The Annoying, but
Ultimately Happy, Truth
One Guy's Perspective on the Infertility and Adoption
in a Series [Ed Note: Parts Two and more never happened!]
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).
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
have to tell me that I had a bad attitude – trust me, there were plenty of
people around to incessantly remind me of that!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
issue: "Boxer Shorts," "Adventures in Insemination," "The Benefits of
Therapy," and "Hitting the Brick Wall - Giving up on Fertility."