If you’ve been reading along, you know I’m not on this strange trip into the world of fertility alone. I have a partner, named Partner for the purposes of this blog. If you’ve been reading along with some attention, you also know that Partner is not nearly as keen as I am to make babies. Knowing how important this is to me, Partner has relented and has bravely stepped into the world of sperm donors and clinic visits with me.
Partner reads this blog (as do two other people who know us in real life). A much better writer than I am, Partner has also been recording her experiences in all of this. She’s allowing me to share what she has written here.
This is her experience of Clinic Three.
PARTNER’S POST CLINIC #3
On Thursday, August 30, 2012, approaching a nondescript gray building blocks from PartnerA’s office, I counted my calm in milligrams, pushed the revolving door around with my forearms, and channeled a new character — Prospective Non-Bio Parent. My existence now is a negative. An anti-hero, perhaps, PNBP printed across my chest, cape draped and limply hanging, weighted down with its own inadequacy. As a child, my idol was never-grow-up Peter Pan, but I suppose that in my late twenties, it was rapidly becoming immature and unrealistic to continue insisting upon the illusion of carefree Never Never Land. Today, wearing Superman underwear for courage, I stepped into a mirrored elevator and stared myself in the eye as though meeting the gaze of a stranger. “Superheros fly,” I reminded my reflection, then I took a deep breath and jumped.
I jumped because I’m not so selfish as to insist that we both continue on in misery. One of us, at least, should be happy, I thought as the elevator doors opened on the second floor and we stepped out into a narrow beige hallway at the end of which our intended destination presented itself in the form of a frosted glass door.
Inevitability is a terrible reason to take on parenthood, but where else was my life going to go if not here? This is how lives go: love, marriage, house, baby. My life, a relatively close approximation, was destined to conform to the suburban ideal. I planned for and purchased this house, didn’t I? My neighbours on either side have five children between them and my home in the midst has an unnecessary three bedrooms for two childless adults. I planned for and saved $20,000 for an imaginary infant toward which I’m not particularly inclined, didn’t I? Will there ever be a more favourable moment than the present?
And so I stood beside a bold acronym printed in a sharp black font on a beige wall on the second floor of an unfamiliar building on a Thursday afternoon, accepting that this was inevitable. “Fake it,” I ordered myself, and stepped through the door.
From my seat in the patient waiting area behind a slatted glass partition, the architectural illusion of privacy was shattered when I overheard the receptionist gruffly order PartnerA to turn over her insurance card and previously-provided patient intake paperwork. Then I heard PartnerA explain that she had neither with her, the consequence of my willed absence from the process, no doubt. Had I been made aware of the requirements, I would have arrived at this appointment with the intake paperwork not only completed, but photocopied in triplicate. Any illusion of calm that I’d thusfar struggled to summon instantaneously dissipated.
The receptionist, aggravated, then requested PartnerA’s partner’s insurance card and seemed none-too-surprised when I emerged from the waiting area, long-haired, pink-shirted, and decidedly female. PartnerA inquired as to the purpose of my involvement at the level of insurance, given that she was the patient.
“You’re doing this together, aren’t you?” the receptionist spat. Aren’t we? Are we?
I opened my wallet to retrieve my insurance card and promptly discovered the fortune cookie prediction that I’d slipped inside weeks before: Tomorrow may be too late. Live today. I took a deep breath and handed the receptionist my card.
No, we’re not doing this together. The only reason that we’re here is because we can’t do this together. We can’t, in a moment of passion in the privacy of our own home, skin-to-skin create something beautiful of ourselves that serves to reinforce our connection with one another. No, we can’t, but my unemployed brother can accidentally conceive a fetus that he doesn’t want with his on-again-off-again bipolar girlfriend and then call our mother from jail one afternoon to tell her that they plan to keep the baby. Now somehow my nephew is here, the perfect combination of each of his parents and undeniably genetically comprised of both. Straight people who neither desire nor have the means to care for babies have them every day, for free, by accident. This fact is positively maddening.
Why? Because “our” baby is in reality Partner A’s baby. Full stop. Partner A’s baby created by a doctor with a syringe of a stranger’s semen beneath a paper gown, ankles shackled in metal stirrups in a clinic exam room after a battery of mandatory invasive and painful medical procedures designed to treat the clinically infertile at a cost of potentially tens of thousands of dollars. My existence is literally purposeless. The worth of my presence in all of this is merely my credit card limit.
Yet here I sat in the lobby of a fertility clinic partaking in this ludicrously surreal process out of a sense of obligation, the gift one gives to the one one wishes to offer the world. Robert Hayden: “What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?”
The juxtaposition of PartnerA’s grubby Converse and the pretentious sitting room was striking and, even in the moment, despite the context, somewhat humourous. Undoubtedly, we appeared two children playing at being grown-ups. How many real estate agents, when we had been looking to purchase a house two years ago, insisted to our faces that we were too young? Who told PartnerA that she has a “baby face”? Who told me that I appeared to be in high school? (And how many real estate agents were then positively floored by our significant cash down payment? Our money, every penny earned and painstakingly saved.)
At the time, purchasing a house seemed like the biggest thing I would ever do. Conceiving, having, and parenting a child, though, is so very much bigger. The reality of the situation settled into place as we glanced through the fertility clinic’s patient intake paperwork. PartnerA’s and my amused giggling shifted to nervous laughter and then waned to solemn silence. Welcome to reality: heterosexism hurts.
Every question on “my” intake form to which I was forced to write-in “not applicable” hammered home my inadequacy as a human being. I do not have sperm. I can never be enough. Necessary: Partner A’s body, stranger’s semen, doctor. Unnecessary: me. I am worthless.
This whole thing? This whole thing will never be equal. Adoption is equal. Partner A’s conceiving will do nothing more than create her baby, her baby that will look like her, her baby that will act like her, her baby that her mother will rightly claim familial ties more legitimate than mine, her baby that she can choose or not choose to share with me. Share your baby with me — like offering charity to the pathetic partner whose only chance at a family is this contrived vision.
I tried, anyway, to swallow the lump in my throat and find an ounce of humour in it, modifying the word “MALE” in the header of the intake form with the prefix “FE-“.
It was an ounce of humour, or tears. I bit my lip and opted for the former. Then with perhaps just a touch of sarcasm I took the opportunity to disclose the 52 children I’ve fathered across the continent before writing “N/A” on the line requesting the aforementioned information. Immediately thereafter, PartnerA and I debated what to write on the line requesting my sperm count. “Zero” seemed appropriate.
From here, the appointment proceeded as you might predict. We were called into an interview room — a windowless office — by a soft spoken female doctor in a white lab coat. The doctor was calm and friendly as she explained the process of choosing donor sperm and insemination preceded by such pleasant-sounding procedures as repeated internal ultrasounds, saline-injected fallopian tubes, and “trigger shots” to induce the release of multiple eggs on cue.
PartnerA took the opportunity to point out that one of her grandparents was a twin, one of her parents is a twin, and she herself was supposed to have been a twin. A trigger shot coupled with her familial fertility might very well result in octuplets, and while having eight babies might make us overnight millionaires with the premiere of our reality show, neither PartnerA nor I have any desire for such a dramatic multiple conception. Anyway, PartnerA is in her twenties and as far as we know, medically typical. Are all of these invasive procedures — did you say saline-injected fallopian tubes? — really necessary, given our particular circumstances?
We were promptly informed that the medical intervention was, indeed, absolutely necessary. (By whose insane standards? I nearly asked, but willed my mouth shut.) I was then informed that not only PartnerA, but I too will also be subjected to testing, albeit only half a dozen blood tests. Although I had previously established on my intake form that I do not, in fact, have a sperm count and therefore will not contribute to the conception in a genetically-relevant manner, if I wish to be a part of the process, the fertility clinic requires that I first prove that I do not have any sexually transmitted infections. And if I do, then what? They have the right to deny me access to parenthood? Big Brother much? (Might I remind you that when my brother, in and out of jail, and his girlfriend, a psychologically-unstable teenager, conceived an unwanted baby, no one ever required either of them to take tests to prove their parental suitability.)
The doctor was lovely, really, and I recognized that she was only the messenger in the enforcement of the clinic’s policies. Unfortunately, we soon learned that the lovely doctor who conducted our intake interview, while a doctor, was not our doctor. She disclosed that she does the intake interviews for all of the primary doctors on staff, and then called in our actual doctor, a graying man in a white lab coat who recited a two-minute script about the clinic in a monotone, shook our hands, and departed briskly, leaving a sour taste in my mouth.
Or perhaps the sour taste in my mouth was the anxiety-induced nausea. We were, after all, seated beneath a frame featuring the fertility clinic’s success stories. The number of photographs of twins and triplets was positively frightening.
I’m trying to keep an open mind, though, as much as possible. Two might be fun, right? After all, I do enjoy colour-coding. Less so the prospect of a lifetime of parenthood, at which I am doomed to fail, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. The only place to begin is at the beginning, one step at a time.