5 Steps to Help Men on Their Journey to Fatherhood: A Conversation with Dr. Avner Hershlag

(Purchase, NY) “Women are not the only ones that fret about becoming parents,” says Dr. Avner Hershlag, Chief of the Center for Human and Reproduction at the North Shore-LIJ Health System, a part of the Attain Fertility® Network. “It takes two to tango.  Men and women share equal partnership in conceiving a child.” 

“It's not a shame for a man to admit that he may have a fertility issue,” Dr. Hershlag continues, pointing to the fact that according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of fertility issues are related to men, another third to women, and a third of fertility issues are either unexplained or related to both men and women. Focusing on men, Dr. Hershlag offers five steps to help increase male fertility

Step 1: Take a sperm test
If your wife or female partner hasn’t been able to conceive a child, don’t wait for her to be tested first.  Get a sperm test (“semen analysis.”)  It isn’t hard to do.

Step 2: See a specialist.

Join your wife/partner on her visits to the fertility doctor.  She will appreciate your support.  It will be the best way to show her that you’re in it together.

Step 3: When your sperm test is normal

You’re not completely off the hook, and it doesn’t mean that your partner has a problem.  A very high percentage of couples have “unexplained infertility.”  If you belong to this group, treatment will most likely help you have a child.

Step 4: Sex

Are there sexual issues you’ve been too embarrassed to discuss with your partner, the doctor or even -- yourself?  Many men have sexual problems, ranging from lack of desire to erectile difficulties.  These are almost always treatable.  You just have to recognize them and address them with your doctor.

Step 5: When your sperm test is abnormal.

If the sperm test is abnormal – the fertility doctor will review the test with you, and if necessary, refer you to an urologist specializing in male fertility.

So, what could be wrong? And if something is found – how fixable is it?

The most common problem found in men is varicocele – an engorged vein in one or both testes.  This can be treated surgically.  Not all varicoceles need surgery. A simple infection can be treated medically with antibiotics. Another big culprit is drugs.  If you have been taking anabolic steroids (like testosterone), your muscles may be beefed up but you may have no sperm.  Would you rather be a body builder or a father by next Father’s Day?

If you stop the drugs, your testes will start making sperm, and seeing sperm might be all your wife’s/partner’s egg needs to make a baby.

Sperm is a mirror of a man’s health.  Any substance abuse, smoking, illness, may compromise it.  It’s nature’s way of preventing men from becoming parents when they’ve taken ill or abuse their bodies.  Improving your sperm may be predicated on making yourself healthier.

There are more rare causes for male infertility, including genetic problems and childhood mumps.

Help Is on the Way

Whatever the problem is, there is a solution. Recent advances in fertility treatments provide solutions for practically any type of male infertility. Two of the most common are:

  • ICSI, a direct injection of sperm into the egg, can succeed in creating a child even with extremely low sperm numbers
  • TESE – testicular sperm extraction – can provide just enough sperm to fertilize the partner’s eggs – even if the sperm count is zero.

These are only two examples of what can be done. The first step in solving the problem is not to put your head in the sand.  Instead, recognize the problem, admit it, and be proactive. From there on, it should be a smooth sail to Fatherland.

Attain Fertility manages a growing community on Facebook and Twitter that offers peer to peer support and information with over 14,000 ‘fans’ on Facebook and 1,200 followers on Twitter. The Attain Fertility blog, written by doctors and other fertility specialists within the community, also offers information and insight on a wide variety of fertility topics. Throughout the month of June Attain will provide specialized support for men on Facebook along with educational information about male factor infertility on the blog. There will also be information for women who are helping their partners cope with their fertility issues.