TJ Peyten is a Georgia native with a mission to raise awareness about Male Factor Infertility. She has a background in English, communications, health education, public health, and social work.
TJ's infertility journey started in 2013, when, after five years of marriage, it was discovered that her husband was the factor in their inability to conceive. Frustrated at the lack of support and resources available for those struggling with Male infertility, TJ used her journal as an outlet to deal with the pain. After several years of coping with their infertility through her journal, she finally got the courage to share her story with the world through her book:
Semen Secrets: Truths and Confessions A Wife's Journey Through Male Infertility.
Visit www.semensecrets.com to learn more.
Semen Secret: You can only grieve over the death of a person, or maybe even a pet.
When people die, their loved ones grieve. But, in my case, no one died.
A few hours after I hung up with the nurse at the lab, the phone rang again. It was my husband. I had been screaming and crying so much that there was no disguising the anguish in my voice.
“What’s wrong? Did the doctor say something bad?”
I hesitated, “Well, I think we should wait until you get home to talk about this.”
“What do you mean?” I could hear the panic in his voice, “Just tell me now. It can’t be that bad. What is it? I only have a few thousand sperm instead of a million?”
“I just think we should talk about this at home.”
“I got to get back to work. Just tell me!” He was trying not to raise his voice, but his frustration was apparent.
I tried to fight back the tears, but they streamed down my face. Choking, I said, “You don’t … you don’t have any have sperm.”
I cleared my throat, “I said they didn’t find any sperm, not one. Your semen didn't have any.”
There was a long pause, as if time stood still.
“Are you going to be okay?” I asked, “I’m so sorry. We can just pray and—"
“Please,” he interrupted. “It’s okay. I’m good. I’ll see you when I get home.”
For the next several hours I sat alone in silence. My mom called to chat. It was our usual routine, only this time while I was talking, I was still shrouded in silence because I couldn’t hear the words I was speaking. She said I sounded strange. I told her I had a lot going on with work. I didn’t know how to tell my mom that she may not have grandchildren from her only daughter.
I waited for the nurse to call me back to tell me it was a mistake. She never did. I went over her words again and again. No sperm. Each time it made tears swell, and I felt a terrible loss of the visions and dreams I had for my family, the plan, our baby. I tried to imagine what I would say to my husband when he got home. Would I grab him and tell him I love him and I’m sorry? Would we cry together? Would I accuse him of ruining our perfect lives? Would I say nothing at all? I wasn’t sure what he would need from me, but in all honesty, I had nothing to give.
When my husband came home that evening, he walked in the door like our world was still right-side-up. He put down his bag, looked at the mail, used the bathroom, washed his hands, and went in the fridge to get a snack. I was confused and angry. Here I was agonizing about how I was going to comfort him. We were just told we would never be able to have a child of our own and he felt… nothing? I realized that while I was trying to figure out how to comfort him, I needed him to comfort me. I wanted him to run in and take me in his arms and cry with me until we were spent and exhausted. I would have accepted him yelling in a furious rage, ranting about the unfairness of the situation. But I couldn’t understand him not having a reaction.
Finally, we sat down at the kitchen table to talk through the unspeakable. I had to repeat it more than once in my mind before the words would come out of my mouth: “She said they didn’t find any sperm. The doctor wants to set up an appointment with you to go over everything.”
His response was immediate, “Well, I don’t want to go. I don’t want to. I don’t have any sperm. That’s it. You want a baby. I can’t do that, so that’s it.”
That’s it? That’s it? What do you mean? I began to rock back and forth, shaking my head in disbelief. I looked away trying to hide my hurt and anger as tears began to swell in the corner of my eyes. I wanted to grab him and tell him that I wasn’t going to give up so easily. I wanted to bang on the table, stand up in the chair, and scream until my throat burned. We don’t quit! That’s not it for me! That’s not it for us. Damn it, you gotta have something in there. I just won’t believe it.
Instead, I said, “But I didn’t marry you just for a baby.” Although I did expect that was part of the package, “I married you because I love you. You’re my best friend, not just my husband. So, don’t say that.”
Before I could finish, the tears that had been building since he walked through the door were flowing down my cheeks. If he wasn’t going to cry, I was. They were not silent, sad tears. These tears were heavy with loss and confusion and regret and anger and hurt and a myriad of other feelings I hadn’t yet identified. My chest heaved, and my head ached. My shoulders shook with the sobs and my face was distorted with all the emotion I couldn’t voice.
My husband’s face softened, he reached his hand across the table to comfort me. “Okay,” he said in a whisper. “I’ll go to the follow-up appointment with the doctor,” and then he added, more firmly, “but then we are done with it.”
For the remainder of the night, we moved in an awkward silence that was so loud I couldn’t stand it. I drew myself a warm bath and played soft music hoping to reason my way out of this situation, or at least find solace. I stayed in the water until my skin was milky and shriveled, still I had no answers. I wanted to talk to someone who could help me make sense of this or at least offer me the sympathy my husband couldn’t. But also, I couldn’t imagine telling anyone. It felt so shameful. We are supposed to have children. Why us? Why him? Why me?
The next morning came and I wasn’t ready to face the day, let alone work. I was worlds away. I kept replaying the phone call in my head. No sperm. That night my husband and I moved in silence again. We avoided each other. When he came to the kitchen, I went to the couch. Instead of watching our favorite shows together, we watched them in separate rooms. When it was time for dinner we tried to make small talk.
“How was work today?”
“Did you get a chance to go to the store this afternoon?”
Eventually, the conversation felt so forced that we stared at our plates and stuffed our faces so could get up from the table and resume ignoring each other.
All I could envision was the way we use to laugh and cuddle with one another, follow each other from room to room so we could talk about the day—that was just two days ago. I knew love didn’t fade away that fast, but at that moment my husband felt like a stranger.
After dinner, I went outside and cried. It was a cool night and I sat alone under the stars with a glass of wine and some music to keep me company. The salt of the tears mixed with my wine. I kept imaging the life I wanted: us going to the ultrasound, him feeling the baby kick in my stomach, how our parents would react when we told them we were having a baby. I pictured the hospital room—him holding my hand telling me to push. I looked in the backyard and could see the swing set and us running around the yard playing with our child.
I tried to convince myself that I was being silly crying over semen, over sperm, or the lack thereof. Those little things that were to carry our DNA did not exist for us. Our children did not exist. I grieved over his semen, my empty womb, our marriage, and our non-existent children, but also the death of my husband’s bright spirit. The light in his eyes grew dim. He became a stranger to himself, to me. I knew he struggled with his thoughts of manhood, but he refused to speak about it. I wanted to help him, to fix it, to fix us. I watched his spirit slip away without understanding how to help him. I wanted to talk about it (as most women do), but he dismissed me every time. And as helpless as I felt, I was also angry that he didn’t try to fix me. I needed him to help me understand all of this. He always helped me figure out what was next. Where was that guy when I needed him?
The third night after the call, my husband rolled over in the bed and tapped me gently on my shoulder. I turned towards him, relieved that he was ready to talk. I had longed for his touch and I was eager to embrace him, for us to comfort each other and cry in each other’s arms.
“I don’t think I want to have sex anymore with you. I want a divorce,” He said flatly.
I sprang up in the bed, “What? Why?”
Propping up on his pillow, he took a deep breath and explained, “I know you want kids. I can’t give that to you, and I love you enough to let you go find someone who can do that for you. I’ll be fine.”
“But, I’ve told you, I didn’t marry you for your sperm. I married you for you. Do I want children? Absolutely. But I want our children, not someone else’s. I want to know what we look like. Me and you.” There was an urgency in my voice that caused me to tremble.
A knot formed in my throat. I understood he was only trying to protect me, but he was breaking my heart at the same time. Instead, he turned his back to me and looked at the wall “No. I’m straight. I can’t live knowing I can’t give you what you want.”
“You’re just angry,” I reasoned. “Maybe we should talk to someone, tell our parents.”
“No!” He shouted, turning back to face me so I understood how serious he was, “I’m not telling anybody my dick don’t work! And, you can’t tell anyone either. It’s my issue, not yours.”
“Well, I’m not going to leave you, especially not when you need me.”
“Like I said,” he turned his back again, “this is my issue. You can have a baby with someone else. I can’t.”
My tears came quickly. The knot moved from my throat to my chest, making it difficult for me to say anything in response. When I found my voice, I told him repeatedly that I loved him and that I wouldn’t leave. My pleas fell on deaf ears and he finally rolled over, pulled up the covers, and turned out the light. I sat in that dark room sobbing. I knew he didn’t mean what he was saying. I knew he was hurt, but so was I. I wanted to be a mom but that was taken away from me, and there was nothing I could do about it. I wiped my nose with my pajama shirt sleeve and looked up at the fan, focusing on the hum of the blades. It calmed me, and the coolness dried some of my tears.
Without warning, I had gone from being a wife and a hopeful mom to a childless divorcee. I didn’t know if my husband and I were actually growing apart or if we just didn’t know how to handle this situation. I listened to my husband’s rhythmic breathing and wondered if he was asleep or lying awake like I was. I couldn’t imagine a life without him. The more I considered his threat to divorce me, the more panicked I became until I couldn’t lie in the bed anymore. I got up and ran to the basement where I could cry without him hearing me.
For the next few weeks, we barely spoke to each other. He didn’t bring up the divorce and neither did I, but I walked on eggshells for fear that if I asked him to talk to me he would act on his words. I desperately wanted to know what he was thinking. He was my buddy, and I was his. We needed each other, even if the tension made us feel as if we didn’t.
I was furious with him, but then I also felt a tenderness towards him. Even though he wouldn’t admit it, I knew he was as hurt and scared as I was. But my understanding his feelings didn’t mean that I was ready to forgive his words. I was already mourning the idea of not having a child, now I also feared losing my husband. I couldn’t wrap my thoughts around why, of all people, this was happening to us. I hadn’t understood how devoted I was to the idea of having children and raising a family, until the option was taken away. I hadn’t even fully comprehended that the option wasn’t a possibility before I was in jeopardy of losing my marriage too. Losing the children I had only dreamed of was terrible, but losing my husband was unthinkable. In a few days, I had gone from a happily married woman to a madwoman grieving children who hadn’t yet been conceived and my once enviable marriage was on the verge of ruin.
I was alone. I wanted someone to blame, someone to be angry at, someone to cry with, someone to make it all go away. But each day, the reality of the issue caused a roller coaster of shoulda-woulda-couldas, why me, why him, why us, why not, I will be fine, we will be okay, this is only temporary, maybe it’s not in the plan, and to hell with all the people walking around with babies who were unfit to be parents. I deserved a baby, we deserved a baby. And yet, we couldn’t conceive a baby.
I had only associated grief with the loss of the living, but what I was feeling felt like a death. I grieved over an idea—the idea that we would be parents, that I would be a mother and he would be a father. After one semen analysis, that idea died. However, there was no funeral, no memorial, no tombstone, no place we could visit, and no one to share our loss. Our grief was private. We grieved our ability to conceive our own children, and the feeling was suffocating. We were both losing our light, dying on the inside, but we had to be alive and well for the world on the outside. Living a lie of happiness was a death unto itself.
I came to realize that what I was grieving over was not the semen itself, but my unmet expectations. I suffered the embarrassment of not being able to have a child naturally. I feared facing a world that looked to my husband and I as a couple who had it all together and having to admit that we didn’t have it all. I was afraid of what people would say, what people would think. My ego took a huge blow, my pride was crushed. My grief had nothing to do with my child or my husband. My grief was that my perfect world was imperfect, and I was not equipped to deal with imperfection.