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IVF: Chasing Hope

“Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” — Shawshank Redemption

So you all know we started IVF a few months ago. Many of you have sent me very sweet (yet persistent) notes asking me how things have been going. Well, after a lot of soul-searching and a roller-coaster ride, MJ and I want to share what happened.

First of all, it only took a couple of weeks of shots, blood work and doctor’s appointments for MJ and I to agree on one thing — this would be our final attempt at having another baby no matter what. After all, we had been down this road five times already. That’s five positive pregnancy tests, five rounds of telling friends and family (and all of you) the good news, and five instances of getting our hopes up. I’ll never say that we “only” got Will out of it, because he’s the most unbelievable thing in our lives. But 4 out of 5 times ended in heartbreak. That’s just a lot of hurt to absorb, and it has taken a toll.

As I alluded to before, this IVF shit ain’t easy.

Poor MJ has been a trooper. She basically turned herself into a human pincushion to try to have this baby, taking subcutaneous and intramuscular shots in the butt and thighs for more than two months combined. Not to mention all the different meds that accompany the needlework. And for half that time she had to inject herself because I was so afraid of needles it took me that long to work up the courage to do it myself.

All of it led up to a 5-day stretch in mid November when the doctors extracted eggs. All you really need to know when it comes to eggs is the more the better. The more eggs that can be retrieved the better the chances of fertilizing them and successfully implanting them. Unfortunately, we ran into some trouble.

After the retrieval, we were sitting in the recovery room with two other women — all of us separated by curtains. The doctor spoke to both women before she got to us, and we could hear everything. The doctor told the first woman she had retrieved 14 eggs, which seemed to please the patient. A few minutes later the doc told the second woman she retrieved six eggs — and the woman started crying hysterically, apparently because that number was way too low. Therefore, I expected to have somewhere between 6 and 14 eggs.

But we had three. Just three. And when we went back in five days later, the news got even worse.

The doctors were able to fertilize two of the eggs, but in reality only one embryo was viable. They implanted the second, but basically gave us a snowball’s chance in hell of it taking. So after all those shots, all the pain, and all the time devoted to expanding our family, it amounted to a single chance of a successful pregnancy. Even the doctors called the whole thing “not exactly ideal.”

It made me want to strangle the woman crying over 6 eggs. But, we were pregnant. At least for the time being.

With our spirits low and nothing to do but wait a few weeks, we were pretty down. As negative and pessimistic as I am, I’m actually the glass-is-half-full person in my marriage. Scary, isn’t it? But even though I kept reassuring her that everything was OK, well — fortune hasn’t exactly favored us the last few years in this department. Still, I soldiered on believing the universe had to owe us one.

But apparently MJ and I were puppy killers in a past life because the universe was not done fucking with us.

I was at the gym about to hop on the treadmill when I looked at my phone and saw 4 missed calls from MJ in the last 3 minutes. And then the phone rang again. When I heard the pain and anguish in her screams my heart sank and my knees gave out. I couldn’t make out everything that was said, but I heard “spotting” and “clot” clear enough. I bolted out of the gym trying to calm her down, all the while watching Hope disappear over the horizon for the last time.

Walking into a doctor’s office for that final ultrasound and diagnosis is hell — especially for those of us unlucky enough to be repeat visitors. We’ve lost pregnancies at several different points in the first and second trimester, so we knew the drill and had pretty much resigned ourselves to our fate. We walked, teary-eyed, to the exam room and held hands. Nothing more could be said or done. I gave her a look that told her I love her more than life itself, and that everything would be OK. We have a beautiful, healthy son. And that’s a lot more than some other people have.

But I also told her I was proud of her. After you’ve been hurt that many times, it’s excruciatingly painful to even put yourself on the line again for more disappointment. All those times we had to tell our friends and family we lost another baby. All the empty cribs and baby clothes that had to be stuffed back in the drawer. Trying to be happy for all the other people you love in your life who have kids, when a part of you just wants to curl up and cry because you can’t have that kind of happiness one more time. And, for me, the pain and guilt of knowing it’s all my fault because my boys aren’t great swimmers.

The ultrasound tech went to work, we looked at each other one last time, and we cried…

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” — Shawshank Redemption

hope

Sometimes all it takes is one! ;-)

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It’s My Fault We Can’t Have Another Baby

I’ve been putting off writing this post. In part because it’s really personal, but mostly because I feel like someone has taken a proverbial sledgehammer to my masculinity, Gallagher-style.

I told you all that MJ and I began looking into IVF following our inability to either get pregnant or sustain a pregnancy since Will was born. With all the trouble we’ve had both before Will’s birth and afterwards, I kind of just figured if there was a medical problem, it would have something to do with MJ. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not me blaming her or being mad at her. I was just thinking of all the shit and procedures she’s had to endure, and logically it stood to reason something had happened in one of those surgeries that caused a problem with our ability to conceive.

I went in for what I thought was a routine specimen check. But it turns out, I’m the problem.

I won’t bore you with all things sperm morphology-related. Even I’m creeped out talking about it and it’s my baby batter. But I do think it’s important to talk about how this whole thing made me feel, because I know for a fact it’s something men in this situation struggle with, and putting it all on the table is the best way to deal with it.

First of all, it helps if you have a doctor who isn’t an inadvertently offensive ass clown. I understand they deal with this stuff all day and they want to move quickly so they can help. I get it. But it doesn’t matter how often you’ve broken bad news to someone, because it’s likely the first time they’re hearing it and dealing with the flood of emotions. So, in the future, you might want to avoid sounding like a condescending jerkoff while explaining the problem as you would to a small child.

“Well, basically the shape of your sperm is a little off and they’re confused. Instead of swimming to the goal — which is the egg — they’re off running around in circles some place they’re not supposed to be. So all we’re gonna do is make sure the best ones are in the right place at the right time.”

Golly gee Capt. Kangaroo, thank you for that wonderful explanation. Granted, I didn’t go to medical school, but I’m sure even my feeble mind could’ve handled a slightly more comprehensive explanation. But hey, not only did you talk down to me, I also feel like shit about myself. About my manhood. About the very thing that makes me a man and allows me to reproduce. Now for the rest of my life I can rest easy, knowing my swimmers are zombified, miniature versions of the 3 Stooges. Moe, Larry, and Curly smacking each other around over in the corner like a bunch of drunken frat boys.

But that was nothing compared to the immediate flood of pure shame I felt. Women have to do EVERYTHING during pregnancy. Her egg inside her body is fertilized, and she goes on to literally house and shelter the baby for nine months. My only job — the only early role I have to play — is to (literally) plant the seed. That’s it. And now, I’m not even able to do that.

Unfortunately, things got even worse when we got in the car. Because my wife is not a man, she saw no reason for me to be upset, nevermind completely devastated. So instead of being understanding, she was pissed that I was pissed. Ladies, I know it’s probably hard to understand. But if your guy is anything like me, he feels worthless and emasculated. Biologically speaking, men are put on this earth to spread their seed and procreate. So when a doctor sits there and tells you something has gone haywire with your primordial ooze, it’s a blow to our caveman DNA. We don’t feel like men. And so we pout.

And then we get ridiculous. Or at least I did.┬áBecause I was hurting, I felt like lashing out. And given the news I just received — which involved learning that I have a roughly 2% chance of successfully conceiving a child, my mind stupidly wandered to (what I believe to be) one of the biggest and most irrational fears fathers have.

“Since we know I’m now a man in name only, is Will really even mine?”

There are lots of questions you shouldn’t ask your wife. “Are you really wearing that?” “Have you put on weight?” “Do you realize you’re starting to act just like your mother?” I wish I had asked one, or even all, of those stupid questions. But instead, I vaulted myself right to the top of Asshole Mountain by asking my wife if she cheated on me, was impregnated with another man’s baby, and lied to me about it for 4.5 years. Yeah…I’m THAT guy.

To her credit, MJ remained pretty calm. And then she pointed out the silver lining that should’ve been completely obvious to me the moment I heard the news.

Will. My sweet, healthy, fantastic, perfect son. Made even more perfect by the fact that it’s a minor miracle we could even have him. Against some truly staggering odds we didn’t even know we were facing, we got the lucky break of a lifetime and were able to conceive a healthy child without IVF.

I immediately felt very sheepish and selfish. How many couples out there have been trying — either with or without IVF — for years with nothing to show for it? I can’t even imagine wanting a child so badly, trying so hard for so long, and enduring heartbreak after heartbreak. I can’t fathom walking by an empty nursery that’s been set up for years, just waiting for a brand new boy or girl to occupy it. Sure MJ and I have dealt with our share of rough times, but we have Will. Sweet Will, who constantly brightens our lives and gives us purpose. Even when he’s being a shit I’m still beyond thankful I have him. And now that I know he’s a longshot baby, I appreciate him even more.

To be honest, I still feel like half a man. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help it. I feel like all of this struggle is my fault, and I feel incredibly guilty for being the cause of our inability to complete our family. Is that ridiculous? Of course. If the tables were turned and something was physically wrong with MJ, there’s NO WAY I’d ever blame her. It wouldn’t even cross my mind. And she doesn’t blame me either, but that doesn’t stop me from blaming myself.

I don’t really have any advice for the guys going through a similar situation. In fact, I could probably use some. All I can say is there’s a bunch of us out there and we’re probably feeling the same way. So let’s rest easy in the knowledge that we’re all being unnecessarily stupid and hard on ourselves together.

Next up, to see if our insurance will cover all of this, and what type of IVF we’re eligible for. Stay tuned.

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The Cup of Shame

I’ve shared a lot with you guys over the years. Some might say too much. And the ones who haven’t said that will now.

If you’ve been around these parts for awhile, you know that MJ and I very much want to have a second child. And we’ve been trying for roughly three years now with no luck. Actually, no luck would be an overwhelming improvement. We’ve actually had bad, rotten, atrocious luck — three times. One time notoriously featured on YouTube for the world to see. So we finally caved and went to see a specialist. And while things aren’t quite settled on that front (not to mention MJ and I are still weighing how we feel about letting everyone in on that part of our lives), I at least wanted to share a preliminary story that highlights the weird crap that I had to reconcile when starting down the IVF road.

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“You need to submit a sample.”

Those were the words from my wife that sparked instant panic somewhere deep within me. The first thing I did was get defensive. How dare someone question the potency — the very essence — of my manhood! To even suggest that something could be wrong with my little swimmers, I mean…it was just lunacy. I already have a kid dammit. My sperm are proven leaders. A verifiable commodity. The semen by which all other semen should be measured. I suddenly pictured carrying Will — my strapping evidence of reproduction — into that doctor’s office and holding him up like Simba from the Lion King, shouting “Behold what I have brought forth from my loins!!”

Before I could even utter any of these insane and ridiculous things, MJ saved me (as she always does) and assured me it’s standard operating procedure and that I should just shut up and do it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be that easy.

You see, I’ve never done that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about the act itself. C’mon now, get serious. But actually providing a sample? That’s a new one on me. And I’m not a fan. Not one bit. For me, the thought of walking into a strange building and entering a room for the express purpose of depositing my future children into a cup is unacceptable. Mainly because all I can think about is the inordinate number of guys who came (pun very much intended) before me and did the same thing. And with that thought in my head, I don’t think there’s any way in hell I could’ve — ahem — finished the task at hand.

So we set it up in a way I’d be able to do it at home. When MJ told me instructions would be coming in the mail, I thought she was kidding. I mean, instructions? For this?? I may not know how to put together IKEA furniture or change a tire, but if there’s anything I can figure out on my own, it’s this. Yet when I opened the envelope, I was met with a list of requirements I had to follow to the letter, including:

  • Only use the sterilized container provided (as if I was going to use MJ’s tupperware)
  • Put name & date of birth with permanent marker on cup
  • Report to Suite xxx with the sample & a photo ID (I don’t even need ID to vote!)
  • Bring the sample to the lab within 1 hour of collection
  • Keep sample away from heat & light
  • Keep sample at body temperature, under your arm or between your legs while driving to the center

Now, I won’t go into the mindfuck that is trying to produce said sample. But you should know the office is 40 minutes from our house without traffic, and I had to have it turned in in 1 hour or less. So I literally had to do the deed and hop in the car with MJ and Will to drop it off. Now picture trying to get the job done by locking yourself in the bathroom while your wife is downstairs knowing exactly what you’re doing and your 4.5-year-old is screaming from the living room because he wants to know what you’re doing in there.

I don’t care how hard you try to picture yourself with the Swedish Bikini Team, it’s a lot to overcome.┬áBut I muddled through it and jumped in the car, wincing hard when Will asked if I had a treat for him in the paper bag of shame I was carrying.

But then came the car ride.

The instructions specifically said I had to keep the sample at body temperature. But it was hot that day and Will needed the AC on in the car, so I had to come up with something. And that’s why I spent the 45-minute ride to the doctor’s office sitting on my own spunk and keeping it warm like a giant Emperor Penguin. Yup. Let that image sink in for a minute. Sweet dreams.

Not to mention I thought the andrologist who took the sample and my paperwork had a bit of an attitude, and so I had a little fun with him when he asked me when my last “omission” was. I knew he meant emission, but he clearly said omission. So I told him my last omission was the time I lied to my wife about cleaning up an emission with one of her discarded socks.

I still don’t know much about andrologists, but I can confirm they lack a sense of humor.

I know some of you are having a TMI (Too Much Information) moment right now. And the rest of you are wondering why someone would intentionally volunteer this information on the permanent Internet where anyone can see it. But you know what, this is the stuff of which blogging is made. This has never been a place where parenting/marriage is whitewashed and pretty and sparkling. Sometimes things just suck. But occasionally there’s a little room for laughter and levity, even when you’re struggling mightily.

And I know for a fact that there are other guys going through this, and it isn’t easy. So if I can make someone laugh or empathize during a shitty time, mission accomplished.

My only advice for anyone in a similar situation is to go to the office. It’s just not worth the hassle from home. Take it from an Emperor penguin who knows.

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