The Annoying Truth
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The Annoying, but Ultimately Happy, Truth 
One Guy's Perspective on the Infertility and Adoption Experience

Part One in a Series [Ed Note: Parts Two and more never happened!]

by Glen Eichenblatt

Preface 
It is important to note that what you are about to read is an obscenely one-sided account of the infertility and adoption experience. Precious little appears here about the considerable hardships and suffering my wife endured, and for which I am forever saddened and sorry.

But, hey, she can write her own article!

I wanted to write this because I feel that what men go through in the face of that force of nature referred to as the "ticking biological clock," either goes unsaid or at least is under-appreciated. And, even though it is now painfully obvious to me that the ticker has a far worse time of it than the ticked, nevertheless, men have their unique perspective on the experience that should be heard – or at least, one I wanted to tell.

Since I have, apparently, scant little shame and what some might call a mild streak of masochism, I decided to lay out my whole experience in all it's embarrassing detail, in the hope that some other poor slob can avoid my mistakes and be a better partner for his wife (who, believe me, will be going through a hell far worse than his).

Blissful Ignorance 
Long before I could even have imagined the bizarre things I'd end up doing in the name of having a child, there was a short time when life was simple. The first pressure that threatened my blissful ignorance came while I was living in "sin" with my eventual wife, Gayle. We had been together a couple of years, and I knew Gayle was running low on patience, that I had better propose or get off the pot. But, like a lot of guys, I had a very hard time even saying the "M" or "C" words. I'd always lived my life by the seat of my pants, and for some strange reason, thought I liked it that way. So, the very idea of "Commitment" conjured up all the classic doubts and images of freedom lost. I half expected I'd wake up with a fat iron ball chained to my ankle.

Fortunately for me, I got wise. In its own sweet, painful time it became apparent to me that life would be significantly better being married to Gayle than if I were to be left to my own pitiful bachelor devices. This was the first of many things Gayle got me to do in spite of my curmudgeonly self. But still, I managed to imagine that I could have all the benefits of a marriage without any of the adult responsibilities, and certainly without kids. It would just be slightly more "official" than being 17 and having a girlfriend.

And so, I goofily asked her father for her hand in marriage (why I thought that was romantic I'll never know). We were engaged for a year and a half, and barely managed to make it through the wedding planning phase of our lives together. My brother the rabbi married us, we had a wild, fun wedding, we went to Greece for our honeymoon, we came home to settle into our life with each other, we were in love, had a lot of fun, and time passed.

Eventually, the inevitable subject of having kids started rearing what I considered to be it's ugly head. I managed to avoid the issue for a good long while with a variety of creative excuses and conditions and avoidances. The time wasn't right because of this or that, we should decide where we're going to live, we should have better jobs – any and every excuse I could think of. I bet I thought myself pretty damned slick!

Finally, push came to shove, and I was forced to (extremely reluctantly) submit to the inevitable. I somewhat less than graciously agreed to have unlimited, unprotected sex with my wife, in spite of the fact that I had absolutely no interest in having my life completely disrupted by having a child. The sex thing turned out not be so bad, by the way -- for a while. The good news (for me) was that many unlimited and unprotected months went by without having to face any unwanted realities.

I have described myself to others as the embodiment of Newtonian principle: I am a body who, when at rest, remains at rest. I'm not a great person for change. But, once in motion, I do tend to stay in motion, so when change happens, it happens big-time. For example, I was a blissful long-haired yippie, living in Northern California when, on one fateful day, my dad called and invited me to go to New York with my family for a cousin's wedding. I cut my hair, went to New York and never went back. The cousin whose wedding had brought me to New York in the first place just happened to be my future wife's college roommate, and that's how we eventually met.

I found out that, having been born in Brooklyn, I was, in my heart, a true New Yorker. I absolutely loved New York City, and had no interest in or intention of ever leaving. Gayle hated New York, and couldn't wait to leave. That's how we ended up in couples counseling the first time. I went, kicking and screaming. I had been brought up to believe that getting help of that type was a sign of weakness, and that counselors of that type were one notch above voodoo witch-doctors. Boy was I wrong. It was singularly the most helpful experience I had had in beginning the long, painful process of becoming an adult (I was 35!). Before long, we were in a Ryder truck filled with all our possessions, en route to a rent-controlled apartment we had found via a friend in Santa Monica.

The months had gone on (blissfully unprotected), but ultimately, it became apparent that something wasn't quite right. It wasn't long before I felt my life spiraling out of control. Before I knew what was happening, I was up to my eyeballs in medical bills and was being schlepped to every expert in whichever metropolitan area we happened to be living in.

If I hadn't been particularly excited about having a child before, getting sucked into the infertility quagmire added resentment fuel to an already hotly burning fire. I began to see my wife as an invincible force of nature, something akin to a hurricane or tornado, something that could not and would not be stopped until all possible damage was done. I was extremely skeptical, even paranoid about the entire infertility regimen – I convinced myself it was a vast economic and emotional conspiracy. I felt that infertility specialists preyed upon the emotional captivity of their clientele – what better client than one who will NOT give up no matter how much (non-insurance-covered) money they spend on technology that has what, a 5 or 10 percent chance of success? "You know, there're five or six other treatment regimens we haven't tried yet..."

You don't have to tell me that I had a bad attitude – trust me, there were plenty of people around to incessantly remind me of that!

Things were deteriorating rapidly. I was very unhappy with the process, and what it was doing to Gayle, to me and to us. To my mind, the only redeeming aspect of the whole situation (the sex part, of course!) was also becoming a problem. "Unlimited" eventually became the 3 or 4 days around ovulation. I started to feel like a sperm donor instead of a lover. And I didn't want kids any more than I ever had.

Resolve
Partly because she's a health care provider, but mostly because she's who she is, Gayle began reading and researching everything she could get her hands on about infertility. Somewhere along the line, she found out about this wonderful organization called Resolve, and promptly joined and began utilizing the considerable resources they offered for support and information. I, of course, had less than zero interest in Resolve or anything it had to offer. I was just relieved that having a kid was getting to be a more and more remote possibility.

In fact, I imagined that reading the Resolve newsletters were a dangerous thing for her, causing her to focus even more on something I thought best left to nature. More than once, I ripped newsletters out of her hands when they arrived, the better to quell at least that part of her obsession. To her credit, she grabbed them back and read them voraciously anyway.

Gayle realized she needed help of the psychological kind to help her get through this difficult period of her life, and so, joined one of Resolve's psychologist-led support groups. At first, truth be told, she was so emotionally fragile that being with others who were suffering the same suffering was more than she could bear. It took her a while to assimilate the "culture" of the group meetings, but she eventually did. She ended up in a group led by the incomparable Carole Lieberwilkins (arguably the very soul of the Los Angeles chapter of Resolve), and soon came to her for private counseling as well.

Of Miscarriages and Leukocytes 
Meanwhile, I wasn't exactly having a picnic. I was miserable and broke, having to contend with an insane person on an emotional roller-coaster ride, bent on abusing her poor body with countless emotions, chemicals and regimens. First there was Lupron. Then there were the Perganol, the Heparin, and the HCG injections. The ovulation kits. The inseminations.

She had a series of miscarriages. It really came to a head for me when we were told that we were "too close" genetically – Gayle couldn't produce antibodies for my sperm. I had recently found out that I had fertility problems of my own (see "The Joys of Male Infertility," below), so, feeling vaguely emasculated, I joked with her that we must be sisters. She began a new immune system treatment she was told she needed that involved a pint of my blood, and a series of extremely painful injections of my extracted leukocytes into her upper thighs. We're talking about 6 or 7 shots just under the skin in each thigh. She had bruises for months after each treatment. That was it for me – things had gone way too far.

Somewhere in there was the Gayle I married, but it was getting harder and harder to see her through her single-minded focus and the pile of bills and drugs and thermometers and charts... She kept all this stuff at our bedside, and I started to feel like I was sleeping in a hospital ward.

Eventually, Gayle and Carole decided that it would be useful for me to join her for "couples" counseling at Carole's office. I went, and it turned out to be the catalyst for a series of curmudgeonly acquiescences, heartfelt agreements and downright epiphanies. Part Two of this epic will deal with that subject.

The Joys of Male Infertility 
One of Gayle's doctors suggested that, to cover all bases, I get myself checked out. I went to see a renowned L.A. area Reproductive Endocrinologist. That was fun.

Don't get me wrong – she is a wonderful doctor, and was gentle and kind in ways that I wonder if male doctors could ever be. But no matter how you slice it, seeing the testicle doctor just ain't the most pleasant thing a man might do with his time.

She had this cool collection of different sized little eggs on a chain. I thought they were eggs, until I watched her comparing them to the size of my testicles – egg in one hand, testicle in the other, gloved. When she found the correct size-corresponding egg, she made a note in her file.

She variously poked and gently prodded me for a while, asked a whole bunch of questions, and soon, I found myself in a sterile bathroom with a little cup, a Playboy Magazine, and an uncooperative genital in my hands. Playboy? I thought. Wow.

Eventually, I handed the cup over to the doctor's assistant, who asked me if this were the "entire" sample. What the heck kind of question was that? I had to think about it for a moment. I looked at the cup and what I suddenly perceived to be the minuscule amount of fluid within it, and wondered. I was overcome by the urge to proclaim that it was, except for the quart that hit the wall. Perhaps that might explain how long it took to produce the sample, I thought – heck, I was cleaning up the mess! But alas, I simply stuttered "uh... y-yes?"

Soon, the doctor came back to ask me if I wanted to take a look at my sperm. For some reason I did, though I would come to regret it. She led me to the lab and pointed me to the stereo microscope that had a blob of my semen on it and I looked in. I had seen the usual images of healthy sperm (a scene from Woody Allen's "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask" leaps to mind), so I had some frame of reference, and what I was looking at wasn't a whole lot like that. What I saw were a few of the little guys swimming around looking acceptably energetic, but most looked like they either had a very bad hangover or were the product of a biological experiment gone awry, downstream from a nuclear test site. They were downright weird looking. And there sure didn't seem to be a whole lot of them in any case. My head was swimming with questions. Could my various exercises in "youthful indiscretion" with substances be to blame for this? Could the water I drank for a few years up in Humboldt, coming directly from a stream downwind of dioxin-sprayed logging company land be to blame? Was I a mutant? An alien?

I asked the good Doctor, "what's the deal with my sperm?" She gave me all the sad numbers, asked a bunch of other questions, told me I had something called a "Varicocele," and said I should come back for more tests. As Gayle had become pregnant several times, even though she miscarried, I was also informed that even "deformed" sperm were indeed capable of penetrating an egg (something some poor hamster eventually proved for me – hey, I can be accused of many things, but trust me, I never aspired to impregnate a hamster egg!), and that she recommended we continue with the regimen of inseminations we were on, provided my sperm were "washed" (what, they were dirty on top of everything else?!). I was informed that "washing" the sperm ensured that the healthiest were delivered in the highest possible quantity – something like reverse sperm population control.

After the shock of this reality sunk in a little, I was actually grateful for the news. Up to that point, Gayle had imagined that our problems were her "fault." ("Fault," in this context, continues to be an absurd concept to me – how can something far outside one's control be their fault?) I was happy, at least, to alleviate some of the weight she had to bear for our fertility problems. But those sad little alien Quasimodo sperm really freaked me out, even though they represented further reprieve from the possibility of becoming a parent.

Next issue: "Boxer Shorts," "Adventures in Insemination," "The Benefits of Therapy," and "Hitting the Brick Wall - Giving up on Fertility."

 

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Last Revised: Thursday, June 26, 2008
ęCopyright, Glen Eichenblatt, 2006

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