Let’s call him B.D., because that’s what his wife does on
her infertility blog, Shooting Blanks. Several years ago, the
36-year-old learned he was azoospermatic. It means his
body makes no sperm at all.
During a recent phone interview, I could hear his wife in the
background. She is 35 and facing what she describes as a
terrifying countdown toward a life with no children. “Being
childless can’t be my destiny, it just can’t be,” she wrote on
So far, B.D.’s case of infertility has proved untreatable,
despite years of pills, vitamins, and a major surgery. But he
may still have a long-shot chance at being a father. In 2012,
B.D. traveled to Stanford University, where a technician performed a skin punch, removing a small disk of tissue from his
shoulder. With a technique called “reprogramming,” his skin
cells were converted into stem cells that have the potential
to mature into various types of human cells. These were then
transplanted into the testicles of a mouse. Would the stem
cells take cues from their environment and form sperm? Two
years later, when the scientists announced what they had
found—evidence of primitive human reproductive cells—the
provocative findings made the national news.
“I heard it on NPR. I was thinking, ‘Son of a bitch—that is
me they are talking about,’” B.D. recalls.