Truth be told, Susanne and I were looking for more than writing sanctuary in our temporary move to Seattle last fall. We were also hoping to make progress on the baby front. And by “progress,” I mean that we’d crossed our fingers that with the help of some expert fertility staff, we would conceive.
There were more than a few errors in our presumption-making, however.
To start with, there is a clear edge to the medical, scientific boundary around conception. It begins right around the moment when someone points at a calendar and says something ludicrous, like here’s where your 28-day cycle will end. How many women really have a 28-day cycle? For that matter, how many people’s healthy temperature is actually 98.6 degrees?
We were tripped up early in our attempts, way back in the days when we’d first arrived in Walla Walla, in the fall of 2008. I tried to find the patterns in Susanne’s basal temperature with a special thermometer that calculates to the hundredth. After sticking a hard metal tube under her tongue—before she was even really awake—over a 2-month period, I plugged the numbers into Excel and crunched. Nothing. I played with the numbers; broke out the massage oil, but still they refused to line up in any sensible fashion.
It was the same mystery with the ovulation urine strips. Sure, there were days when we seemed a little closer to the test mark side of the indicator, but we were never looking at two similar lines, not ever. So for some person who happened to be wearing a white lab coat to tell us that heck, 28 days after this day we’ll be good to go, well that was just laughable. Besides, 28 days later to me means zombies. And I wasn’t going to plunk down $1,000 a month for a zombie baby. Let’s get real.
We came to Seattle with high hopes, and month after month of no parasite creation we told ourselves it’s okay, everything about this manner of conception is unorthodox. Round about the end of November, having just lived through an ice storm—which in a city of radical hills is not free of stress—and the news that once again, nobody in our house was pregnant, I for one was feeling a bit exasperated and depressed. We’d done everything the doctors had told us, precisely when they wanted us to do them, and still, no wee one. This was the demilitarized zone of women’s reproduction. They had a lot of guesses about how female organs worked in theory, but weren’t really capturing the idiosyncrasies of the individual body. We know there is variability in say, our noses, because we see so many of them on a regular basis. Why don’t we appreciate that there is great variability in our ovaries, then?
December came around, and we knew it was our last month in Seattle before Susanne’s sabbatical was finished. We’d gone through three donors at this point: the sweet librarian, the gay, wannabe nightclub owner, and the so-so guy who was having his own fertility struggles with his wife. We’d had nonconsentual discussions about sperm with the Walla Walla FedEx delivery guy, and an uncomfortable, mandatory counseling session with a woman who called my uterus “plan B” but said my age was a dealbreaker. We’d had people quietly begin to ask us if we’d ever considered adoption, and a sneaking sense that this might not work out for us. And we gave each other hugs going into what we figured would be our last round of insemination for a while.
And then came the dog sitting stint. Two sweet, extremely hairy dogs took over our world as our friends went on a cruise to South America. These dogs are only dangerous if licking someone to death is possible, but they were an adjustment. Cute, in that dog way of “You’ve been gone all day! It felt like years and years! I am ready to play with you! Here are my 14 toys!.” On Saturday, December 18, we drove across town to the clinic and gave ourselves another thumbs up sign for hope. This time around, we knew Susanne had produced two juicy follicles, so we liked our increased odds. This was also the first stint with donor #4—English, German, Russian, and Ashkenazi Jew, with no immune system health issues, endearing answers on the sperm bank’s questionnaire, and the typical one drunk uncle. Seriously, everyone has a drunk uncle. There’s a dissertation in there for someone researching sperm bank questionnaire answers. We had the shock of the day looking at the numbers for the donor sample: 56 million sperm was well above anything the other three had produced. I know, I’m talking about sperm, and I apologize about that. But this was our reality. And someone had taken seriously Abraham’s mandate to go forth and multiply.
Ten minutes later, we were in a coffeeshop, typing away, against the calendar. I suppose we’d become a bit nonchalant about IUI.
The following Tuesday we had a meeting with the fertility doctor himself. Susanne hadn’t seen him in a year, and I had never met him before. We looked at the statistics on our method of conception and the likelihood that our curve was flattening out. The way he figured it, we were on attempt #6. We would have called it attempt #5, because our very first shot would have had better odds of taking if we’d just opened the vial and waved the sperm steam over to Susanne. But 6 attempts, whatever. He pointed to a line on a piece of paper that represented the arc of success with IUI. And I think I gasped as he wrote a flatline over it.
“This doesn’t really keep going up, see,” he said, carving BLACKLINEBLACKLINEBLACKLINE across the page. “You’re at that point now.”
Dude, I already don’t have a penis or sperm, okay? Don’t paper castrate me too!
He stood up and announced that he would procure a few more depressing graphs for us to review, and left the room. I turned to Susanne.
“Gosh, I feel terrible,” I said. She held my hand a little tighter. The doctor returned and we discussed IVF, then met with a financial counselor to talk about how to pay for IVF, because it is no joke.
In the car ride home, Susanne noted that heck, maybe we’re pregnant and we won’t have to worry about it. I nodded. Maybe. That would be terrific. It occurred to me that I was driving along a wide BLACKLINE. I needed some coffee to get the acid out of my stomach.
We waited patiently for day 15 after our latest IUI to try taking a pregnancy test. There it was, a faded blue line next to the bright blue line. Not a very strong positive. We’ll try again the next day. Still faded, but thicker than the one from the day before. We called the doctor’s office and made an appointment for a proper test. They called back a few hours later.
“You’re certainly pregnant,” the nurse told Susanne, who squeaked in response. Take that, flat curve! We’re gonna be parents!