For three years, Dan and his wife, Leah, tried to have children. And as time went on, the couple descended in a seemingly endless spiral of disappointment. They tried everything: hormone treatments, intrauterine insemination, old home remedies… but nothing worked. As Dan and Leah were approaching their 40s, “their clocks were ticking,” and friends and families constantly asked them when they’d actually have children. They were under a lot of pressure, to say the least. Still, Dan and Leah battled on. Then recently, Dan logged on to Facebook and wrote an open letter to describe he and Leah’s struggle to become parents. His letter is raw, honest and gives a detailed description of what it’s like trying to get pregnant in an “artificial” way. But it’s also about the heartbreaking experience of a couple who’s had a miscarriage. Dan’s message is so brutally raw and his words are so powerful that tears flowed down my face when I read this. “Do you have a minute? I’ve been kind of a long story to tell,” begins Dan in his letter. Believe me, you’ll want to read this.
“Do you have a minute? I’ve got kind of a long story.
Leah and I have been trying to get pregnant for over 3 years. I’m not sure when, exactly, we stopped the birth control. Like all our plans, we didn’t start with a plan, but instead decided that if we got pregnant, that would be great.
And then we didn’t get pregnant.
I mean, look, when you’re in your twenties, it feels like you can’t look at someone else without getting pregnant. We’ve all heard about someone who got pregnant through 2 condoms, spermicidal lubricant, and an IUD. Right? But we didn’t get pregnant. No big deal.
We’re in our 30s. Things are probably a little bit dusty, and a little bit rusty. So, three years ago, we started using apps and calendars to track this and that. Ovulation test sticks. Old wives’ tales of positions and timing. We got some late periods. And some periods that never came!
But we didn’t get pregnant.”
“So, off to the doctor we went. His and hers appointments for collections of blood and semen and measuring parts and such. Medical science being what it is, we got the answer to all our problems: ‘You’re fine, and there shouldn’t be a problem.’
Do doctors ever tell anybody, ‘This is what is wrong, and this is how to fix it,’ and then give them pills, and they’re fine? This is not my experience. My experience is:
We didn’t get pregnant.
So then came the hormones for Leah. Along with those hormones came the realization that little-to-none of this would be covered by insurance, and that the coverage rate would go down as we went deeper into the process. See, insurance companies look at getting pregnant a lot like getting sick. Why, they can’t imagine, would you try to get sick? Well, f**k you, insurance companies. That’s why.
But we didn’t get pregnant.
So maybe we’re bad at timing, or something, or god knows. Usually that’s fine, but we are in our late 30s, and clocks are ticking. The doctor told us that certain hormone levels were low, lower than they should have been, and that meant our egg supply was dwindling.”
“Let me tell you something. There is nothing you can tell a woman that will make her feel more young, beautiful and vibrant than, ‘You have a dwindling egg supply, and it is time to pick up the pace.’ You should try it. Maybe at a bar.
And that was when we began IUI, intrauterine insemination. IUI is – colloquially – the turkey baster method. When they told us about it, I tried to really hear what the doctor was saying, but all I could hear echoing around the room, off of the oyster-y pearlescent floors and the alien-vagina wallpaper, was ‘dwindling.’
For Leah, we eventually figured out, this meant a regimen of hormone boosters to facilitate egg production. Are you aware of what happens to people when their hormones go out of the norm? They are not happy. Unless they are happy, in which case, they are very happy. There is no mild. There is no average day. Her job was to feel like her brain and soul were on fire.
My job was to try and not say anything dumb, because she also needed to be calm. I tried to avoid triggering phrases like ‘Hey,’ or ‘Good morning,’ or ‘I love you,’ but I kept f**king up, and opening my mouth, or allowing Leah to see TV programs, or commercials, to read books, and interact with the world in any way.”
“The best was when someone would ask her when we were going to have kids. That was just the best.
Then, after one or two ultrasounds to make sure eggs were there, and in their right places on their little follicles, I would give my needle-phobic wife a shot in her thigh to set ovulation in process. She says she’s not so much afraid of needles as she is afraid of being stuck by me with a needle, but same difference, right?
Over time, I developed a method where she would look away, close her eyes and cry, while crushing all the bones in my left hand, and I would count to three, and inject her with my right. I wouldn’t inject her on three. I tried to pick a random time. She usually didn’t even feel it.
After all that romance, you would think that abstaining from sex for a few days would be hard, but you would be wrong. You might also think we should be having massive amounts of sex, but it turns out that you have to let your seminal stash build up for a few days before collection.”
“Over the last couple years, I became pretty professional about my sperm deposits. My first one was a few paragraphs up, for testing. Man, is it ever weird. You can do it at home if you want, but then you are under a clock to get your sample to the lab on time. I don’t need that kind of stress.
I don’t talk about it much, but I like to think I’m pretty good at taking care of business in the art of sperm production, but I had never entered a room designed specifically for masturbation, while people waited outside, hoping my masturbation went okay. Perhaps that is what Eddie Murphy’s life was like in Coming to America, but I was less familiar with it.
The room was like a combination of a hotel room and an office. It had a big picture of The Ohio State University football stadium, filled with fans, on the wall over a small vinyl sofa. There was a neatly folded sheet, fresh and crisp, hanging on the far armrest. A clock radio on the side table, tuned to local political talk radio, sputtering away beneath a low-lit lamp, was paired with a little wooden cube that had one tiny drawer, specifically made for storing your collection cup.
Under the table were four or five magazines that I didn’t really want to touch. Usually two Playboys, a Penthouse, and a Swimsuit Issue. Across from the couch was a TV/DVD combo with a DVD preloaded. I didn’t want to touch the remote either, really. It sat on a wicker chest.
Wicker struck me as the worst possible material for a room designed for male masturbation. Everybody’s aiming for the cup, I know, but I also know there have been enough accidents in that office that it required a laminated sign about what to do in case of an accident.”
“The first step, in case of an accident, is to not try to hide it by scraping your mess into the cup. Big no-no. This makes your sample corrupt, which may mean that your partner could end up being impregnated by carpet fibers if I understand correctly, but it is also unsanitary.
The second step is to tell the front desk staff that you had an accident, which seems horrific. The people who work at the lab are people who, by my calculations, deal with upwards of 80 men per day who have just masturbated, or are about to, and their sperm. Sure. They are professional.
But, still, everyone is a little bit tittery, a little bit anxious. We all know that this is all very silly, and that I just touched my penis, and you are someone’s grandmother, and that even though you have a pin in the shape of a little sperm fella to help break the tension, we all – if we really had the choice – would probably prefer to burst into flames than discuss any part of this, let alone the fact that someone missed. Whoops!
The DVD would change over time, but still be of the same variety. Usually some kind of early 90s Eurotrash boat fantasies, or oily faux-lesbian scissorhands scenes, starring fingernails that made me very nervous. I would check every time I went in, and it was always awful. Everybody’s got their thing, I guess. My thing is that I am thankful for the Internet.
Oh. And you are supposed to go in dry if you can help it. Lubrication, as it turns out, can mess with the quality of the semen, which seems like a pretty big jerk move on the part of lubrication.
But, yeah, I’ve got my routine down.
When your sample has been washed and spun, or whatever it is they do with it, they put it in a paper bag that you carry over to the doctor’s office for the procedure. We long-timers can always tell the new couples. Their discomfort and optimism is cute. They smile and look around on their walk, hoping no one notices the bag they have pinched in their fingertips.
Me, I carry my paper bag like a sack lunch. The same turkey sandwich I’ve had every day for years. With hope, yes, but the skepticism of routine. The IUI itself is pretty quick, and from what I understand, painless, if not the normal amount of demeaning of going to an OB/GYN. You get one more ultrasound to make sure everything is in place, and then they pour the gravy all over the giblets.
Sorry. I know. I’m hung up on turkey metaphors.
And then we wait.”
“You’re warned against taking pregnancy tests because they measure hormone levels, and after taking all sorts of weird shit all month, you can trigger a false positive. So you wait. And there will be spotting. Is it spotting, or is her period starting? You don’t know. So you wait. And you wait. And you wait.
And sometimes her period comes, and you start over. Step one. And sometimes it doesn’t come. But the second line doesn’t appear, or the plus, or the whatever these tests do. So you wait. And it’s negative, but you hope, and you see your friends getting pregnant, and you get a little sad. But you get mad at yourself because you want to feel happy for other people, and that’s not fair to them. And then the 17-year-old across the street gets pregnant, and you get a little sadder. And your cousins get pregnant, and you get a little sadder.
And you see people scream at their kids, and beat them in Kroger, and you just want to die because you would give anything to have a child throwing a tantrum in the cereal aisle.
You don’t want to hate people. You don’t. I think babies are beautiful. I think kids are awesome, but you can’t help the jealousy. The envy. The resentment. It really creeps up on you. And you search for positive things. And you talk on end about your capital-O Options.”
“And then you see people on the internet post screeds about how dare anyone assume that they would want to have kids because not having kids is the best – which is fine, have at it or don’t have at it, I really don’t care – but we want to be procreating, and we want what you could have, but are choosing not to use.
And we want to tell you, but people don’t talk about it. Because you don’t want to talk about it.
Because you spend all day thinking about it, managing it. Trying not to cry. Trying to not turn into HI and Ed from Raising Arizona, stealing babies in the night.
And the doctors start talking about Next Steps, and the Next Steps are very expensive, so you try it one more time. And then, while you’re in Kansas on a road trip with a friend, your wife does the IUI with a frozen deposit you left behind.
And you get pregnant.”
“You go in for a blood test, two weeks later, and they tell you that you’re pregnant. And you cry. Big fat tears of relief. And then you freak out because, to be honest, you talked yourself out of real hope months and months ago, but now you have to get ready for a baby.
Some weeks later, you go in for an ultrasound, and there it is. I mean, yeah, it’s a tadpole with a giant head. There’s its brain, and there’s its heart fluttering away, and it’s so real.
And you relax.”
“We’re in our late thirties, which means that the chances are higher than average that a pregnancy won’t be viable, or there will be a chromosomal abnormality, or something along those lines. We spent a lot of time tiptoeing around that idea, but we talked about it. And about not getting too excited. You know, the higher you let your hopes up, the further they have to fall. But they told us to relax. Everything looked great and we were on track, so when we went in for one final scan before being released to our obstetrician a couple weeks later, we were all smiles and jokes.
‘I’m so sorry. I can’t find the heartbeat.’
And then you’re not pregnant.”
“I’ve felt time stop before. Car accidents, falling off a fence, a mountain bike jump gone wrong. I have not felt the vertigo of infinity like when we were told our baby was dead. I’m logical. I understand science and biology. I know it was a fetus, not a baby. But it was my baby. In my head, in my heart, I could already imagine being old as it grew into an adult and had its own children, and – woosh – it was all gone.
As I write this, the due date is a little over a week away, like a car accident on the road ahead that you’re trying not to look at, that you have to drive by.
The world isn’t going to stop. We all get up and go to work. Because it happens. People lose babies all the time.
But no one talks about it. No one gets on Facebook and tells their friends. It’s specifically why you wait to tell anyone.
But then you have no one to tell. When a family member dies, you can share your grief. With a miscarriage, you would have to tell people that someone who will never be born, who they had never heard of and will never meet, but who meant the world to you, is gone. And you don’t have the strength to get into it. You tell your parents, maybe a close friend, maybe your boss. I was so stunned when it happened that I texted my boss that I wouldn’t be back that day, but that I’d be back the next, which really cracks me up now. I didn’t even get how I was about to be affected.
Leah was scheduled for a D&C, dilation and curettage, under general anesthesia at Christ Hospital right away, so she wouldn’t have to go through the trauma of slowly passing the fetal tissue over the course of a week. It wasn’t until they took her back that I let myself break down. Alone with my worst thoughts and the sour coffee of the waiting room for several hours. God, I have no idea how long. One more forever.
The people at the hospital were excellent. We got a lot of information about support groups that we never went to, but we should have. We just wanted to hide. I’m thankful for our families and our friends, who came to sit with us. Who brought Lea the things she needed, and let me get out of the house to walk around the neighborhood. I must have looked like a zombie.”
“It’s very difficult to think about, even now. I don’t think I’m doing a good job of describing it. I don’t want to dwell on it. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t think it was until around the New Year that I went a day without crying about it.
But, you know, you pass the car accident and it’s in the rear view, getting further away, and sometimes you don’t even see it anymore. Maybe you’ve told yourself enough times that “at least we know we can get pregnant” and “this just means that something was wrong and it’s a good thing.” Maybe you even believe it.
Just to let you know how strong Leah is, she still made the Dean’s List that semester, and she was carrying 18 credit hours. I dropped out of college for the dumbest reasons in my time – once because I got mugged – but she persevered. Like Britney, bitch.
We started back at the fertility process too soon, in a dumb burst of optimism and courage, and the desire to move forward. The hormone treatments were too much for Leah. And the lack of success was too much for the both of us. So we stopped. Our doctor told me, privately, that we need to take care of ourselves, but that, if we want to have a baby, we either need to move forward now, or start discussing Next Steps.
“We tried a couple more times, one of which felt good – we thought we had it – and were told that if this one doesn’t take, that we would need to increase hormone treatments substantially and begin planning for options outside of IUI. In Vitro, surrogacy, or something else.
The doctor also told us, during one IUI, that while Donald Trump scares him, his wife loves Trump because of the Mexican wall thing. They are both immigrants. His problem with the wall was that it would be impossible to pay for it. I don’t know. Doctors tell you some crazy shit while they’re inseminating your wife.
Through this process, and through both of our lives, neither of us have ever had a home pregnancy test come out positive. Even when we were pregnant before, it was the doctor who did a test. This last one, Leah couldn’t bear to look at it herself, so I looked at it while she was in the shower, and told her no, that it was negative.
While she stood there, crying, I googled ‘pregnancy test faint line.’ As it turns out, even the faintest f**king line in the whole f**king world means you’re pregnant. So we’re pregnant.
“Not that we believed it at first, but we are. Three scans later, I’ve even heard the heartbeat, like a hummingbird, and it’s beautiful.
As I write this, tomorrow is our first obstetrician appointment, and we’re so nervous. So, so nervous. I wouldn’t dare to post this until we’re in the clear enough, and ready to tell people. Almost no one knows right now. We’re worried to jinx it, us, we, who don’t believe in jinxes. Mostly, we’re afraid of going back through the pain. To have to retract it, publicly, is too much to think about.
I know plenty of people have gone through more than us. We are comparatively very lucky. Some people have never gotten pregnant. Some people could not go as far as us. Some people have taken many Next Steps beyond where we were. Some have been successful, but many haven’t. I hesitate to share this because I don’t want anyone to read this and feel what we felt, watching others’ dreams come true. Some people have found out, or have guessed, and have been very kind to share their own stories with us, and it has helped tremendously to not feel alone. Many thanks to all of them. I hope that maybe this helps someone else feel less alone.
And I hope that everything goes well, and I can inundate you with pictures, starting in November.
Everything went well. Arms and legs and moving around. We’re very excited, but I’ll be holding my breath for 26ish weeks. And it’s a girl. Not that gender matters! But we’re going to have a little girl! And I am stoked. We are stoked.
We are pregnant.”
What powerful, wonderful story! We’ll keep our fingers crossed that everything goes well. Share their story so the love spreads, and hopefully, it can help those in the same situation.
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