We are in it together

Shaun vividly remembers the telephone call when he was told by the hospital he had no sperm.

“I think it was a receptionist and she was trying to pronounce azoospermia. I had taken the phone outside to take the call and I asked what that was. And she said ‘I don’t know’. Then she said ‘oh, it means no sperm or something like that’. I remember just kind of reeling and my head was spinning.

“Jenna and I have just started writing a blog to help support other men in the same situation. I asked her what her recollection was and it was much the same; it wasn’t like the world ended but it was still a shock. I am an optimist so I thought there would be something else we could do.”

When the couple started fertility treatment, they told no-one except their mums that it was to do with Shaun’s sperm, a problem caused by his having mumps at 22.

Jenna continues: “Everyone knew that we were going to go through IVF, they just didn’t know why. Nobody actually asked but I think that a lot of people assumed that it was on my side because they are just not aware of male infertility.

Shaun and Jenna

Shaun and Jenna are talking about their journey and how they coped at the February Fertility Support Group meeting ‘We are in it together’.

Lads culture at work

“I would probably have been a bit more open but wasn’t, obviously out of respect for Shaun, but it was frustrating at times. People feel they have to say something – ‘I know someone who had IVF and then fell pregnant naturally; you know sometimes it is the stress’ – but if they had known the reason, they would know that would be impossible for us.”

Shaun needed to take time off work for appointments so he emailed his bosses. “They were very good and I felt comfortable letting them know, but they are blokes and there is very much a ‘lads culture’ in the job. By the evening in the pub it would switch. I would just laugh off the comments, because I knew they didn’t come from a cruel place, but now they do know the full extent there have been a couple of apologies.”

Jenna needed to do some of her injections at work, including one in the railway station at Euston. She also experienced ‘playground humour’: “I’ve had comments like ‘let us know if you need a hand getting pregnant’.”

Getting in the right mind set

Shaun had several procedures: varicocele embolization to reduce the size of the blood vessels around the testicles and cool the sperm, and MicroTESE to look for immature sperm in the testes. Neither was successful.

Shaun says: “Deep down I think I always would have done MicroTESE but I needed a little bit of a push, as it was such a big operation. Jenna did say she would have respected my decision either way, but I’m glad I went for it, despite the result. It enabled me to draw a line under finding sperm, and move towards getting closure.

“I remember a quote we heard along the way: ‘we haven’t come this far to only come this far’ and that was definitely our mentality – we were in it 100 per cent.

“By the time I had made decision to go for TESE we had already reached a point where we might have to accept there would be no sperm found and decide what our next options would be. After the procedure in August 2019 we weren’t that upset when we found out the results because we had already reached a stage of acceptance.”

Jenna and Shaun outside Bourn Hall

Counselling helped decision over donor sperm

The couple opted to have IVF with donor sperm at Bourn Hall.

“I felt that as Jenna was fertility-wise completely healthy, later on in life she might have completely regretted not experiencing pregnancy. I also felt that the journey itself of the pregnancy would help me connect a lot better with the baby. I think we made the right decision.”

Jenna agrees: “It was never a question of whether we would have a life without children, it was just a matter of how it would happen. Further down the line, if IVF was unsuccessful, we would have had conversations about adoption.

“We had counselling together before making the decision. It was really good; it is compulsory, but I am pleased we did it as it definitely gave us a different outlook going forward. We were initially of the view that we probably wouldn’t tell the child about the use of donor sperm but it was explained that with ancestry DNA and things like that you can easily find out, so actually it is more beneficial to tell the child early on.”

Lockdown puts life on hold

Jenna’s ovaries were stimulated to produce eggs and then mixed with the donor sperm after egg collection. All the embryos were then frozen as Jenna had developed OHSS (ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome) and her body needed time to recover before embryo transfer.

The couple were due to go back to Bourn Hall for a frozen embryo transfer in March 2020 but then all fertility clinics were ordered to temporarily close during the first Covid-19 lockdown. Although disappointed by the delay, Shaun and Jenna used the unexpected extra time to re-connect as a couple and prepare themselves for the next stage of their journey.

“We believe that everything happens for a reason,” says Shaun. “We feel that mentally we were in a better place when our treatment restarted in May 2020 than we were in December 2019 when we had been due to have the embryo transfer. Covid allowed us to have an enforced ‘breather’ and enjoy some extra time together. We had often been like ships which pass in the night because of our jobs and so we decided to enjoy the weather and try to have fun together. When the time came for us to restart we were in a much better place, both physically and mentally.”

Due to the restrictions Shaun was unfortunately unable to come into the clinic with Jenna for the embryo transfer. So, before their appointment on 25 June 2020 Shaun and Jenna found themselves sitting under a big old tree at Bourn Hall Cambridge.

“We sat and meditated under the tree for ten minutes, waiting for Jenna to get the call to go in,” says Shaun. “It was a really peaceful moment together and then we looked at each other and said ‘right, this is it!’”

The next step had been a long time coming – and they were ready for it …

More information

Hear Shaun and Jenna speak at the  Fertility Support Group

Read Shaun’s guest blog about how partners can support men through infertility

Follow Shaun on Instagram @knackered_knackers

Related articles