Male infertility is involved in approximately 40% of the 2.6 million infertile couples in the U.S.
Right around this time, my wife, Amy, and I decided to move to California. Perhaps a fresh start, a fresh perspective would help.
My wife's doctor in New York sent her to a doctor in Beverly Hills, who sent her to a fertility specialist, who sent me a doctor whose first name sounded a lot like "Pappy."
He was the doctor to see for guys whose "guys" need to get going.
Pappy had a slightly goofy personality. His brimming optimism, a tonic after my dour New York medical experience, reminded me of Timothy Leary. Pappy assured me that New York was very much behind the times and that there was plenty he could do to improve my condition.
I was immediately told to put on boxer shorts and to say no to hot tubs and marijuana programs (fyi: two of those required a change of lifestyle). He also recommended I undergo surgery to correct a varicocele.
Without referring you to the many, many, medical sites, books and journals I immediately consulted on the subject, there is some belief that a certain vein that traverses one or both testicles can, in one way or another, effect the quality of sperm production. Operating on it may, or may not, improve sperm quality.
In my case, a double varocelectomy was recommended.
Many men struggling in the attempt to have children are accused of not caring enough or not being involved enough.
Husbands take note: agreeing to go under the knife for the cause buys a lot of good will.
The surgery was easy and the recovery made more fun by being introduced to a new friend, Darvocet, whom I was not allowed to play with after six days, but whom I enjoyed getting to know however briefly. After the appropriate recovery time, Amy and I were encouraged to resume baby-making at every-other-day intervals.
(What can I say? Doctor's orders!)
We were positive, optimistic, bonded in our mission. Every day our relationship was getting better. At the same time, I was tested monthly to see if my sperm "improved."
Pappy's office also had a "special room." I was ordered to use it — so that the good doctor's office could control as much of circumstances surrounding preserving the sperm as possible.
The room came with its own "reading" material. The selection was surprisingly degenerate, but to me, all the previously handled pages were, in the terminology of a Playmate profile, a "turn off." I was encouraged to bring my own.
Which is how I found myself one afternoon wandering to the back of the news store — you know, the far reaches of the aisles where the men stand apart and never make eye contact with anyone in the store. At that time, the world belonged to Playboy, with Penthouse its edgier cousin, and Hustler being the lunatic fringe. My, how the world has changed!
Another noticeable difference was that major rack space was no longer devoted to, well, major racks, as it was in my day. Instead, there now seemed to be a premium on youth, as if the world of flesh rags had shifted from full-bodied burgundy to nouveau Beaujolais.
When it came to selecting my publications, it turned out that I was a traditionalist — and something of a bargain hunter. I selected one volume called Club and another called Club International, in a discounted combo pack, both which seemed to rely on a conventional mixture of photo essays and prose narratives.
I will confess that I was still ashamed enough of my "stash" that I did not show it to or share it with Amy—I'm not sure she would have approved. Instead I hid the magazines in a manila envelope I had received with a solicitation from the Bill Clinton Foundation — which seemed strangely appropriate.
Pappy judged that my level of testosterone was low and decided to give me a shot from the fountain of youth.
The extra testosterone in my system literally made me insane — my mind overtaken by a fog of perpetual unrealized desire. I would snicker over every possible sexual double entendre, daydream about women at work, in the elevator, in cars that drove by — all I needed was an outbreak of pimples to complete my regression to my teens.
Amy was not a fan of teenage-boy me, and as it turned out, my mental derangement made no difference in the shimmying of my squiggles.
She suggested I try acupuncture.
Dr. Daoshing Ni, the 37th generation of acupuncturists in his family, placed the needles in the strangest places — the middle of my forehead, my ankles, and a few on my chest. They didn't hurt — actually they put me to sleep. After each potent nap, I was handed a bag of herbs to brew as tea that stunk up the house and tasted worse.
But here's the funny thing: It worked.
My sperm finally achieved numbers that indicated it was viable in a way that New York's Dr. Blunt said it could never be.
Pappy was surprised, and to test whether acupuncture was the contributing factor, he had me stop getting the needles.
When I did, my numbers went down. When I started again, they went back up.
Now that the issues on my side had been resolved, you might think my story would be over.
It turns out we were just beginning the most emotionally difficult part of the journey…