inside me––at the very core of my being.
We still grieve our loss. It’s been a little over six months since surgery, but the pain is with us––it hits us each at different times and in different ways.
One thing I know for certain: we didn’t come this far to only get this far. We’ll become parents, just not in the way we planned. And, someday, I’ll have the privilege of joining the Des Moines Mom community. I can’t wait to see you there.
I’ll leave you with these final words:
If you’re a wannabe mom dealing with your own infertility struggles, please hear this: we may not know one another––but we’re connected. We may not be going through the exact same situation––but we understand each other. We’re on different journeys–but we’re intertwined by our experiences.
You are not alone. I see you.
Lastly, I ask all you moms out there to give your kiddos an extra hug today––you’re one of the lucky ones.
A farm girl at heart, Teri is an Iowa native and a graduate of Drake University. She lives in Urbandale with her husband, Brian, and their fur babies, Millie (cockapoo) and Chubs (Boston terrier). By day, Teri writes and manages internal communications for over 2,000 employees located across the country. When she’s not working or writing, you can find her reading, spending time with loved ones, or planning her next trip. She’s never one to turn down an iced coffee, a good glass of sauvignon blanc, or a meaningful conversation. Follow Teri and Brian’s journey to parenthood at wannabemom.org, Facebook, and Instagram.