Madison Decker has just celebrated her 1-month birthday, but the roots of her birth go back some 21 years: Her father, Ken, had his sperm frozen before undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s disease in the 1980s.
It was a decision that paid big dividends when he met the love of his life.
Ken and Michelle Decker, with infant Madison in tow, appeared on TODAY Wednesday to tell Matt Lauer their amazing story of welcoming into the world a daughter who was created, in part, in another time. The 21 years between Ken’s freezing his sperm and Madison’s being born is one of the longest periods of time for conception on medical record.
Ken, a cameraman for TODAY, told Lauer the prescient decision to freeze his sperm at age 24 — before his 1986 chemo left him sterile — was a case of “Mother knows best.”
“It was a mom decision,” he said with a laugh. “I was playing, scuba diving, chasing a career, and Mom was like, ‘You have to bank your sperm.’ I said, OK. I did what Mom said to do.”
Wrote off fatherhood
Still, the decision didn’t seem to carry much weight in Decker’s life, even after he met Michelle (who also works for TODAY) and married her in 2004. While sperm freezes well, and many of the sperm can survive indefinite storage, the technology hadn’t yet been developed to create a viable pregnancy.
“The sperm was not viable — I wrote off fatherhood,” Decker told Lauer. “I never thought I would be a father.”
But Michelle’s love for Ken towered over any obstacles to their becoming parents, she told Lauer. They talked about their chances for a family before their marriage, she said.
“I never thought it was a possibility that we’d be able to have a biological child,” Michelle recounted. “He told me he was sterile, and I said, ‘You know what? We’ll conquer it. We’ll either adopt or we’ll figure something out — maybe a miracle will happen.’ ”
That miracle came through the invention of Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection — ISCI for short — which allows doctors to choose one good sperm to implant into one good egg, rather than using up an entire banked sperm reserve to bombard an egg.
The technique has dramatically raised the success rate for pregnancies. Ken Decker told Lauer, “Until this recent ISCI technology, for the last 20 years there was nothing that was going to help us.”
Fourth time’s the charmStill, bringing Madison into the world was an arduous, often disappointing journey for the couple. Michelle called it a “three-year-plus process” that included three failed attempts to create a viable pregnancy.
But a fourth attempt, performed by renowned New York-based fertility specialist Dr. Zev Rosenwaks, created a successful in vitro fertilization for the couple. Thus, three years, some 200 needle injections, four in vitro cycles with ISCI and $90,000 later, Ken and Michelle Decker were able to present their newborn to a smiling Lauer.
Lauer, a father of three children himself, cooed over tiny Madison and presented Ken and Michelle with a gift of a TODAY show onesie. Looking on as Michelle draped the gift over her
daughter, Matt commented, “She doesn’t seem all that thrilled at the moment. She actually spit up a little for me. That’s fantastic. On cue!”
The Deckers’ odds of realizing their dreams of having a child were about even. Rosenwaks said that through ISCI, pregnancy rates were 56 percent, and half ultimately had live births.
As for becoming a record holder for having a baby some 21 years after his sperm was first frozen, Ken Decker laughed and said, “It’s really exciting. I hope no one beats us out.”
TODAY highlighted the male side of infertility Wednesday. While women are usually the focal point when it comes to the ability to conceive, studies show a roughly 50-50 split between men and women when there are problems. All told, 5 to 7 percent of males are diagnosed as infertile.
“It’s remarkable how often we see women who have gone through significant evaluation, even sometimes treatment, without figuring out where things stand for the man,” urologist and reproductive specialist Peter Schlegel told TODAY. “Obviously, it takes two.”