My Wife Is Fertile, I'm Not (And It's Tearing Us Apart)

Love, Family

Male infertility is a factor in approximately 40% of the 2.6 million infertile couples in the U.S.

Amy had been referred to a Beverly Hills fertility doctor, who was so reassuring that I took him to calling him Dr. Mellow. His office had a wall of photos of smiling babies, as if to say, "This will be you."  

We sat in his waiting room holding hands. We believed. We didn't know we had just taken our seats inside the Hope Factory.

Once inside, the possibility of getting pregnant never ended. If one technique failed, you tried another, and kept trying.

There seemed to be an infinite supply of hope.

Dr. Mellow suggested we see again if we could get pregnant the old fashioned way — not completely the old fashioned way, as our once carefree approach was replaced by thermometers and sophisticated ovulation testing kits involved as well as alarmed phone calls and rushed assignations, all in hopes of striking at the perfect moment.

Like two lawyers before the Supreme Court, we'd argue the merits of this position over that position. There were even theories about timing, about behavior before and after (some of which involved pillows). On one occasion after a vigorous attempt at infant creation, my wife followed a friends' suggestion and lowered herself off the bed head-first, remaining upended for many long, awkward minutes.

When this didn't work, phase two involved assisted fertilization, "the turkey baster." 

A combo cocktail (so to speak) was created of fresh sperm and frozen ones that had been spun to weed out the weak. By now, I mocked the shyness I once had for public bathroom self-love and specimen collection. I adopted the motto of Profiro Rubirosa, "toujours prêt." Still no luck.

Defcon Three involved increasing the number of targets using In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), multiple eggs removed from the ovaries, fertilized in Petri dishes and re-implanted — a technique which gave birth to Louise Brown in 1978 and that has been taking couples on an emotional roller coaster ever since.

In order to make my wife's body crazy enough to start producing multiple eggs, she needed to be shot up with drugs on a daily basis. I was given the task of purchasing more syringes than I had seen since my last "Heal The Bay" beach clean-up day.

Dr. Mellow recommended the drugs be injected in the tush—and that I do the administering. If asked today, Amy would say that I took on this task with too much relish, that I seemed to derive a sadistic pleasure from driving the spike into her firm yet fleshy buttocks. I maintain that I was just doing my job. Perhaps I was venting my frustration at the whole process.

Although the ampoules of hormones cost a fortune, we learned from a fellow traveler that they were cheaper in Mexico — which is why we started Fed-Exing money orders to a man in Texas whose business was to walk across the border to buy the drugs at a third of the U.S. price and then mail them back to us.

Somehow when I imagined the circumstances under which I would be involved in international drug smuggling, this was not what came to mind.

As for how the drugs affected Amy, there is no kind way to describe the hormonal rages that they produced (The Donovan song "Season of the Witch" comes to mind). Whatever the question, there was no right answer I could give. And pointing out to my wife that she had gone loco, well, that was a mistake.  

There was screaming and a lot of tears.

I would say they came from Amy, but they didn't—they came from that "other" — from the drugs. I was constantly walking on eggshells. The drugs caused Amy to gain weight — a subject I didn't bring up— and a fact that did not increase her self-esteem or decrease her frustration and anger at the process.  

Once we were in the IVF Zone, sex between us was no longer required for attempted baby-making — or even much recommended. It was as if the whole process was created in a manner to drive a wedge into our relationship — distorting our ability to communicate and connect.

We became more desperate to have a child, but it was as if our own relationship had to be put on hold in the interim. All one could do was wait for the storm to pass. But when it did, we were not pregnant, and an even greater sadness settled in.

But then we were.

Amy missed her period. She took one, two, three pregnancy tests. It seemed incredible, impossible. We told ourselves that it was all worth it, that everything had led to this moment.

We sat in the doctor's office with his technician holding the magic wand, the ultrasound. There on the screen was a smudge — our smudge. She hit a button, and like a Polaroid, a photo printed.

For three weeks, we walked on air in a state of life-changing possibility.

And then we got the phone call. We stood in the mall, between J. Crew and Talbots. The numbers were going down: Amy would miscarry. It was devastating. We held each other and cried—right there in public.  I can tell you that the only thing worse than not being pregnant is getting pregnant and then not being pregnant.

Once recovered, knowing that we could get pregnant, we went back to our procreation board of directors saying: "Give us everything you got."

Dr. Mellow suggested that we could try something else to improve our odds.

"Donor sperm." He said, casually. Which is what Dr. Blunt had suggested at the beginning of our journey in New York. The mere mention of donor sperm was yet another test of what I was willing to do to have a child.

I told myself that I had come this far and I was not backing down, so I boldly went where I never imagined I would: a sperm bank on Westwood Boulevard. 

Although I had imagined a futuristic white lab, the offices were banally drab, like the casting rooms for a B-Movie production. Which turns out to be appropriate, because when you are shopping for a sperm donor, you are in effect, "casting," searching through a catalog of candidates and characteristics: race, height, hair color, eye color, ethnic origin, education, even college major.

We were also told that we could mix the donor's sperm with mine, a combo cocktail if you will, so that if a child was born, only my DNA analyst would know for sure.

What I didn't realize is that choosing a donor creates the temptation to choose someone who so resembles your own characteristics that you might never have to mention that you used donor sperm. My guess is that given the multiplicity of ways children can be born these days (donated sperm, donated egg, combinations of the two), there are a lot of secrets out there.

We selected a college student with good grades, brown hair and blue eyes. Then, in consultation with Pappy and Dr. Mellow, we used the Chinese menu approach, attempting to inseminate with one from each column: eggs with my sperm, eggs with donor sperm, and eggs scrambled with a combo cocktail.

"Cheers!" we said in nervous anticipation.

But no luck.

Part three of a four-part series on male infertility. Click here to read parts onetwo and four