After three wonderful weeks in Juneau, Alaska, teaching, learning, and roaming the fjords and waters, we land back in Los Angeles just long enough to squeeze in another artificial insemination before Lyena is off to a dance workshop in Oakland. When we get in to see VaJayjay he explains that, statistically speaking, we’re right in the target for a pregnancy. He keeps reminding us, like a mantra, that “We’re just waiting for that one good egg.” All of the physical signs are strong, he says. It really should happen anytime now.
We’re about a week into our trip to Juneau, Alaska when I get word my dad is being moved to Johns Hopkins Hospital. There have been some pretty big mistakes made at the nursing/rehab center he’s currently in and, though he is making small improvements, they’re not enough to outweigh the errors, so he’s moving to a center he trusts. This is good all around. The doctors at Hopkins have proven worthy of dad’s faith, and if he’s going to get better, he has to trust the people caring for him. And it appears to work — almost immediately, his health shows strong improvement.
During one of the calls to Lyena while I’m in Maryland helping care for my dad, she gently floats a reminder that there’s baby-making to be done and if we want to give this round a go, then the window is a small one. The problem is that I’m currently in Maryland, Lyena is in Los Angeles and in less than a week, we’re both supposed to be in Alaska. As it’s very hard to do what we need to do while we’re 3,000 miles apart (and I am completely unwilling to let someone else do my bit), one of us has to fly to the other.
It appears we picked a good month to take off. Not long after we make the decision, I get a call from my sister, who is, once again, at the ER. This time, however, it’s not my mom that’s sick, but my dad. He was having some trouble breathing, so she took him to the hospital to get checked out.
We need a break. After several discussions we’ve decided it’s time for a respite from fertility for a bit. We’re both feeling a growing sense of desperation and anxiety about getting pregnant – or, perhaps more accurately, not getting pregnant – and we’re also starting to get concerned about the financial load of all of this baby-making, so we’re going to take a month off and give ourselves a little break.
After traveling from the West coast to the East coast to visit my mom, then traveling back to the West coast to have sex (yes, actual sex followed the syringical sex at Dr. VaJayjay’s), it is now time to head back to the East coast – this time for work. Lyena has been hired to perform her one-person show, Caterpillar Soup, at a theater in Vermont and I get to tag along as her Technical Director.
After about a week back in Maryland, it appears that my mother is doing better than we – or at least I – expected. She gets tired easily, but is generally strong. The living room has been converted into a makeshift hospital room, complete with hospital bed, oxygen tanks, charts on clipboards and bottles upon bottles of pills, but other than that, it feels much like a normal visit home. It’s not like she’s out of the woods or anything – she is still in hospice care – but her quality of life doesn’t seem significantly worse than it has been over the last couple of months.
To recap, last week I found out that:
- my mom is in the hospital
- my mom needs surgery
- my wife is pregnant
- my mom has less than six months to live
- my wife’s pregnancy won’t last
- my mom’s surgery was unsuccessful
- my mom has days to live
- my mom has more than days to live
- my wife is no longer pregnant
[NOTE: This is Part Two of Chapter Nine. If you haven’t yet read Part One, please do so first, or you will be missing some context.]
After being bumped two days already, my mom’s surgery gets bumped yet again, however we are promised it will happen that afternoon or evening. I find myself wondering just how many transplants and heart surgeries there are in any given week in Baltimore. My begrudging is begrowing.
You ever have one of those weeks? One of those weeks when so much comes down all at once that the only choices are 1) fight or 2) curl-into-the-fetal-position-with-a-bottle-of-scotch-and-a-binkie? It was about to be one of those weeks.
[NOTE: This is Part Two of Chapter Eight. If you haven’t yet read Part One, please do so first, or you will be missing some context. Also, though not vulgar, this piece includes mature content and may not be suitable for some audiences. You have been warned.]
The night before our first insemination, I administer the ovu-shot, in about as unmanly a fashion as is conceivable. I flinch. I grimace. I forget completely that my wife has no sensation where I’m sticking her. I’m really not that good at this body stuff and I, once again, realize I made the right choice in not being smart enough for med school.
[NOTE: This piece includes mature content and may not be suitable for some readers. You have been warned.]
The time has come for us to learn the results of my sperm test, so we head down to Dr. VaJayjay’s office. He sits us down and proceeds to explain much more about sperm than I ever really wanted to know. I’m 37 years old but don’t really feel that much more comfortable now than I did when I first learned about sperm in grade school. The Doc even has visual aids: pictures of little spermy tails with two heads; pictures of little spermy heads with two tails; pictures of little spermy tails with giant heads. All kinds of strange-looking, but apparently fairly common abnormalities. Up to this point, I’ve imagined my sperm as being little Michael Phelpses complete with Speedo LZR Racer suits, but now I find myself conjuring things much more out of the Island of Dr. Moreau.
[NOTE: This is Part Two of Chapter Seven. If you haven’t yet read Part One, please do so first, or you will be missing a great deal of important context. Also, though not vulgar, this piece includes mature content and may not be suitable for some audiences. You have been warned.]
Well, this is just as awkward as I thought, feared, and probably secretly hoped.
Deciding I’ve procrastinated long enough, I sit down and look around. I flip through the magazines: Playboy, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, Hustler, Juggs – the usual college-dorm fare. Not that interesting. I turn to the DVD player. Hmmmmm. Slowly, I extend my finger and hit the play button.
[NOTE: This piece, though not vulgar, includes mature content and may not be suitable for some audiences. You have been warned.]
This is going to be awkward. After a couple of medically-assisted attempts without a pregnancy, it is now my turn to get tested and make sure the problem isn’t with my “swim team.” There isn’t any particular reason to think it is – I have no genetic or physical history to suggest it would be – but after what Lyena has had to go through, it seems only fair that I should go through the one big test us guys can do to make sure. What can I say? I’m a giver.
Despite our best efforts, which were many and often, we are, alas, still not pregnant.
As soon as I find out we’re not, I do what any mature, level-headed man would do – I immediately start to question my virility. Actually, question may be the wrong word. Slander may be a better one. Impugn, perhaps. In fact, I become convinced that I’m sterile. Not just sterile; I begin to believe it’s possible my sperm may have lethal qualities. That they may be little deadly ninjas assassinating any eggs they find. I have an immense capacity for self-flagellating imagination and I utilize every bit of it as I imagine my deadly ninja sperm attacking my wife’s uterus. Soon they have evolved in my mind into sentient beings hell bent on rendering my wife completely, inexorably sterile. “Why would they do this to me,” I ask. “What have I done to them?” “Is it revenge for my previous negligence of their brethren?” “What,” I demand … “WHAT?!”
It’s been said that sex is kind of like pizza … even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. I think there are other ways in which the analogy fits as well, though. For example, there are many different kinds. There’s complex, multi-layered Chicago deep-dish; and there’s satisfyingly shallow New York thin-crust. There’s the kind that’s all about the extras, the little toppings necessary to mask the blandness underneath; and there’s the kind that are all about what’s below, where any additions must be carefully considered, lest they detract from the simple joys of substance deeper-down. There’s slow baked, time honored, forged in fire; and there’s pop it in, get it out and get it done. There’s order in, take out and, in some states, delivery.
Not pregnant. Period.
In doing a little research for this piece, I have to say I am amazed at the number and variety of terms society has for a woman’s period. There are the common ones I’ve heard during my lifetime – “menses,” “Aunt Flo,” “that time,” “monthlies,” “the rag,” etc. Then there is a whole other far more creative class (or crass) of terminology that I had never heard before, but that seems to be in fairly common use. These include:
This is it. The moment I have been waiting for. Doctor ordered sex!
I’ve never been ordered to have sex before, but I have a sense I’m going to enjoy it. In the process of having a baby, sex is, in my opinion, the single best part. We leave the doctor’s office and I start counting the miles until we get home. At one point, I even suggest we simply pull into an alley and crawl into the back seat, but the radio must be up too loud, because no matter how often I offer, Lyena doesn’t seem to hear me.
Two days have gone by since our first visit to the fertility center and it’s time for us to return to Dr. VaJayjay’s office. This is the last pre-go-have-sex visit, and today we will do another ultrasound and Lyena will get a shot that is supposed to boost her into ovulation overdrive (which I think would make a great name for a band).
The first thing I notice is the scrubs. We walk into the lobby of the fertility clinic and are greeted by a smiling receptionist clad in bright green scrubs. As I look around I notice all the workers I can see are decked out the same way – bright green scrubs with a little coordinated candy striping at the bottom of the v-neck collar. I’m thinking they look like nurses for the lollipop guild when I notice one of the employees with an actual lollipop in her mouth. In fact, sitting on the counter in front of us is a dish loaded with the suckers. Somewhere not-too-deep inside, a Pavlovian chord strikes and my primal child calls out for one, but I let my slightly-more-measured adult prevail. I wonder if we have just entered some strange cult, where they engineer designer babies for their bright-green-wearing, candy-striped, lollipop-wielding religion.
Welcome to Fertility for Beginners. Pregnancy 101. The fun-house mirror side of sex. In the stories that follow, I’ll be taking you on a candid journey through my surreal experiences navigating the fertility process with my wife, Lyena.
Before we begin, however, there is one thing you should know for context. That thing is that my wife is paralyzed from the waist down. Now, before you start thinking, “What the hell’s funny about that?,” let me explain that it’s all about perspective.
For example, there is nothing quite like being peed on by the woman you love … while having sex.
Now I know there are people into that sort of thing. Who would pay good money to have it happen to them, but I’m not one of those people. That said, however, it truly is an experience unlike any other.
And when it happens, there’s really nothing you can do but laugh about it. There’s nothing she can do to stop it, and nothing I can do but clean up afterward and hope it hasn’t ruined the mood. Because I am a guy, after all, and she’d have to do a whole lot more than pee on me to get me to not want to have sex with her.
So in the spirit of perspective, I welcome you to join me through the very first of my daddy issues.