Here are a few things we’d like you to know:
1. Yes, the sex is weird. You’ve probably seen it in movies and TV shows: the couple so desperate for kids they schedule their sex. The wife takes her temperature, pees on a fertility monitor, charts her cervical mucus. The husband rushes home from work, ready for action, because it’s got to be now! Now! Now! Afterward, there’s no time for cuddling, because she has to roll over and hug her legs to her chest; he sighs with relief that he can still perform on cue.
It’s a cliché, but it’s based in reality. Women put “Date Night!!!” into a shared Google Calendar. Men find the following (insanely counterproductive) mantra running through their head: You need to come! The future depends on this! The lady’s orgasm is no longer on the list of priorities. And gentlemen with free time can forget about masturbating… doctor’s orders! You have to save up that sperm!
2. Yes, we’ve tried acupuncture. We’ve also tried exercise. And a vegetarian diet. And a non-alcohol diet. And a non-caffeine diet. And herbal supplements. We try to get a good night’s rest. We don’t put laptops near our genitals. We avoid water-based lubricants (and it’s weird that you brought that up in casual conversation). We’ve tried a different doctor. Many different doctors. At a different clinic. Yes, that clinic. The one you read the article about. We read the same article.
3. Yes, we considered adoption. We used to wonder why infertile couples didn’t “just adopt.” How could they waste all that time and money fighting nature when there were so many children in the world who needed loving homes? But after researching the options, we discovered that adoption can be just as emotionally and financially draining as infertility treatments — sometimes more so. In the end, while our admiration for adoptive families skyrocketed, we felt we weren’t ready to take on the challenges that adoption can bring. Now we try to respect how other people choose to create their families and hope that our choices will be respected in return.
4. Masturbating at the doctor’s office isn’t fun, but it’s the only way you might be able to have a kid. At some point, the man has to give the doctor a sperm donation, whether it’s just once (for testing) or repeatedly (as part of IUI or IVF treatments). What’s it like? Imagine the ambience of a department-store changing room. A nurse presents you with “the materials” (i.e., pornography) and basically says, “Clean yourself and have at it!” John watched his porn on a broken DVD player that couldn’t fast-forward.
The whole time you’re able to hear staff members in the hallway discussing their lunch plans, and you’re convinced that someone is going to accidentally walk in on you at your most vulnerable. When you, somehow, miraculously, manage to ejaculate, you have to make sure it goes in the cup without being contaminated — your “sample” cannot have touched your hands, because those hands probably touched a counter or the remote or the outside of the cup. That sperm had better be in tip-top shape so you can have kids. Yes, the substance you usually leave in a tissue (or paper towel, or T-shirt, or tube sock, if that’s your thing) is now part of an important medical process that will affect the rest of your life. No pressure.
5. Sperm can travel … far. The alternative to masturbating into a cup at the doctor’s office is masturbating into a cup at home and bringing it to the doctor’s office. You’ve only got about an hour’s window where it’s still good, so the woman may find herself waiting at home outside the bathroom door like a sprinter waiting for a baton. Once you make the handoff, you rush to your car or taxi or train station, keeping the sample warm and potent by tucking it under your shirt or between your legs.
6. Don’t assume it’s the woman’s fault. Yes, in general women have fewer viable reproductive years than men do — it’s the reason women are plagued by terms likebut men can father children at 92. Doctors liked to tell us about women’s “old eggs” and show us charts where female fertility plunged at age 32 like an Olympic diver coated in Crisco.
But in 40 percent of infertile couples, the man is either the problem or part of the problem. And in many, many instances (one doctor told Silvija it was about a third of his cases), experts can’t find a specific cause at all — which is what happened to both John and his wife and Silvija and her husband. Reproductive medicine is a relatively new science, after all, but we were still astounded by how little doctors could tell us, test after test and procedure after procedure.
7. We know it’s no one’s fault. But we blame ourselves anyway. Sure, the tests showed that we were healthy and nothing was medically abnormal. But, we kept thinking, something had to be wrong … and that something was probably “me,” not “us.” Strangely, the unconditional love and support we were ready to show our partner didn’t extend to ourselves. Men think, I have weird sperm, or, Maybe the doctor can’t tell I’m shooting blanks. Women curse themselves for “waiting so long” and wonder when, exactly, their ovaries broke.
8. No, we don’t want to watch the first 10 minutes of Up. It’s hard enough trying to get through it on a good day, but you want to show that tear-inducing sequence to a couple who may never be able to have children? Seriously? Maybe we’ll consider Raising Arizona, but only if it’s been a good week.
9. Please don’t tell us to “relax” or that “it will happen when we stop trying.” It seems like everyone we’ve met has a sister-in-law or cousin or hairstylist who had a baby after they “stopped trying.” Full disclosure: Silvija and her husband did eventually get pregnant after they had stopped fertility treatments. But John and his wife found success through medical help. Either way, hearing that you should “relax” and “stop trying” when you’re in the middle of the process feels frustrating and condescending. Sperm motility doesn’t increase if you light a scented candle and think happy thoughts.
10. Even thought we’re acting like we’re fine, we’re not. When friends kindly inquired how her near-daily doctor appointments were going, Silvija casually joked about her dead uterus and “getting probed.” John felt obligated to attend a work function the day after his wife had a miscarriage, not anticipating the pain caused by unknowing coworkers politely asking, “How’s your wife doing?” For us, cracking jokes and trying to go about our lives were coping mechanisms. Just because we weren’t sobbing with pain didn’t mean we weren’t dying inside.
11. Yes, we’re seeing a therapist. After reading this list, you’re probably wondering if someone going though infertility would seek professional help. The answer is a big fat yes! Or at least it was for John and his wife. The decision came after yet another miscarriage. John’s wife was crying on the floor, and John went to console her but knew there was no way he could totally soothe her pain and grieving. Through a suggestion from her doctor, she eventually decided to seek out a therapist who specialized in fertility and fertility loss. John believes her therapy was beneficial to them as a couple and helped them get through their grief. So yeah, infertile couples are often working hard to remain functioning members of society. If they have an off day, please cut them a break!