Dr. Leah and Mike's Infertility Story

Mar 26, 2022

"All I want is to be able to give you a child."

The saddest words I have ever received.

Our infertility journey lasted over 6 years for a few reasons. It's a long story, so let’s begin?

CHAPTER ONE

May 28th, 2015 - I found out about my husband, Mike's, non-existent sperm in naturopathic medical school while observing his sample under the microscope in our sperm analysis class. As everyone was making their slides and commenting on how amazing their individual samples were (sperm under a microscope are quite cool), how many there were and how fast they were moving, I put my first slide down with Mike’s donated sample. I couldn’t see any, so I kept moving the slide around thinking I must have put it on there wrong. I decided to make another one. And then another one. And then my heart started to sink. I finally saw one sperm in my field of view, it was not moving, jump limply floating through the medium and it was all alone.

 

I felt like I was hit with a ton of bricks and my heart broke instantly in that moment. We were studying sperm and infertility in class so I knew what this meant and it wasn’t good.

Mike happened to be picking me up that day and when I got in the truck he asked how his swimmers looked. I had to break the news to him that I couldn’t find any sperm. Best case scenario it was a fluke. Worst case scenario, we may not be able to have kids. It was was one of the worst days of my life.


There was absolutely no evidence he would have an issue with sperm. Let's just say his male parts were very much intact and working well ;) It was a complete shock to both of us.

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My doctor-mind kicked in, however, and I thought, "You have been using the sauna a lot lately. Maybe that's it. Let's just stop the sauna and recheck. That HAS to be it!"


CHAPTER TWO

It takes 3 months to make sperm. So if you make any change in a male's life, you won't see the effects on their sperm for at least 3 months.


After stopping the sauna and taking all of the right supplements, we re-checked his sample. Still no sperm, at least none that were alive. It was another devastating blow. My theory wasn’t correct. It wasn’t just the sauna.


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I was still in naturopathic medical school and although we found out about his sperm in my second year, we weren't actively trying. We decided we weren't even considered an "infertile" couple until we had tried for a year.

So we did. I tracked my cycle and we tried a lot. For an entire year.


And my period came like clockwork for 12 months in a row. Now we were considered "infertile" and could seek out infertility care. Yippie for us!


I just knew…

…there had to be a root-cause. As ND's we often find the root cause to things many other doctors can't or don't. There is always an explanation for imbalance, whether it’s physical, emotional, or spiritual; whether you can figure it out or not. Sometimes we don’t have the technology to test or the knowing yet to investigate something unknown, but I believe there is always a reason for imbalance in the body. Finding the root-cause was why I was devoting 8 years of my life to become a naturopathic doctor.

I was a naturopathic medical student full of energy, passion, and determination. And I was determined to figure this one out.
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So we decided to start seeing whoever we could in the integrative space to figure out what was going on. We thought,

“Maybe it's his gut, let's work on that.”

“Maybe it's his hormones, let's work on that.”


We saw so many doctors, some who said they specialized in sperm health, some in gut health. We went to whoever I felt could help us.

Yet his sperm samples remained unchanged.


CHAPTER THREE

It was time to seek out a conventional fertility specialist. 

At this point, a bilateral varicocele was diagnosed. I knew it! I knew there had to be something at the root. I thought, “This must be it.”


As ND’s we are taught to use surgery as a last case scenario, or when its use is the thing that will bring the least amount of harm to the patient, such as an appendectomy. Surgically removing an infected and inflamed appendix is way safer to the patient than trying to cure it with herbs.

I knew that sometimes surgery is the only answer. So we ended up going ahead with the procedure to surgically fix his varicoceles.


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Sperm take three months to be made, remember…

So after the surgery, we had more waiting to do. After the time was up, we re-tested.

Not only did the bilateral varicocele surgery not work, sperm results were actually worse than before. And now he most likely had scar tissue that may complicate things further.


We were devastated.


At this point, almost two years had passed. I had recently graduated naturopathic medical school and was a doctor myself. No one was helping us, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.


Because my speciality is finding the root-cause for imbalances, I run a lot of labs on patients. You can say I am quite thorough. As a new doctor, I ran a comprehensive labs panel for him to look at more than what any other doctor was looking at.


One shocking marker I found was an elevated homocysteine of 25. Just for context, I am concerned if a patient has a level above 12.

Because of the role homocysteine plays in the body and with my in-depth understanding of biochemistry, I knew that this meant either he was not getting enough B12 and folate or he had a high toxic load. This means that he has so many toxins in his body that his detox pathways can’t keep up. Both of these issues can cause this marker to go up.

CHAPTER FOUR
Because I suspected toxicity…

…I ran a heavy metal and environmental toxicity panel on him.  He had high levels of pesticide metabolites, plastic metabolites, phthalates, some elevated lead levels, and one of the highest levels of mercury I had ever seen. Bingo.


Toxins are one of the most pervasive causes of sperm issues. This had to be it.

So much time had already passed, and we had a long road ahead of us chelating the heavy metals out of his body and doing a major detox.

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For 3-4 months, Mike went into my colleague's clinic and received IV nutrients + chelating agents one - two times a week. He practically lived in our newly purchased at-home sauna so he could sweat out as much as he could.


I had him on a stellar detox protocol, he was taking the best supplements on the market, and eating super clean.

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After 6 months of this detox to get the toxins and metals out, we had to take another 3 month break from the detox and sauna to see if all of this improved his sperm. The sauna itself, although important for detox, actually affects the sperm. So we had more waiting to do. Again…


We checked again. There was still no sperm, at least none that were alive.


We were heartbroken all over again.


At this point, I didn't know what to think. The fertility specialists said there is always a chance he has sperm in the testicles and that IVF with testicular retrieval and ICSI may be possible.

There was also a chance he would have no sperm there, or it would be highly damaged and unable to create a healthy embryo and baby.


Our options at this point were:

1) We could do testicular mapping to see if there were any sperm in the testicles, but there was a chance it could damage his testicles.

2) We could get a DNA fragmentation test to see how affected his immotile (non-moving) ejaculated sperm really were and if they could be used in ICSI to make an embryo.

3) We could go ahead with IVF with testicular retrieval and ICSI, hold our breath, and pray.



All of it was expensive. Most of it was incredibly invasive. None of it seemed fair.


CHAPTER FIVE

Why was this happening to us?

Why for so many couples did they just have a fun rendezvous under the sheets and 9-10 months later welcome their child into the world? How was it that people who weren’t even trying became pregnant. Why did people who didn’t even want a baby get pregnant every single day?


We wanted to be parents more than anything. I knew Mike especially would be the MOST amazing dad. And he wanted biological children of his own. I wanted the chance to see the love of my life in my children's eyes.



We weren't ready to give up.


We decided to do the DNA fragmentation test of the ejaculated sperm because it was more data and it wasn't invasive.

The results didn't look good. Of the very few sperm in his semen sample, not only were they not swimming well (poor motility), they were highly fragmented.

This means most of them didn't have healthy DNA so most likely they wouldn't make healthy embryos that could survive, let alone become healthy children.

Ejaculated sperm were out, even if we went forward with IVF.



Our only option…

…was to see if there were any healthy sperm to be extracted from the testicles themselves.


We thought long and hard on what this would mean. We would have to go forward with IVF and they would have to do an invasive surgery to retrieve sperm from inside of his testicles and pray there were some there.

If there were any there, they would need to be injected physically into my retrieved eggs in the hopes of making an embryo, aka ICSI. This was after weeks of me taking medications to manipulate my hormones to make more eggs, something was I literally helping people avoid every day in my natural fertility practice.

But this was our only chance at becoming biological parents together.


This was really hard for both of us to accept. We had to mourn the loss of the idea of having children naturally, or possibly biological together.


I am a naturopathic doctor, I try my best to avoid invasive or conventional medicine unless absolutely necessary. I trust the innate wisdom in the body.

I help women become pregnant naturally all of the time and I help them get off medications, such as birth control. I didn't want to take synthetic hormones to become pregnant when I knew way too well what they can do to the body. I knew way too well what hormones like birth control did to me. I didn’t want to induce another round of depression as I had experienced years prior when I was taking the pill.



It all felt so unfair.



This rocked my world and it took me a long time to process it all and come to peace with the idea of IVF. I spent many years and many hours seeing therapists and healers, processing the infertility and my thoughts about IVF.

And after knowing we could spend over $30,000 + and it still may not work, we decided to move forward anyway and pray that it did.



CHAPTER SIX

We finally decided we were ready to pursue IVF since it was our only chance of becoming biological parents.

Keep in mind, I did my very best to stay out of conventional doctor’s offices. Usually their go-to tools were medications and surgery, two things I usually avoided as much as I could, and they often didn’t take the time to find the root-cause of issues. I usually chose more holistically-minded doctors and dentists.

Being a holistic and functionally-trained doctor, I was also on the receiving end of patients who had ‘not so pleasant’ experiences at the doctor, often being rushed and not being listened to. Patients would share with me that often doctors they saw didn’t seem to care what was REALLY going on. That was literally why people came to see me.

But I digress…

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We received a referral from our male infertility doctor and started the process with clinic #1.

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