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

Photo: fizkes / Shutterstock
husband and wife embracing

My wife, Amy had been referred to a Beverly Hills fertility doctor, who was so reassuring that I took to call 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 alarming 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.

RELATED: How Infertility Can Wreck Your Marriage If You're Not Careful

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.

RELATED: 7 Facts You Didn't Know About Female Infertility

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. This 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.

RELATED: 10 Things People Struggling With Infertility NEED You To Know

"Cheers!" we said in nervous anticipation.

But no luck.

For me and Amy, there was always more hope, always another chance to get pregnant.

The next peak in the Fertility Himalayas, ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), was a technique developed in 1992 for severe cases of male infertility in which healthy-looking single sperms are literally inserted into healthy seeming eggs. The goal is multiple fertilizations.

ICSI took place in a private hospital. For sperm collection, the hospital had its own "room." And contrary to everything I had experienced so far, it was an actual room, a hospital room, with its own bathroom.

And let me say, they did not skimp. Not only were there an assortment of magazines for inspiration, there was also a TV/VCR unit which played—with no apparent irony—a tale of two blond nurses who become overly fond of each other.

ICSI was yet another emotional roller coaster.

Each month filled with hope: 18 eggs produced! 8 eggs fertilized! Four fertilized eggs were implanted, and the other four stored for potential future use! Whoopee!

When the pregnancies did not hold, we crashed, only to have to start the climb all over with the next fertility cycle.

We had been married for eight years. We had been trying to get pregnant for six of those years and between IVF and ICSI had gone through five fertility cycles. We knew we could get pregnant but we didn't know if we could stay pregnant. We had spent over $200,000, and all we had to show for it was a glossy photo of four egg cells.

That photo still sits in the drawer of the night table beside our bed, buried there. We're unable to look at it—or dispose of it.

Other friends who were on the IVF merry-go-round and got pregnant, had their children. Some had their second child while we waited and tried again. Every couple who had a child swore by their doctor, their method, their technique—success was its own affirmation.

By contrast, we were dishrags, totally wrung out by our six-year quest to have a child. Sex was no longer fun, but it wasn't just that —i t was that sex was no longer for fun or procreation. We had gone from meaningless sex to sex having no meaning.

One day Amy came home saying, "We need to get a baby in the house — by any means necessary,"

"Baby in the house," became our new mantra.

The adoption process and how I came to embrace it is its own tale. I can't tell you how many people told me that if we adopted, we'd immediately get pregnant. "Happens all the time," they said. 

Secretly, I believed them, thinking adoption was a last resort we would never arrive at. All the more because in the midst of the adoption process, we decided to go through one more IVF cycle and ICSI procedure. In my heart of hearts, it felt like buying non-refundable plane tickets.

It didn't take long before we were notified about a potential birth mother, who was five months pregnant. We met with her and hoped that she would choose us. And on the other side, we returned to science, to drugs, and to the hospital for one last round. I gave my all to the container — it sped to the lab and was injected into eight eggs that were implanted into Amy. We waited for the results.

On the same day that we learned that the birth mother had approved us, we also learned that Amy was pregnant.

What to do? Amy wanted to go ahead with both the adoption and the pregnancy.

"Really?" I asked, overwhelmed.

"We have to," she said, not wanting to give thought to the negative, to the awful possibilities of "What if?"

The next eight weeks were an out-of-body experience as the two pregnancies developed. Our doctor did double-duty, staying in contact with the birth mother's doctor while continuing to monitor Amy.

Each day was like hopping from one large egg-shell to another, hoping no cracks emerged. Every day we felt our odds were improving — until they didn't.

The doctors couldn't explain why the cells of our embryo stopped growing. But because the other pregnancy was proceeding, it was different this time.

Yes, we mourned. But this time there was no talk of having another IVF. We switched tracks.

A sense of surreal anticipation set in. We began to do things together, bonding over all the things we suddenly needed to learn (and of course, the things we needed to buy). We were drawn into a vortex of "Holy shit! This is happening!"

We were about to become parents.

Which is how late one Sunday night we found ourselves sitting in the waiting room of the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital in the Simi Valley, about 30 minutes from our home, waiting with an assortment of folks whom we knew not at all but with whom we would soon share a connection.

At five of midnight, we heard a cry and then were allowed in the room to hold our daughter. From the moment I held her, I felt complete. Our daughter had made us a family. The next day, not even 12 hours later, we drove home with our baby.

In embracing the adoption, I finally had the "motility" that I was missing. I had moved — in mind, spirit, and geography.

That's when I realized: the reason I moved to California was to meet my daughter.

This is part three of a three-part series on male infertility. Click here to read parts onetwo.

Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else, he's an author and journalist who has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, and The Huffington Post