It will be a very special Father’s Day for one Norfolk man, who is speaking out to encourage other men who want to be dads to seek advice.
His consultant Mr Oliver Wiseman, an andrologist (male fertility specialist) at Bourn Hall Clinic say: “I see many men who have been told that they will never be biological fathers as there is no sperm in the ejaculate, and this was the case for Adrian. However, with the latest MicroTESE treatment we are able to find sperm in up to 50% of men. This gives them the chance through IVF and ICSI of becoming biological fathers.”
Being a dad mattered so much to Adrian that he told his partner Michelle even before they even started dating that he wouldn’t be able to give her children.
Michelle remembers: “I think this really worried him because it had caused problems in relationships before. But at the time it didn’t really concern me because I was still quite young and was focused on my job.”
But later Michelle’s priorities changed. “My sister had children and I used to spend a lot of time with them and it made me reflect on my own future. I was working long hours and my enthusiasm for my job had started to wane. I started to think about what else mattered in life.”
When Michelle turned 30 she stopped taking the contraceptive pill. “In my mind I was thinking ‘miraculously I might fall pregnant,’” she says.
Told as a child would never be a dad
But Adrian was not optimistic. “I had been through some very dark times coming to terms with the fact I would probably never be a Dad.”
Adrian had been told as a child that he had a condition, which would impact his fertility, and this was confirmed in his twenties after a doctor told him that he had a very low sperm count.
Michelle waited for seven years before she decided they needed to have ‘the conversation’. A woman’s fertility declines severely after 35, so she didn’t have many years left to conceive.
“It took a really long time for me to bring up the subject and say ‘we really need to do something before it is too late,’” says Michelle. “I didn’t want to push him because obviously he had resigned himself to the fact that he wouldn’t be able to have children.”
“In the end I said to him ‘we don’t really know why you can’t have children and science might have moved on since you last sought advice and there might be something which can be done.’”
Leap of faith
The couple went to see their GP and were referred for tests, which confirmed male factor infertility. They were told they would be eligible for NHS-funded fertility treatment and they chose to go to Bourn Hall Clinic, which has clinics across East Anglia.
“I really had to push Adrian to take a leap of faith,” says Michelle. “There was that fear of being given hope and then possibly losing it. In the end I had to say, ‘I really want to try something, can we see if we can do it together?’”
The couple went along to Bourn Hall Clinic and were given the stark news that Adrian had no sperm at all in the ejaculate. However, consultant Mr Oliver Wiseman explained that even a zero sperm count doesn’t have to mean that it is impossible for a man to father a child.
Adrian admits that he was emotionally quite thrown by this revelation: “To sit at Bourn Hall and be told that even with a zero sperm count I might be able to father a child using my own sperm came as a complete shock.
“When I first met Michelle I had even suggested to her that she shouldn’t stay with me if she really wanted a baby but she wouldn’t hear of it and we had discussed other options such as using donor sperm or adopting.”
MicroTESE can find sperm
MicroTESE (micro-surgical testicular sperm extraction) involves using a surgical microscope to identify tiny tubules most likely to contain sperm – and then removing them for analysis in the lab. If sperm are found they could injected directly into an egg during IVF treatment.
Mr Wiseman explains: “It is important that men with no sperm in the ejaculate or with very low numbers ask to see an andrologist who can undertake this surgery if it is indicated, as this will give them the best chance of being able to proceed with treatment using their own sperm.
“Most men with a low testosterone count are given Clomid to try and boost their body’s own testosterone production, as normal levels of this are important for sperm manufacture and may increase the chances of finding sperm with MicroTESE.”
Adrian was prescribed Clomid for three months and then went back to Bourn Hall Clinic for MicroTESE. The couple were told that Adrian had responded to the medication and sufficient sperm were then found at surgery for the couple to have IVF treatment.
Honest with the chances
“Our specialist at Bourn Hall was very honest with us and told us that he had found some sperm, but not very much,” says Adrian. “He was very honest with us about the risk of failure and the chances of success.”
The couple were delighted after Michelle fell pregnant at the first attempt but devastation quickly followed when she miscarried at ten weeks. “It was really traumatic,” says Michelle.
Second time around Michelle didn’t get pregnant. The third attempt would mean the last sample of sperm. “It is such an upheaval in your life,” says Michelle. “You feel like you are constantly in limbo. I stopped work, I didn’t want to put myself under any addition stress and we focused purely on achieving our goal.”
Fortunately, the treatment worked and Michelle’s pregnancy went to full term. On October 6, 2016 she gave birth to son Michael, who is now a bubbly toddler and ‘a real little character’ laughs Michelle. “He is now walking and climbing.
Didn’t want to have regrets we didn’t try
“I am so glad that I did insist we sought help because I didn’t want to be an old lady asking myself if I could have had a child. My one regret is that I didn’t push for us to get help a little sooner. But that is with the benefit of hindsight and you don’t think about that at the time.”
Adrian is a doting Dad. “Being a Dad has totally changed my life. To have been told from an early age that there was very little possibility that I would father a child and then to be 50 years of age and have a young son is just incredible.
“The procedure used to retrieve my sperm is relatively new and so didn’t exist as an option for me when I was younger. I am just so grateful that we put our faith in medical science. There are no words to describe what has happened to us, it is a miracle.”