Time Is the Enemy for Male Fertility; as New Research Explodes the Myth That Men Can Reproduce into Their Grey Years, Penny Fray Speaks to a Man Denied His Dream of Becoming a Father

Article excerpt

Byline: Penny Fray

RAY Griffiths had always assumed that he would one day become a father. Like most Merseyside men, he imagined his son hammering home the winning goal of the FA Cup Final and his daugh-ter looking lovely on graduation day. Sadly, not all dreams come true.

The 55-year-old driving instructor was infertile.

Now, a new study claims that older men shouldn't take fatherhood for granted, especially since those in their mid-thirties are producing less healthy sperm than their younger counterparts.

``I never thought that I had a problem,'' says Ray. ``I had a good sex life, took the normal precautions during my teens and twenties and thought everything would be okay when I was ready to have children. But when I was told by doctors that I couldn't have kids due to sperm-killing antibodies, I was devastated.

``A part of my manhood had been taken away from me and I felt guilty that my then 22-year-old wife had to suffer too. She was young and had always wanted a family but I had taken that away from her.

``She was understandably upset and we went through a difficult patch where I became withdrawn.''

Desperate to ease Ray's sense of self-condemnation, his spouse offered hope in the form of adoption leaflets. But they were of little comfort.

``Eventually, we did try to adopt,'' he says. ``Unfortunately, I was too old to have a baby. So we approached an agency who complained that I was working unacceptably long hours in the police force.''

Nothing could be done medically to help Ray. Sperm donation had been ruled out by the couple and steroids did more harm than good.

``I got shingles, gained weight and lost interest in things,'' he says. ``And after months of steroid treatment, we concluded that it didn't work.

``Now, all kinds of complex procedures can be carried out and a part of me wants to try them,'' continues Ray. ``But we've long since accepted life without children. I don't think either of us could cope with any more disappoint ment.

``Even though I keep on telling myself the benefits of being childless - more money and greater freedom - I look at my best friend's kids and wish I had my own.''

Ray often wonders whether he could have had children when he was younger and finds a sense of irony in all those past contraception scares.

`I PASSIONATELY believe that the problem of male infertility should be flagged up, especially to those who are intending to wait to start a family,'' he says.

Indeed, according to a new American fertilitystudy, the resonant ticking of the biological clock could now be as important to middle-aged men as it has been for a generation of career women.

Dr Narendra Singh, Professor at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, found that the immune systems of men over the age of 35 don't get rid of defective sperm as efficiently as in younger men.

In addition, Singh believes that older men have a considerably lower quality of sperm with more pronounced levels of genetic DNA damage.

In other words, their sperm are simply not the Olympic swimmers they used to be. …