Over the years, I’ve had a number of jokes to explain why TLB and I, having been married since 1994, do not have kids. It was part of my release agreement with the state has been a favorite. I do have them, I just don’t know where they are is another. Because TLB already has a child to take care of, which is really just a factual statement.
I use jokes to deflect further Questions About Kids (QAK). Because in our case, the QAK is not a happy tale. It’s a long, sad, frustrating story. And today, after our last-second buzzer beater seemed improbably headed toward the hoop, we watched the last ball swirl in and out of the basket. It appears we will not be having kids of our own.
We started about nine years ago. We left our swinging (in the figurative sense) New York lifestyle to return to the Chicago area, primarily to start a family. New York was amazing and, despite our impoverished time there, it treated us well. But as a couple of suburban Chicago kids, we doubted our ability to raise kids in the Big Apple (worrying that ours would turn out like Harmony Korine’s very unharmonious Kids). Plus, with so much family around Chicago, we’d have instant babysitting. We packed, we moved, and we were ready to start begetting.
My Catholic education led me to believe that getting pregnant was very, very easy, so easy that if my thingy was even in the same zip code as her whatsit, I’d have a you-know-what on my hands. So I was surprised when our initial trips to the orchard didn’t bear any fruit.
We entered the first phase of infertility, the Planned Interlude, or Reverse Rhythm Method. There are measurements taken, charts consulted, briefs discarded, boxers purchased, and readings analyzed. You enter a realm where the need to have sex right fucking now is greater than any 15-year-old boy could ever imagine. Even if I was in the middle of scarfing some mac and cheese during the Bears game, the minute I saw three lanterns in the tower, I dropped what I was doing and rushed in to announce that the British were indeed coming (and going and going and coming and always too soon!).
That phase lasted for about a year and half with nary second blue line in sight. We reached the point where we had to Diagnose the Problem.
That meant diagnosing me first, because all the man has to do is an activity he’s been doing since he first noticed Mary Jane was cootie free. At the hospital, I was handed a cup by a small, goateed Russian Doctor, who seemed slightly too eager to examine my sample. He ushered me into a small white room which had a black faux leather chair, a TV/VCR unit, one adult video, and a few periodicals of varying degrees of smutitude. “Take as much time as you need,” the Russian Doctor told me, “and try not to spill any.”
My lab results delivered one of the first of many shocks and disappointments. I had azoospermia—a complete lack of troops to launch an invasion. The thought of being infertile hadn’t even crossed my mind. I figured my boys were just like me, lazy and not very good swimmers. This was much more serious.
All hope was not lost. Thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, the doctors could go in and search for any isolated swimmers doing the male reproductive version of Castaway. If they found any takers, they could inject them right into an egg and get things going through In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF). In order to find this out, they would have to break into my vault and take a long, hard look at the family jewels. Thank God for anesthetic.
When I came to in the recovery room, TLB was standing beside me. I muttered a groggy hello. She looked sad, and I asked how it went. Surprised, she asked if I remembered talking to the doctor. Apparently he and I had an involved chat where we discussed the results of my testicular foray.
“No,” I said.
“They didn’t find anything,” TLB said. “You don’t have any sperm.”
The diagnosis was Sertoli-cell only syndrome, kind of the straight flush of male infertility. I had no ability to make sperm. This condition isn’t always hopeless, but according to the doctor, they searched for a long time and found nothing to work with.
The news took a long time to sink in. I remember being disappointed but also matter-of-fact about it. Okay, Monty, I’ll take what’s in the box—is it a sperm donor? While I thought, pre-biopsy, that I’d be fine, I still had considered the possibility of infertility and had made up my mind to green light a donor. The real disappointment was more of a slow burn, one of those things that hangs around like fog that won’t melt away. It was sad, but at the same time, I figured if this was the cross I had to carry, it wasn’t as bad as what many people had to bear. TLB and I would have our kids, we’d just have them a little differently.
We shopped around for a donor. This was definitely the most entertaining part of the whole infertility treatment. We logged on to sperm bank Web sites and read profiles of potential pops. We read medical histories, educational backgrounds, physical descriptions, and in some cases could even hear voice samples. We’d play Gay or Straight? as we reviewed our potential donors (loves travel, good food, and musical theater...helllooo!). I joked with TLB that I knew more about these guys than I knew about myself.
We settled on a man of Swedish background, whom I called “The Swede Seed.” By this time, we were in Iowa, so we headed to the UI Hospital for an Inter-Uterine Injection (IUI) — AKA the turkey baster. We went to a hospital room, and a nurse injected our future Big Daddy into my wife. Then, in a fit of jealous rage, I beat the shit out of the catheter.
The first try worked.
We couldn’t believe our luck. Yes, we’d had a bumpy road, and my condition sucked, but we were going to have a baby and at this point, I didn’t care how. Everything was great, and we waltzed into our first ultrasound ready to see the little chef. I imagined baby's first words would be bort-bort-bort.
The nurse fiddled around with the ultrasound and found him or her. We could see the embryo. It was beautiful. It didn’t last long. Almost immediately, the nurse told us the heartbeat and size were low. The pregnancy was likely to end. A couple weeks later, it did.
What the fuck? I asked the cosmos. Why? I could accept my lot in life, but why put TLB through this? What had we done?
After we went through the wailing and gnashing of teeth, we settled down. So the first didn’t take. That was common. At least it had worked. We tried again. And again. And again. We used up all the Swede Seed, and got not so much as a blue line. We made a call to the bullpen for a fresh, er, arm. That didn’t help. Years went by, and we eventually went through 15 IUIs. It was time for an IVF.
The IVF is the fertility cocktail. The mixing is done outside, stirred and not shaken, and then placed back. With IVF, you get actual pictures of the blastocysts, which would allow us to have the earliest baby pictures ever of our future children.
I was lucky that my insurance would pay for four procedures. IVFs run about $15,000, and while you can’t put a price on having kids, you can put a price on bankruptcy. The good news: IVF has a much higher success rate than IUI. Certainly after one or two, we’d be in business.
The game was different but the results the same. Our first attempt went bust. We tried a second attempt. It, too, went bust. Getting a little nervous, we tried a third attempt. That burned down, fell over, sank into the swamp, and then went bust. We were down to the last one insurance would pay for.
And it worked.
A couple weeks ago, TLB got a faint positive on her home test. Then she tested positive at the hospital. Her betas more than doubled. Even when she had some spotting and went in for a panicked test this past Monday, her beta levels were great. We were scheduled to go in for our first ultrasound in five years on Friday. We kept using the phrase cautiously optimistic, because we both remembered all too well what happened last time. But fuck it, I knew this was it. Of course it would be a dramatic Tin Cup kind of moment, where we hit a dozen balls before the last one in our bag goes in. After all, we’re writers, it’s what we would have come up with!
Alas, it was not to be. TLB started bleeding today, enough that we know what tomorrow’s news will be. We couldn't even make it to the fucking ultrasound without disappointment.
I feel terrible for my wife. I’ve had six years to get used to the idea that the children I have will not be mine biologically. As depressing as that is, I’ve made my peace with it. At least she could have a baby and we could share that experience.
Now, though, she has to deal with that, because it looks like another IVF will not be in the cards. We still have options: embryo adoption, which is more affordable and still lets us go through the process of having a baby. Regular adoption, which while expensive, is more or less guaranteed to produce a child. Either way, we’ll have our kids, and we’ll be happy. I know that.
I just wish, for once, that the nuns at school had been right, that it had been as easy as they said it would be.