When Maria and Areen Movsessian of Rockville, MD, tied the knot, they had no idea they would face years of infertility and heartache when they were ready to start building their family. They also had no idea that their struggle to conceive would lead them to uncovering a diagnosis of azoospermia, a rare condition characterized by the absence of sperm in the semen. After trying for years, the couple was blindsided to learn of Areen’s unexpected male factor infertility and wondered, “Is it ever going to be us?”
“What many couples don’t realize is that infertility affects men as often as women and yet our research tells us that only 44 percent of couples complete fertility testing at the same time. Without testing the male partner up front, some patients waste precious time, money, and effort by beginning fertility treatment without having all of the vital information. To save time and money and potentially heartache, we always recommend female and male testing be completed simultaneously before any treatment begins. A simple, private semen analysis can help uncover if there’s an issue with the sperm that we need to consider,” added Paul R. Shin, M.D., Areen’s reproductive urologist who sees patients in SGF’s K Street, Frederick, Fairfax, Fair Oaks and Rockville locations.
SGF’s Center for Male Fertility, led by Dr. Shin and Dr. Cori Tanrikut, offers a range of male services including basic evaluation and testing to state-of-the-art microsurgical techniques including varicocele repair, vasectomy reversal, and vasectomy, as well as sperm injection and extraction techniques that have nearly eliminated infertility among couples with a severe male factor.
“That day I’ll never forget. I walked into her OB/GYN’s office like any guy, ready for my results and I was so confident that there was nothing wrong with me. I actually thought there would be something wrong with her. I remember glancing at the test results that said ‘sperm count’ and it said ‘N/A’. And then I thought, ‘Is that me? What’s going on?’”, shared Areen.
“Fifty percent of patients with azoospermia do have sperm, it just doesn’t make it out with the semen, so the first step is to determine if a patient falls within that 50 percent,” added Dr. Shin.
While infertility is often regarded as a female problem, the partner’s role is equally as important, as 40 to 50 percent of all infertility cases are due to male factor infertility. Male factor can present itself in different forms. Azoospermia is a more uncommon diagnosis, but sperm production issues or anatomic problems can be determined by basic semen testing.
“Everything you think about when you’re younger, like having your own kids, teaching them how to ride a bike… All of those things suddenly didn’t apply to me anymore. It was freaky. I was really lonely and scared,” shared Areen.
Maria and Areen moved onto IVF treatment after receiving a positive sperm retrieval from Dr. Shin. After another cycle of IVF, Maria and Areen received devastating news. None of their embryos survived the treatment.
When a couple goes through an infertility struggle, so much of the process revolves around mental strength, which is why SGF offers a variety of resources to provide support. Both in-person and online events, along with support groups, are posted monthly and encouraged for all patients to attend.
“Mentally and emotionally speaking, infertility and the stress associated with it can be overwhelming,” adds Dr. Shin.
Though they hadn’t anticipated needing additional rounds of IVF treatment, the Movsessian’s decided to continue knowing they’d do whatever it took to build their family. In April 2018, Maria and Areen welcomed a healthy, baby girl into the world after undergoing a third round of IVF.
The stigma attached to male factor infertility is its own challenge to address, but Areen advises other men to get their testing done early to avoid surprises down the road. “Male factor is a big deal, and it makes the process a lot easier when you know what you’re working with. I 100% recommend that men get an analysis done so that they know what they’re dealing with.”