Kim and I have been married for 5 years now (well it’ll be 5 years next week). We’re both in our early 30s (one of us is in our earlier 30s than the other). A lot (most) of our friends have kids, some of them are on their second round already. And in an ideal world we’d be there or thereabouts.
But we’re not.
It’s not something that’s talked about a whole lot (the Spinoff has done some posts about it which are great, this one in particular: http://thespinoff.co.nz/parenting/30-12-2016/how-to-support-your-friends-and-loved-ones-who-are-struggling-with-infertility/).
Deciding to have kids is exciting terrifying crazy magnificent. You realise you’re an adult now and you’re comfortable with your place in the world (relatively speaking) and you want to bring in someone else to join your family because your cats just no longer cut it. Kim and I made that decision coming up three years ago. It really was a case of just saying “let’s go for it.” So we went for it. Graphic details aside we were trying for quite a long time and without a skerrick of success. Over the course of trying for a while, my anxiety disorder was being treated by anti-depressants. And let me tell you they really don’t help when you’re trying to procreate. In NZ if you are showing signs of infertility you need to be shagging for about a year without success before your GP will refer you to a fertility doctor.
We crossed that point and so got the referral.
The first thing they check is the dude. In this story, that’s me. I got a ball-ultrasound and a sperm test. I decided to take the morning off work one December day a couple of years back to complete both tasks. I went to the hospital and the radiologist put me in a gown that didn’t quite cover me. I looked pretty. Then they made me hitch my gown up. Quite why I had to put the gown on at all is beyond me, but I don’t set policy.
Then they gel up the machine and gel up … me. There was a TV screen directly above where I was lying, and while I was being scanned, the radiologist asked if I wanted the screen switched on so I could see what they were seeing. Oh my god yes.
The radiologist said that was interesting since most men choose not to see. Men, you should take this opportunity if you ever get the chance. It’s fascinating. I got a full biology lesson about my testes and learned things I should probably have learned years ago. Given it was December, I asked if they could print a screen-shot out and write “HAVE A BALL THIS CHRISTMAS” on it so I could use it as a Christmas card. They could not. Sad.
The radiologist said that while they weren’t the specialist everything looked fine but someone would let me know. Aces.
**POSSIBLE NSFW SECTION AHEAD**
The next test was the sperm sample. I was given a wee jar and told to have at it. There’s a lab on Lambton Quay where you take samples, so I rang them to find out what the deal was. I was told that sperm samples actually only last an hour and that I’d need to take it direct to Wellington Hospital’s lab. In case you’re wondering “deposit” is a lab technician’s euphemism for ejaculating.
I rang the hospital and spoke to the lab technician, explained what I was doing and asked “do you have … like… a room?”. The tech said “I know what you’re asking…and no.”.
So I thought to myself, I can do this. I live about 20 minutes away from the hospital, I’ll have some “me time” (deposit) then zip into the car and get to the hospital.
Deposit complete, I hit a stop watch on my mobile phone and jumped into the car. 1 hour to go. I got to Tinakori Road and got stuck in a massive snarl up due to roadworks. It was December and Wellington was having a weirdly warm day. I was stuck in a traffic jam. The car was heating up. And there was a jar of jizz on the car seat next to me. This was not how I’d envisioned my life turning out.
After 20 minutes I got through the traffic jam. Got on to the Terrace Motorway and boom, Terrace Tunnel is backed-the-fuck-up too. What the hell Wellington? I’m starting to have a wee panic that I’m going to have to rinse the jar out in the hospital and “deposit” in the car park or something.
Finally through the tunnel and to the hospital with 8 minutes to go. I dashed into reception, not 100% sure where the lab was. In my haste I neglected to hold on to the jizz-jar which is crucial. I cannot emphasise this enough. If you are carrying a sperm sample. Hold on to it. As I tore into the big echoey hospital reception the sample jar flew out of my hand and the world slowed down.
The jar spun, must’ve been 400 times, as it headed towards the hard tiled floor. I watched in horror. Nothing I could do.
It landed on its lid. Didn’t crack.
Made a hell of a noise though. Lotta people turned to look at what the hell had just gone down. I didn’t even care at this point. I swooped up my sperm (another thing I didn’t think I’d ever write) and headed for the lab. Got there, rang the bell and a technician showed up.
“Hi there”, I said warmly. “I’m here to drop off a sperm sample”.
“And what time did you … deposit …?”
“About 1030”. The technician looked at his watch. “You just made it” he said. “Yes” I said proudly. “Thank you.” And off I walked.
The next day my GP rang me to tell me my results.
“Ultrasound is absolutely fine” she said “so that’s good news.”
“Sperm count and motility is also good so that’s also fine.”
Then there was a pause.
“But there’s a note at the bottom of the results that I’ve never seen before.”
If you want medical panic, search your symptoms on Google, if you want complete and utter confusion, have your doctor tell you that you’re party to something they’ve never seen before.
“What…what does it say?”
“It says it ‘sticks to stuff’.”
Of all the things that a doctor could say about my sperm sample being surprising, I don’t think “sticking to stuff” would have been one.
“It sticks to the stuff? What the hell does that mean? Surely if someone was asked to describe sperm, sticky is maybe one of the adjectives they’d use?” I asked.
“Yeah” said my very patient doctor. “It is. And there’s no further follow-up required so I guess we’re good.”
All of this just raised the question for me, what the hell were the lab technicians doing with my sperm? Were they flinging it against the lab wall and timing how long it took to slime down to the bottom? Did they get it stuck to their fingers and try to desperately shake it off? No matter. It was a great anecdote to share with people.
We went back to the fertility doctor, and he said “I have all your results here”. “Haha” I laughed, “it sticks to stuff!”
“Yes” the doctor answered gravely. “That could be a problem”.
So it turns out that if your sperm is “sticky”, that can mean that your body’s antibodies are treating it as a hostile invader and fighting it. If this is the case then you just ain’t conceiving naturally. So this meant that my once hilarious story could now have really a negative outcome. Stink.
So I had to “deposit” again. This time however I got to use the lovely facilities at Fertility Associates which does “have a room”. Brown leather couches aren’t the most romantic setting, I’ll say that. Also, sitting on brown leather couches and thinking to yourself “wow, thousands of dudes have sat here and done this exact thing” is also not good for mood setting. Learn from my mistakes people.
On the plus side, it was our wedding anniversary and Kim sent me a supportive and loving message while I was in the room.
The results for this came back and we could all breathe a sigh of relief, my “sticky stuff” was fine.
This meant we turned to Kim to review her condition. Following a number of tests (and Kim will write about this herself at some point) it was discovered that Kim has one of the most fascinating things you’ll ever hear. Its official name is “uterus didelphys”, it means that where someone would usually have one uterus, my utterly amazing wife has two. Twice the human! She also has two cervices. She still only has two ovaries, but each ovary services a separate uterus. The whole thing is incredible. We lovingly refer to it as “double-cunt”, which our doctor finds delightful. However he still won’t support my moves to petition the medical board to have its official name changed.
During the course of the surgery they did to discover Kim’s condition, they also found a bunch of endometriosis which was probably a large barrier to conception. Kim also had to take some medication to ensure she ovulated good and proper. This had the by-product of really really messing with her hormones.
**LESS AMUSING PART TO COME**
Already it’d been 2-2 1/2 years of trying and without success. And people all around us were filling our Facebook feeds with photos of their newborns, and then their toddlers. Amusing stories of what those little cherubs had said and so forth. This is hard to bear. You want to be supportive and happy for your friends – and you are; this is a really important point. When you see your friends celebrating their children you celebrate too. But at the same time, you start getting angry at the universe. Because you feel like you’re missing out on what looks like a wonderful and amazing experience.
Social events were becoming harder to attend because they’d now be filled with children, children of others. Not ours. It was impossible not to become slightly socially withdrawn. And it’s hard for people to properly empathise if they’re not going through it. We were told repeatedly “oh don’t worry, it’ll happen for you” and “appreciate this time that you don’t have kids because you don’t have your own time after that!” Some people didn’t realise that we would happily give up all our time we had to be able to successfully have our own. But we just couldn’t.
So this medication Kim’s on, it’s brutal. And I can’t do anything to make it easier. She’d cry and rage at things that normally she’d laugh at. One time she was staring out the car window, looking at the ocean and she started crying. “Why are you crying?” I asked.
“Why did you make the water so rough?” she asked back, in between sobs.
And this hurt me. Not because I was being blamed for something I obviously had no control over (though she may have just mistaken me for God, an easy mistake to make), but because my wife who I love so much is hurting in a way she can’t control, which is a layer of hurt on top of the hurt that already exists from us not having kids. And I’m not trying to co-opt her story and pain and make it my story and pain, I’m just wanting to share my thoughts and feelings before Kim writes her post.
I learned coping mechanisms for a lot of the struggles – if Kim blamed me for roughing up the ocean say, I’d just apologise and support her. Hold her hand. Give her a hug. Tell her I loved her. This flies in the face of 30 years of me being an argumentative piece of shit who would die in a ditch over anything I believed was right. But she’s my wife. Not a debating opposition. And she’s going through something that I can’t fully empathise with.
As all this is going on we’re still trying. We had a new routine in place. On days 3-7 of her cycle Kim would take the medication then days 10-20 were what we both referred to as “fuckfest”, and then came the waiting phase, followed by, what has been every time, crushing disappointment. And let me tell you, if you want to find a way to make sex with your loved one a bit shitter, make it mechanical and with one desired outcome. This is also wonderful for fucking with your head a wee bit about the whole sexual side of a relationship. After a while of this you feel like you’re just being milked like a cow for one express purpose (sorry for the evocative imagery).
All of this would be interspersed with visits to the doctor to just check in. No news, nothing different to try, just oh well keep going. More tears. More disappointment. It’s a shitty shitty time. You don’t feel like you have your life anymore.
Also, don’t fucking watch Finding Dory. In fact it’s amazing how many movies have some kind of parental strain angle in them. I tried to vet the movies we’d watch and failed. A lot. Who knew that Hunt for the Wilderpeople could cause someone to cry throughout the entire thing? Well let me tell you, it can.
Which brings us to today, just yesterday in fact. We met with Fertility Associates because after 3 years of trying, crying and not succeeding we’re now moving to the next stage. I sat yesterday in a little office in horror as I listened to what Kim needed to do over the next month for our first round of IVF treatment. And I just have to take one pill and jizz in a jar. And I’ve gotten really good at that. Pregnancy is not an equal deal is it? Men, we get it super lucky. And IVF is a whole new level of stress. We’re on the public system, but we’re also doing a round of private. And it’s not cheap at all. And it’s almost a 50/50 coin toss. So it’s the most expensive coin-toss I’ll ever do. But goddamn if it works out, it’ll be the best coin-toss I’ve ever done. Because right now, I’m sick of it. I’m sick of not succeeding. I’m sick of my wife having to deal with awful medical treatments, I’m sick of her hurting and I’m excited that there’s a possible positive solution just ahead.
Now we wait and see.
So why have I written all this? Because people don’t talk about infertility much. At high school we’re taught that if you so much as look at a girl strangely she’ll get pregnant. But it’s not that easy, and if you want a kid and it’s a struggle then you often don’t have a lot of places to go. So I’m trying to talk about it out loud to show anyone else who might be struggling that you’re not alone. We’re not alone.