Ask Dana Pollard of Lawton, Oklahoma. She went off the pill early in her marriage for health reasons and took the "whatever happens will happen" approach. When nothing happened for over a year, she began to get worried.
"From there we ran the gamut on tests, thinking I was the problem," says Pollard. "After doing this for a year, the doctor suggested we test my husband's sperm count. He was astounded to find that my husband had no sperm whatsoever. None. I was even asked if my husband had a vasectomy and didn't tell me. This wasn't the case. Sadly, we were given the line, 'You'll just never be able to have children of your own.'"
After kicking around the idea of using a sperm donor, the Pollards decided to give adoption a try, but before they could do that, she found out she was pregnant. Obviously her husband still had a sperm or two the doctor missed, because the Pollards were not only going to have a baby, they were having twins.
"I simply tell people, 'The doctors told us we couldn't have one baby, but God gave us two,'" she says. "Five years later we had another baby, and we haven't closed up shop yet!"
So exactly what are sperm and how do these complex and minute combinations of cells know how to get where they are supposed to go?
According to Dr. Larry Lipshultz, chief of Male Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, sperm is made up of the same things as other cells are made of. "Sperm, like all other cells in the body, are made of protein, carbohydrates, lipids, and contain genetic information in the form of DNA," he says. "What makes sperm unique is the fact that they are made up of only half of the genetic material (DNA) that all other cells are composed of. This half DNA combines with the maternal half of DNA when the sperm fertilizes the egg, re-creating a complete set of DNA. This is what makes the child a 'mix' of both parents."
Basically, sperm are just waiting for their other half. The normal cycle of sperm formation and maturation takes approximately three and a half months. "Sperm are then housed in the distal duct system, where they die after several days if not ejaculated," says Dr. Lipschultz. "Optimal sperm quality is seen in ejaculates with abstinence periods between two and five days."
Each ejaculate carries with it a varying number of sperm. According to Dr. Lipschultz, the average sperm concentration in the ejaculate of fertility proven men is 60 to 120 million sperm per milliliters. However, it has been established that problems with fertility begin to arise at counts under 20 million sperm per milliliters.