This is Partner’s take on our Clinic One experience.
PARTNER’S POST CLINIC #1
The receptionist had been absent for at least fifteen minutes, and her eventual return was short-lived. When she finally revisited the lobby area and, glancing up over her desk, saw that not only were we still present, but we had also relocated ourselves to seats situated directly in her line of vision, she leaped up from her chair and shaking her head, exclaimed, “Oh, fuck!” Then she bolted from the room again.
If Clinic #3 is “Spa” (with its neutral tones and decoratively-placed sticks) and Clinic #2 is “Orchestra Pit” (with its dim lighting and action movie soundtrack), then Clinic #1 is the Costco of fertility clinics. Notably lacking at the third of our three intake appointments were nature motif artwork, rose-hued floral representations of womanhood, and calm, kind staff conversing about the miracle of fertility in soft, soothing tones. At Clinic #1, the lobby’s carpet is adorned with sharp horizontal lines as if to mimic the bustling rush of staff and clients racing across it to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” broadcast over the public address system.
When we arrived at 10:15 AM, there were no fewer than five receptionists, all up on their feet beneath harsh fluorescent lighting, interacting with clients at a desk that spanned the length of the room and was divided by partitions something like a bank or a driving range or international customs officers’ stations. Several opposite-gender couples and at least a dozen single women moved between various sitting areas, the consultation offices, the examination rooms, and the blood drawing section. Meanwhile, a blonde pigtailed toddler in a rainbow-striped dress hopped in small circles in the centre of the room and a four-year-old boy with a phlegm-y cough raced from one end of the lobby to the other, eventually disappearing behind the reception desk as his exasperated mother (no doubt attempting to become pregnant with hellion number two) eventually gave up reprimanding him and turned her back to his mischief instead. Now that’s good parenting for you.
We had chosen Clinic #3 (aka “Spa”) because our family doctor recommended the clinic. We had chosen Clinic #2 (aka “Orchestra Pit”) because the clinic offers an at-home insemination option. And we chose Clinic #1 (aka “Costco”) because it’s the clinic where the queers conduct their baby-making. You know how your mother always lectured “If all of the other queers jumped off a bridge, would you jump too”? Well, apparently the answer is yes. At the sperm sign hung in the hallway, we hung a left and then, with a deep breath for courage, jumped.
A frazzled receptionist offered a friendly greeting, redirecting us to an empty check-in desk at which she hurriedly explained that she was actually filling in for another receptionist who was out ill, for our doctor who was actually filling in for another doctor who was out on parental leave. (So, if you’re still following, we were dealing with the substitute receptionist of the substitute doctor.) The receptionist collected our insurance cards, typed, printed, and then handed us a now-familiar form-adorned clipboard. With a wave of her hand, she directed us to complete the paperwork in the sitting area outside of the blood drawing rooms in a partially-private nook between a wall and a pillar around the corner.
We sat. PartnerA commented immediately that this was the only of the three fertility clinics where she had felt comfortable wearing her Converse sneakers. I agreed that this clinic was far more urban and casual than the others. Whereas in the other clinics patients were slender white women, blonde or mousey-brown haired, wearing sparkling jewelry and heels, carrying leather purses, and flipping through fashion magazines resting atop their neatly-crossed nyloned-legs; at Clinic #1, patients were wearing graphic-featuring t-shirts and carrying messenger bags adorned with political buttons. PartnerA’s haircut didn’t arouse discomfort nor did anyone assume that I was the intended patient based on appearance alone. Relief!
The paperwork, too, was love at first read! Granted, the frazzled receptionist had managed to spell both of our names incorrectly, but the questionnaire was only two pages long and the second page was a simple confidentiality waiver, so I was willing to offer some leniency here. Where the other fertility clinics had demanded the life stories of both the presumed “female patient” and the presumed “male partner”, Clinic #1 only requested basic information about the “New Patient” and the “Partner”. In both sections — patient and partner — options included “Male” and “Female”. Yes!
PartnerA submitted the completed paperwork to the frazzled receptionist (who may have, for all we know, promptly misplaced it) as I glanced at the bulletin boards adorning the perimeter wall. So many twins wrapped in shades of pink and blue! (And one set of triplets that caused a moment of involuntary teeth-grinding.) As I awaited PartnerA’s return from the reception desk, I read the handwritten words of parental gratitude accompanying the photographs of hundreds of babies.
“Is this child’s name Xylophone?” I squinted at the loopy script. “Xylophone?!”
“What do you think of the name Caleb?” PartnerA asked as she returned.
“No!” I exclaimed. Then added smugly, “I win.” I win all of the battles these days because she, of course, won the war. It’s no secret that pregnancy — hers too — is not high on my list of life wishes for a multitude of reasons. Actually, it’s high on my list of life dreads. But in eventually conceding (with significant trepidation and, at times, wracking terror), short of the bubblegum pink Barbie car for which I so yearned but was never gifted when I was a child, I now enjoy the fulfillment of my every desire. I blinked first (as PartnerA put it), so she gets her biological baby. She won the war. I win the battles.
I’m not really a jackass, even though I act like one sometimes, and a-lot-of-times as of late. Unfortunately, this baby thing has brought out the worst in both of us, prolonged over a span of years living in a childless three-bedroom house, no less. I truly hope that eventually, this baby thing might bring out the best in both of us too. But truth be told, right now, I’m just going through the motions. I’m feigning confidence publicly and then privately in the quiet confines of my therapist’s office, I’m falling apart to the tune of hundreds of dollars a month diverted from The Baby Fund. I’m struggling with processing the possibility that somehow I might manage to avoid becoming my father. I’m struggling with deeply-entrenched self-loathing, confusion, disgust, feelings of utter inadequacy as a partner, jealousy, purpose, and my absolutely assured failure as a potential parent.
When I was a child, my father was perpetually overwhelmed. He was only responsible for me for two weekends each month, but I have vivid memories of the collar of my shirt clutched in his fist as his clammy knuckles trembled beneath my chin, the sweat beading on his upper lip as he roared with rage. Photos of bruises elicited little response from child protection services, who insisted that bruises are not enough. What, then, is enough? Twenty years later, the damaged woman who I have become? Is she enough? Alas, one cannot save a child in retrospect.
Now, I am a deliberate teetotaler; I am surrounded by a multitude of support; I am meticulously self-aware; and twenty years later, I am too terrified to parent for fear that my father is somehow somewhere inside of me, awaiting the temptation to surface. I am nothing like my father, I establish week after week with my ever-patient therapist, but the fear that my father instilled in me exists far deeper than my fear of him; I fear myself, too. Perhaps groundlessly, but nevertheless…
The point being, I’m not really a jackass, even though I act like one sometimes…
So, awaiting the commencement of our 10:30 AM appointment at the fertility clinic as the clock ticked past 10:40, then 10:50, then 11:00, I vetoed Caleb and declared, “I win.”
Then we waited for a while. And we waited for a while more. And then, for variety, we waited even longer. And PartnerA inspected every single photograph of every single baby posted on that darn bulletin board as 10:30 AM became a distant memory.
“So, tell me a bit about yourself?” I joked in PartnerA’s direction.
“Well,” PartnerA paused thoughtfully, “my name is PartnerA and I enjoy long waits in fertility clinics.”
By 11:15 AM, having read every brochure on offer, PartnerA approached the frazzled receptionist to question the hour-long delay. Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, okay. But an hour? The receptionist explained that mornings at the clinic can be hectic and the doctor is very busy. Fine, busy, but, our appointment was scheduled for 10:30 AM, it was now 11:15 AM, and I had to return to work by no later than 12:15 PM. If we weren’t seen by the doctor soon, we were going to be forced to cancel and reschedule. The frazzled receptionist promised to pass the message along to DrAbsent.
PartnerA, meanwhile, pointed out a young woman seated across from us and whispered that undoubtedly, the woman had been conceived in this clinic, born in this clinic, and grown up in this clinic — all while her mother waited to be seen by a doctor for her intake appointment! I laughed.
The stack of newspapers — heavy reading material for a doctor’s lobby, were nearly yellowing before our eyes as we waited, and waited, and waited. Perhaps the clinic should have offered patients editions of War and Peace, Pride and Prejudice, Moby Dick, and The Complete Works of Shakespeare, too. Could’ve made a good dent in some classic literature as the clock ticked past 11:20, then 11:30. Then 11:40 AM. 10:30 AM appointment? Ha!
Suddenly, the receptionist reappeared, although as it turned out, her eventual return was short-lived. When the receptionist finally revisited the lobby area and, glancing up over her desk, saw that not only were PartnerA and I still present, but we had also relocated ourselves to seats situated directly in her line of vision, she leaped up from her chair and shaking her head, exclaimed, “Oh, fuck!” Then she bolted from the room again.
PartnerA and I looked at each other in disbelief.
“What did she just say?” I asked.
“I believe that she said ‘Oh, fuck’,” PartnerA repeated.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought she said!” I laughed, because what else was there to do but laugh?
Shortly thereafter, several other receptionists and nurses passed through the lobby asking one another, and I quote: “Where’s DrAbsent? No one has seen him! Does he have procedures today? I think that he might be-”
Seconds before noon, a middle-aged man with dark curly hair wearing a white coat stepped into the room, head down, eyes fixed on his iPhone, thumbs tapping away at the touchscreen.
“If that’s our doctor, the deal’s off!” PartnerA whispered.
The frazzled receptionist handed DrText (formerly DrAbsent) our file and holding it, he tucked his iPhone in his pocket and then approached the sitting area. He called out our names, offering a close approximation of PartnerA’s first name and addressing me by her middle name.
PartnerA clarified her name. I also corrected the doctor having called me by PartnerA’s middle name instead of my own, then to be polite, stood and shook DrText’s hand.
With that, DrText sped away, apparently expecting us to follow. The previous two hours of waiting, give or take, had moved more slowly molasses on a cold day. Now, instantaneously, the universe flung itself into hyper-speed. PartnerA and I chased DrText down a hallway and into a consultation room.
DrText raced through the requisite questions about PartnerA’s life, health, and family history. He joked that ‘trying’ at home didn’t seem to be yielding much success. I appreciated the lighthearted humour. At Clinic #3 (“Spa”), the doctor seemed tolerant but uncomfortable with the gay thing and the paperwork was positively heterosexist. At Clinic #2 (“Orchestra Pit”), the doctor seemed accepting and equity-versed enough to state that he recognizes that fertility treatment isn’t necessarily a medical intervention, but rather, “an alternate method of reproduction for lesbian women” — as though reading verbatim from a diversity training session handout. At Clinic #1 (“Costco”), the gay thing was an absolute non-issue. All of the forms referred to genderless “Patients” and “Partners” and right off the bat, DrText asked whether we planned for one of us to become pregnant, for both of us to become pregnant, or whether we wished to pursue IVF “to combine both of you” in a one-partner’s-egg, one-partner’s-uterus scenario.
When we confirmed that we hoped to use PartnerA’s eggs and PartnerA’s uterus and donor sperm, DrText looked at me and commented, “Oh, so you’re just here for support then.”
My stomach sank.
Every time these damn forms emphasize my lack of maleness. Every time my therapist equates me to a not-quite-“father”. Every time PartnerA’s mother insists that PartnerA must expressly forbid me from having any genetic relation whatsoever to PartnerA’s someday-baby. I want to cry. No, sob. Who am I, really? No one. Nothing. Who am I kidding, claiming that PartnerA’s child will be equally mine? That’s a lie. She’ll always have biology on her side. I can already hear this hypothetical child shrieking in anger, “YOU’RE NOT MY REAL MOM!” I fear PartnerA, too, in some distant-future moment of rage using phrases like ‘real mother’ and ‘my child’. I am useless. I am purposeless. This book. ‘Nuf said.
On the up side, DrText was so nonplussed by all of this talk about gay conception, he may as well have been casually mentioning the unseasonably warm weather. There’s tolerance, there’s acceptance, and then there’s this. What is this? Support? He joked that conceiving in a fertility clinic exam room regretfully isn’t terribly romantic, but what can you do? Clearly, DrText’s practice is built upon baby-making queers. Waging by the perpetually-hectic lobby, I’d bet that there’s some serious money to be had in this business! Our appointment commencing 90 minutes late aside, DrText has got a good thing going here.
On the down side, during our 90-minutes-late 20-minutes-total consultation, we were interrupted three times. Twice, clinic staff knocked on the door and summoned DrText into the hallway for several minutes, and once, he took a telephone call from his wife.
“I’ll bet she calls you constantly while you’re at work too!” DrText nodded knowingly in my direction, as though we were two guys commiserating about our clingy wives. I chuckled nervously and shrugged.
From there, DrText outlined our plan of action. The usual tests — bloodwork for us both, external and internal ultrasounds for PartnerA, and more talk of saline-injected fallopian tubes with our now-third warning about how excruciatingly painful, yet totally necessary, this procedure is. If those tests came back normal, and DrText presumed that they would given PartnerA’s age and health, had we been straight, he would have recommended that we go home and have a lot of sex.
Again with the stomach sinking. I am useless. I am purposeless.
DrText commented that our 25-year-old straight neighbours having sex twice a day every day for a month have a 25-percent chance of conceiving and that our odds with IUI are comparable. I wondered who these neighbours were who were having sex twice a day every day and wished that my own sex life was even 25-percent as frequent. But alas, that too has dwindled as the baby thing intensifies, for a multitude of reasons. Ironically, in my world, babies not only have nothing to do with sex, babies preclude sex. So it goes.
I appreciated DrText’s no-nonsense fact-talk, offering timelines and probabilities and costs. He scribbled diagrams upside down and after the appointment, offered us photocopies of his illegible drawings. Endearing, in much the same way that this meticulous, detail-oriented, concrete-thinking, spreadsheet-making heart somehow finds PartnerA’s Converse sneakers scattered across the living room floor endearing.
In the elevator, PartnerA smiled. “I kind of like him,” she said.
“Because he’s scattered!” I exclaimed. “DrText reminds me of you.”
PartnerA agreed that 90-minutes-late-and-smartphone-dependent is, indeed, an accurate description of both DrText and herself. We both found the resemblance amusing.
So that’s that. In the span of two weeks, we’ve completed three intake appointments at three fertility clinics. Now, to choose:
1. Clinic #3
2. Clinic #2
aka “Orchestra Pit”
3. Clinic #1
Truth be told, the choice has actually already been made. Ultimately, this decision is PartnerA’s decision alone. I’m not the one who has to go to this place every day for months on end to subject myself to a battery of invasive, painful, and messy medical procedures. If I have my way, I’ll never set foot in another fertility clinic ever again.
Care to guess which clinic she chose?