The couple hailed from Mexico and came to me after all prior attempts to conceive had failed. She was 20 and he was 24 years old and had been told that he was azoospermic, meaning he lacked sperm. He underwent sperm mapping with me and it showed that in fact he did have sperm. They thanked me and returned to Mexico.
After 14 years of radio silence, they sat in front of me again, now 34 and he 38 years old. Remarkably, they looked the same and were as cute a couple as you’ll ever see. She said: “We’re ready now. We’ve saved enough money to try IVF once.” I pulled out the sperm map from 14 years prior and we forged ahead with sperm retrieval and IVF. They had twins. And just like that, memories from an exceptionally rugged decade and a half of their lives fell away instantly as their family was born.
A Devastating Illness
I’ve seen infertility ravage the lives of thousands of couples. And what I’ve seen is supported by published data on the quality of life of infertile couples. It’s not pretty: extreme stress, high rates of anxiety and depression, sexual dysfunction, lower self-esteem and significant marital conflict and divorce rates. A disease like no other, really. Even cancer tends to go forward or backward, one way or another, and although life threatening, its impact is felt in a more socially acceptable way.
But what has equally impressed me over the last several decades of caring for infertile couples is their grit and resilience. How did this lovely couple from Mexico survive 14 years of infertility looking as innocent and spring fresh as ever? Apparently, this kind of marital resilience is more common than I thought. A Danish study reported that the marriages of one-third of couples benefited and strengthened from five years of unsuccessful infertility. There’s something about going through joint hardship and fighting a battle as a unified front. I really believe that couples that make it through the fires of infertility are capable of handling pretty much any other challenge that life throws at them.
Hope Springs Eternal
But there’s something more basic behind the grit and resilience of infertile couples, and it can be found in a four-letter word. Not that kind. What I’m talking about is hope. The essential oxygen for the soul, the real stuff of life. Hope lets us see past reality and allows us to imagine what is possible. A most uniquely human trait that powers us through not only the stuff of daily life but also through the most perverse of human circumstances. In the words of Emily Dickinson, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”