Sharpening my spear

In his recent book “Who stole my spear?”, the broadcaster and journalist Tim Samuels explores how to be a man in the 21st century, against the backdrop that current day homo sapiens is very much transformed from its original crude spear-bearing form.

And this is a question that intrigues me following my own metaphorical spear having been severely blunted by my infertility diagnosis back in 2014.

For what primary purpose does man serve on this planet, in any stage of its evolution, other than to procreate?

I am proud to tell you I possess a “spear” that, to the naked eye, appears of good stock. Further, when called into action, the end product appears to be of a genuine sperm-like quality and quantity.

The modern day average is around several hundred million sperm per sample. So imagine my shock to be dispassionately informed by my least favourite GP, not once but twice, that my first and then repeat semen sample tests were devoid of any competent swimmers.

In fact, the paragraph above contains one small lie. I was not that surprised to be told I was infertile. A sole brother to several sisters, always the smallest in the school-class, I would run away from the oval rugby ball and (temporarily) counted cross-country as my premier sport. And yet my late teenage years saw me shoot up a few inches, become a semi-competent athlete (albeit still petrified of a rugby ball) and even grow a bit of muscle and facial hair. So, on paper, there was no reason to suspect that mine would be a void ejaculate. Yet this has been a common theme amongst other similarly inflicted male peers, both those of lesser and greater stature, including some of those hallowed rugby players! For male infertility, like so much in life, appears to be a very random occurrence and can strike down the most ostensibly virile. Statistics tell us that there has been a drop in the modern day average sperm count by approximately 50%. Further, male fertility problems affect one in six males, with complete azoospermia (i.e. zero sperm, as in my case) impacting 1 in a 100 males. So what is driving this fundamental threat to mankind? Samuels’ book speculates on various possible causes, including fried foods, pesticides, mobile telephones and tight underpants. My specific infertility has been linked to an enlarged vein within the scrotum which possibly developed during my teenage years: when finally removed, it was too late for any swimmers to make it past the blockage to the warmer end of the swimming-pool (the conditions required for healthy sperm to survive). All hope was not lost: instead, I was prescribed an 8-month course of (expensive) bi-daily testosterone. This treatment was stipulated, even though my testosterone count was mathematically within the normal range, to maximize my chances of a successful micro-TESE procedure. A micro-TESE is an operation where the surgeon seeks to access healthy sperm from deep within the male testes. I underwent two such procedures: the first was a total failure, after which the testosterone injections commenced (administered by my hardcore wife), complemented by an alcohol-free diet full of walnuts and cranberries. You may not be surprised to learn I am not a fan of needles and, with my wife leading the piercing and the overall fertility charge, there were times when I felt incredibly emasculated, with my mental and physical health repeatedly trampled on. But taking one day at a time I stayed strong, for I still had my (traditional male) role as the premier bread winner and even dusted off my cross-country trainers to go long-distance running (presuming 10k runs count!). The second operation was a relative success as 9 heroic swimmers were salvaged. These sperm battled on, paired with 9 of my wife’s finest eggs, 6 of which combined to form tiny little embryos. 2 of these embryos reached the blastocyst stage (suitable for implantation in my wife’s uterus). And then came a dreadfully anxious few weeks, as we waited to see if my wife fell pregnant. Alas it was not meant to be: there were no smiling faces in the bedroom after we took a pregnancy test and those faces only got more miserable as we desperately repeated the test for several days thereafter. This was, in reality, my last chance of conceiving via my own seed: conceiving a “miracle” baby was out of the question, despite well-wishers contrary suggestions. And, whilst a third micro-TESE was in theory possible, it was not medically recommended, given the risk of long-term damage to my manhood. Further, I would not wish one never mind several such procedures on my own worst enemy, as the recovery period was especially excruciating. So what is my advice for the 21st century man looking to keep his spear in-tact? From a practical perspective for prospective fathers, try and stay healthy: whilst my diagnosis and many others are allegedly due to factors out of our control, the reality is that male infertility is on the decline. So, whilst eating and drinking well and exercising frequently may not be a complete solution, taking such precautions should decrease your infertility risks. And for those already resigned to a fate like mine, hopefully you can take solace from our ultimate blessed outcome – two beautiful donor sperm conceived children: take the time to grieve and, when ready, embrace a new fertility opportunity, with an open mind and plenty of patience. I do also recommend talking to a few people close to you and/or those who have been on similar journeys. In particular, I am happy to listen and share my insights into how I have evolved and adapted my spear in the face of 21st century adversity, emerging triumphant as a very modern pro-creator and, I’m told, an amazing father. Take care, JR Silver

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