‘You have extremely low sperm parameters and there is nothing we can do’
For Ciaran, 36, being vocal about male fertility and making lifestyle changes helped him in his fertility journey.
My story begins 10 years ago. My wife and I had been trying naturally to have children for over a year and we had accepted things may not happen as naturally as we hoped due to my wife’s PCOS.
After several month of tests for my wife, the fertility clinic agreed Clomid would be a sensible way forward. However, before prescribing Clomid, I needed to have a semen analysis to ensure I was not the missing link in our infertility.
Cutting a long story short, two weeks after my semen analysis, we were in the consultant’s office expecting to be handed a Clomid prescription. However, a very different scenario was about to play out.
“Ciaran, you have extremely low sperm parameters and there is nothing we can do. Have you ever taken steroids?”
I still remember feeling numb, it was like having an out-of-body experience. But at the same time, I genuinely believed the consultant had got it wrong. However further semen analysis confirmed I had a low sperm count, mobility and morphology. I was told I needed to look at my lifestyle and try to make some changes, but the advice and guidance stopped there.
I buried my head in the sand
For two years I buried my head in the sand. This resulted in what can only be described as an emotional breakdown and consequently a deep depression. Depression quickly began to affect my life. I stopped socialising and my day-to-day mood went from a happy go lucky attitude to being sad and often moody.
I struggled to complete the simplest day-to-day tasks which not only effected my relationship with my wife, it also impacted friendships and my work. After several long and difficult conversations with my wife, I realised I needed to address my mental health and the elephant in the room, my diagnosis of infertility.
By this point we had moved changed fertility clinics to Bourn Hall in Cambridgeshire. I began to access their counselling services. This was an incredible service and the gateway to me making the much-needed lifestyle changes I so desperately needed. The evening of my first counselling session I sat with my wife and made a list of the lifestyle changes I felt would have the biggest impact on my fertility and mental health.
The first lifestyle change I made was changing what I ate. I moved to an all-organic diet, which was predominately plant-based with two helpings of red meat a week. I stopped eating processed foods but treated myself to one pudding a week to maintain my sanity.
The second change I made was to my exercise routine. I stepped away from high intensity training and moved towards more low to moderate exercise, increasing my cardiovascular training (jogging/running), while managing the amount of heavy weight sessions I completed. I ended up running three times and weightlifting twice a week. This was the polar opposite to what I had previously been doing.
Cutting out alcohol
Finally, and possibly the most difficult lifestyle change I made, was reducing my alcohol intake. Over a period of three months, I reduced my alcohol intake to zero and maintained this for approximately a year. I found stopping drinking alcohol not only significantly impacted my sperm quality, but also helped me maintain focus and improved my mental health during a very difficult time in my life.
I did introduce a couple of other lifestyle changes, namely, establishing a proper sleep routine and taking cooler showers/baths and some supplementation. But without a doubt for me changing my diet, exercise routine and alcohol intake were the most difficult but beneficial for my health.
Talking about male infertility
Over the past year or so I have become a lot more vocal about the importance of talking about male infertility. During my own fertility journey there were times when I felt extremely lonely and isolated. I didn’t know who to turn to and more importantly, who I could talk too.
When I found out about the HIMfertility support group I was not only amazed but comforted that men finally had somewhere they could go and talk about their fertility issues, while getting support from other men who generally care and want to help.
The work that is being done is incredible and I would highly recommend to anyone who is struggling with, or just looking for more information about male infertility, to reach out to Fertility Network UK and join the HIMfertility community.
If you’re a man affected by a fertility issue, either your own or your partner’s, why not join HIMfertility, our male-only online fertility support group.