At 31 years old, my wife should already have a couple of rugrats running around. She should be tripping over little shoes as she walks in the door, finding discarded pieces of food in the backseat of her car, and cleaning sharpie marker off of our lampshades. Unfortunately, she’s not doing any of these things, and the reason why comes down to one little word:
If you wanted to get specific, I guess you could blame my genetics, but either way you look at it I’m the reason that we don’t have kids. Like Mayhem—the character from the All-State Insurance commercials destroys everything he touches—I’m the cause of all those massive IVF bills, the needle-inflicted bruises, and the river of tears that have been shed since this insane process was started.
Like many with Ostrich Syndrome (head buried firmly in the sand), I initially figured that the reason we couldn’t have kids was that our timing was off, or that we were under stress at work, or that the stars weren’t aligned or whatever. On the rare occasions when I did think that something was wrong from a fertility perspective, I was certain that it was on my wife’s side—after all, in terms of complexity, the difference between my system and hers is like the difference between a Ford F-150 (simple, reliable, easy to start in cold weather) and Sebastian Vettel’s Formula 1 Ferrari racecar (complicated, temperamental, and requiring monthly rebuilds). Besides—caution, TMI ahead—everything of mine down there functions just fine, and I would know if something were amiss. Right? Yes, of course. Back to the sand.
Fast forward a few years of unsuccessfully trying to have kids and my wife finally dragged my stubborn ass to the fertility doctor who, in a brilliant display of timing, called me on my 30th birthday with four words that I never thought I would hear directed at me:
“You have no sperm”.
Allow me to pause for a moment, dear reader, and explain the implications of this diagnosis on my manhood. I felt useless. Unmanly. Ineffective. Pathetic. Worthless. Nearly every male out there is programmed with an innate and primal desire to repopulate the world with his seed. Now, I’m not talking about sex, I’m talking about reproduction. Think of it as the ancient Spartans thought of it, the desire to have a couple of big, strong sons to grow up and ensure the survival of your lineage. Chauvinistic? Perhaps, but nonetheless difficult for me to reconcile. In a world where my fellow men were walking around with fully loaded M249 machine guns, I felt as though I’d just learned that I was carrying a super soaker. And that sucked.
(Side note: When my father found out that I was born with a permanent, irreversible vasectomy, the first thing he did was to call my one and only brother and urge him to have a son to “continue our line”. High fives, Dad.)
Naturally, the one person who snapped me out of this ridiculous way of thinking was the most supportive, coolest, and most loving human I know: My wife. She reassured me that I was one of the manliest men she’d ever met, and that my ability to reproduce was in no way a reflection of my character. She told me that I had a stronger sense of purpose in life than mere reproduction, and that she had never seen me back down from a challenge and knew that I wouldn’t back down from this one. In fact, she went on to affirm, so rare was my genetic affliction (1 in 30,000,000, or something like that) that it was actually kind of cool. My attitude changed. Suddenly, I didn’t feel worthless. I simply saw this as the card we’d been dealt, and I vowed to be strong as we tackled this issue as the awesome team that we are.
Believe me, being strong was not always easy. I cannot explain the absolutely overwhelming feelings of guilt that come from watching the person you love most on this planet stab themselves repeatedly in the belly with needles because of a deficiency on your part. That was a tough one. Having spent more than my fair share of time in a hospital bed (I work in a high-risk profession), I can say that it is tougher for me to be the person on the sidelines watching the one you love go through pain than it is to be the one who is hurt. No lie, I would have changed places with my wife during every one of her uncomfortable, painful, horrible procedures if I could have. As luck would have it, I got my chance in the hot seat when I went in for what can only be described as the most horrific surgical procedure I’ve ever endured (and I’ve had a bunch). The experience sucked, but once again I drew a lot of strength from my beautiful wife, who maintained a strong belief that all of the pain would be worth it in the end.
If you’ve read any other post on this blog, you now know that things didn’t turn out as we’d hoped. Not even close. We’re both still grieving the negative beta result that we received just a couple short days ago. Words cannot describe the gut-wrenching sound of a mother crying for her lost child. I’ve been through a lot in my life, but seeing my wife pull down photos of our embryo, seal them in an envelope, and lovingly place them in a filing cabinet with tender, motherly care caused me to come completely unstrung. Those of you who have been in this situation before understand. To those who haven’t, I truly hope that you never have to experience the feelings of loss and devastation that come with a failed IVF cycle. Even though I wasn’t the one who underwent the transfer, this feels every bit as real to me as I would imagine it does to my wife.
Fortunately, in times like these you find out not only what you are made of, but what your partner is made of. My wife and I have taken turns holding each other—both physically and emotionally—and even though things aren’t OK right now, we both seem to have the underlying sense that they are going to be OK. Although, to be fair, we have no idea at this point how they will get there.
Male or female, husband or wife, if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation where you are comforting your partner in the wake of devastating news, just hold them. Really. You don’t have to talk, you don’t have to fix, and you don’t have to promise them that things will get better, even though they may. Just hold them close and kiss them often.