Rob Knight

The weight of zero

August 21, 2008

I try to live my life transparently. I’m not one to hide my emotions or opinions. I’m fortunate enough to have very good friends who all know what’s on my mind and where I am in life.

In the spirit of that transparency, I’m going to tell you about the difficult news I got a couple of weeks ago with the hope that sharing helps me move on and move forward. I’ve come to believe in the power of sharing my life with everyone. There’s nothing I’m going through that someone, somewhere isn’t also suffering. Open suffering == open healing.

After 3 tests on my blood and 2 tests on…cough…other bodily fluid, on August 6th, I learned that I am sterile. I will never father a child. That reality is the most difficult thing I’ve ever written on this blog and it weighs incredibly on my heart, my soul and my being. My body does not produce sperm. This is my new reality. Welcome to it.

My condition is called non-obstructive azoospermia, which means I have no sperm because my body does not produce it rather than because of an obstruction in my reproductive tract (sperm is produced, but can’t get out of the testes).

When I first found out, I was crushed. Had I learned this 10 years ago, before I ever thought about marriage, let alone having children, I would have had 10 years to consider the implications. As it is, Kalin and I have been trying for the last year and each of us was starting to wonder if we were “broken.” At the moment when we wanted it most, we have been told, we likely never had a chance. And that, in a nutshell, is the most humbling event of my life. I have always taken immense pride in my health and at this point, my health has–for lack of a better phrase–given me a swift kick in the balls.

After letting the news soak in a bit, my very first thought was, “There must be some miracle of modern science that will allow me to overcome sterility.” We live in a world dominated by male-centric medical cures for seemingly unimportant maladies, of course someone one must have figured out a way for sterile men to father children?

As it turns out, there is. Using a combination of testicular biopsy (yes, boys, you read that right), petri dish sperm culturing, hormone therapy (on Kalin) and in-vitro fertilization, there is a 30-40% chance we could have a baby that is related by DNA to me. It took me about an hour to consider and dismiss that approach. Why? because that is a tremendous emotional burden just to save my ego and my pride. Kalin and I would go through an elaborate process of modern medical experimentation–with only a 30-40% success rate–simply because I couldn’t bear the thought of my children not being blood-related to me. I applaud the researchers who can make this happen, but this is not how I envisioned being a father. Being a real “man” means sometimes you have to say no to your ego, and not let your pride make your life decisions for you. I can still be a father and intend to do so. My son or daughter will not share my biological DNA, but there is more to share in life than our biological threads.

At the moment, Kalin and I have a lot to consider. Thankfully, there are several options for us to have children. Faced with the prospect of not having children at all would be many times worse than facing this hurdle. I’m infinitely grateful to have a warm and supportive family around me. That makes the more difficult moments easier to bear. With this news out in the open, I’m hoping I can move beyond it.

Addendum.

This post has taken longer to write than any other post I’ve ever written. I’ve deleted and rewritten large parts of it. And I’ve stripped a considerable amount of “garnish” from the text. The truth is, I really don’t know if posting this is wise. But I have a gut feeling that getting it off my chest might help me get over it. Additionally, if someone else happens to be in my situation and comes across this, maybe it helps them feel better knowing they aren’t alone (I felt better after reading the blog post linked above).

I know this: this situation has helped me to understand that I am fundamentally a different person today than I was just a few years ago. I know this because I can’t stand to be morose about this news. Yes, it makes me sad. And I know someday, when we do have children, I’ll have to deal with the occasional upwelling of doubts that will come from knowing that I am not the biological father of my kid(s). But the reality is, this is reality. I can’t change it, so damn it, I’m going to find a way to laugh about it. Surprisingly, that didn’t take long after I heard the news.

One of my first thoughts was this: when I was 19, a disgruntled ex-girlfriend insisted I had gotten her pregnant. Now I know she was lying. Then I thought: all those years wearing a “protective” cup, wasted. Those things are NOT comfy. Last thought: I NEVER have to wear another damn condom as long as I live.