Your first visit to a fertility centre can be a daunting experience. There is often a lot of information to take in and understand, and as your visit is likely to be the result of an already stressful, frustrating process, we certainly don’t want your first time at Herts & Essex Fertility Centre to make that any worse.
Mr X recently visited us to have his semen analysed. He and his partner are getting married next summer and are likely to start trying for a baby within the next couple of years. Admittedly, they are not in the same kind of situation that many of our clients find themselves in, but Mr X felt strongly enough about his visit to share his story, which he hopes will be useful for other men who are worried, or have questions about a semen analysis at Herts & Essex Fertility Centre.
To say that I was nervous before my recent sperm test at Herts & Essex Fertility Centre would be a massive understatement. I had avoided all the things they told me to avoid: no heavy drinking, no drugs and no ejaculating for three days (which is probably easier said than done for a lot of men).
But I was still worried. What if the test results showed that I couldn’t father a child? What if they showed something worse, like an infection or illness? Even after finding out a bit more online, I still wasn’t all that sure what I was really letting myself in for. I was expecting awkward questions about ex-girlfriends, why I drink so much at the weekend after football and why I had a puff on a joint when I was 18 (apparently it makes your sperm too relaxed and they can’t be bothered to swim all the way to the egg…)
I’ve seen these kinds of scenes play out hundreds of times in romantic comedies and on soap operas – the worried patients sitting across from the doctors while they tell you some terrible news in a kind, sensitive way.
But my fears were misplaced. The people I met at Herts & Essex Fertility Centre – from the receptionist through to the embryologist who talked me through my test results – were normal, understanding people. They appreciate that you’re probably putting yourself under pressure before you go for a test, and they don’t do or say anything that makes it any more stressful an experience than it has to be.
After filling out some paperwork (which I should have returned to them before my test but had forgotten to bring with me) I was talked through the test by an embryologist. This took place in a private office away from the reception area, and the embryologist did a good job of helping me to relax by talking about normal, mundane things, like the weather, the traffic on the M25 and what I had planned for the rest of the day.
After my initial consultation the embryologist showed me to one of the ‘private rooms’ where male patients have to ‘produce’ their sperm sample. The room was about the size of a disabled toilet and contained a wash basin, reclining lounge chair, telephone table and flat screen television. The embryologist very discreetly told me that there were pornographic magazines and DVDs in the drawers of the telephone table, and that I should dial the reception extension number when I was finished.
I have to admit that when I saw the reclining lounge chair I did wonder how many other men had sat their naked bums on it, but then I noticed that it had a plastic covering and that there were cleaning wipes on the telephone table, so I pushed that thought to the back of my mind.
Your sample goes into a small pot and once you’ve sealed the lid the pot has to go straight into a zip-up plastic baggie, which you then give back to the embryologist (who comes to get you after you’ve dialled back to reception to say that you’re done). If you’re like me, you’ll probably wonder how much sperm is in the average man’s sample, mistakenly thinking that the more you get in the pot, the better your sperm is.
But that’s completely wrong. As I found out during my consultation (after my sample had been analysed), the amount of semen you produce is just one of the factors that affects male fertility. The embryologist went on to explain that the sperm’s motility (the percentage that are ‘active’ in a given sample) and morphology (size and shape of the individual sperm) are other key factors, and as he talked me through my results I was pleased to discover that my sample hadn’t raised any abnormalities or causes for concern.
The embryologist answered a couple of small questions that I had, mainly about my diet and drinking, and suggested that I pick up some of the free leaflets that are available from the reception area. One of these covers diet and exercise, so I found that particularly useful.
The main thing to take from my experience was that it wasn’t as scary, awkward or sleazy as I thought it might be. Yes, you are going to have to masturbate and produce a sample for testing, and yes, you are also going to have to be prepared to speak openly about your sexual health, but if doing this helps you and your partner achieve another step on the road towards having a baby, then it’s a small inconvenience in the grand scheme of things.