While I am happy to cop to having a certain amount of healthy vanity in relation to my looks – hair, physique, complexion, etc. – I have to say that I had never paid much mind to the physical appearance of my semen. That said, what I saw of my writhing virility through the laboratory microscope that day left me lastingly impressed. Uh-huh. Lastingly, that is, until the report finally came from White Coat that the majority of my little man-guppies were monstrously malformed. Ugh. So, for those of you who may have a limited familiarity with the subject – as I once did – allow me to provide you with a quick and dirty into the fascinating field of semen analysis. A swimmer primer – if you will.
The gung ho guys are judged in four major categories: volume, motility, count, and morphology. Some of these categories are individual contests, while others are more like group events. In this way it is much like an Olympic competition. Below I have listed each of the four categories on the left; the normal, average, or expected numbers in the middle; and the scores for team Coming Clean Dad on the right (followed by some brief commentary.)
EVENT REFERENCE RANGE TEAM CCD
Volume (in cc): 1.5 cc – 5.0 cc 3.0 cc (Easily enough to qualify)
Motility (%) >50% forward motion 63% (OK – probably still a contender)
Count (mil/cc): 20 mil/cc – 150 mil/cc 118 mil/cc (An impressive showing)
Morphology (%) >14% normal appearance 10% (Completly out of medal contention)
White Coat explained to me that there were a number of common sperm mutations: two heads, two tails, large head, pinhead, double tail, etc. And apparently 90% of my freaky fellas were far more suited for some kind of gruesome semen sideshow than they were for a simple intrauterine insemination. But look at the upside; perhaps I could get my grotesque sperm booked onto a teeny-weeny double bill with a tiny traveling flea circus – my proposition, not his. No, you see White Coat had a suggestion of his own. He said that he would be willing to move forward with us, but only via the much more complicated, and far more expensive, in vitro fertilization route. This would require harvesting an egg from mommy, plucking a sperm from my measly normal 10%, introducing the two in a test-tube, and then placing the fertilized zygote into the uterus. The mamas and I had already discussed that we were willing to explore this process, but only as a last resort.
Thinking back on the conversation I overheard in White Coat’s office about the price of gender selection, I remember thinking how inappropriate I judged it to be. Shouldn’t you simply be happy with a baby – any baby – that is healthy? Now, of course, I have a better understanding of how highly personal the process of conception really is. Every person’s decision and drive to become a parent is uniquely their own. I have no doubt that there will be many who judge me; HIV+, and a semen sample of questionable morphology. I mean if I wanted so intensely to be a father, certainly there were other avenues. Adoption. Yes? After all there was a time when I believed that perhaps it was one of the charges that God had intended for homosexuals, to care for the orphaned offspring of our straight brothers and sisters. Adoption seemed to me then – and does still now – like a loving gesture of epic proportion. But the mamas and I had chosen a different path – our own path. When I got the news from White Coat about my dubious sperm, however, I began to question. No – not true. More than just question – I fell into an emotional pit of self-doubt.
You see, before starting this process, I had consulted with my doctor. I’d asked him pointedly about the possible effects that years of consuming HIV medications could have on my ability to biologically father a child. Specifically, I wanted to know – if on the long list of drugs that I had ingested over the quarter century spent battling my virus, was there anything that could have adversely affected my sperm? His best summation was only anecdotal. Because people like me were never expected to survive this long, much less reproduce, there was little or no research to draw from. So although his educated speculation was that my semen should be fine, it was clear that I would be wading into largely untested waters. The news from White Coat brought all of this uncertainty flooding back. In addition, I became mired again in feelings of unworthiness – not just about by mutant sperm, but about my HIV, my homosexuality, my lack of adequate income, everything.
At that point there were only two phone calls that I could make. The only people who knew about the results that I’d been waiting for: Paul in New York, and the mamas. I very clearly recall sitting on the curb, in front of my upside-down house, with my feet in the gutter, and my cell phone in hand. They were difficult calls to make, but in the aftermath of those two conversations I was buoyed again. Paul and I were closer – even across the thousands of miles that still separated us. And, after mutually deciding that the fertility clinic of White Coat and the Dark Angel was clearly not for us, the mamas assured me that they were still committed to this journey with me – Frankensperm and all.