Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Coming Clean

Back when we were trying (and failing) to get pregnant - well, technically, my wife did most of the trying, I just went along for the ride – I secretly started to worry that maybe twenty years of nearly daily bike rides had taken their toll on my testes.  I had heard stories of avid cyclists who were basically sterilized by years of balancing (and bouncing) their boys on bicycle seats  - and was concerned that that might be our problem.

To be completely honest, I was more concerned with the possibility that I was the problem.  You see, since my wife already had a daughter from a previous marriage, I was fairly certain she was fully fertile. As for me…let’s just say I was an amateur in the world of procreation. And the idea that perhaps I was to blame really freaked me out.  It wasn’t so much the thought of not having a kid of my own that bothered me – I was perfectly happy and content with having a step-daughter to love and treat like my own – it was more that I was denying my wife something she really wanted for the both of us.

Being a typical guy, I was none too fond of doctors – and certainly not the ones who might call into question my manhood and virility – but I manned up and made an appointment with a urologist. Well, sort of manned up, as I didn’t tell my wife about it. She had her own list of reasons for why she wasn’t getting pregnant, and as far as I knew, I wasn’t one of them – and I wanted to keep it that way. So I went on my own, hoping to hear it wasn’t me, while privately plotting what I would do if it turned out I was the problem.

I’ll save the sample gathering story for another day, but let me just say that I have never felt so relieved as I did watching my active little swimmers under that microscope. The doctor assured me that my sperm count was high (“Higher than average?” I pushed, almost giddy with relief) and that I should have no problem holding up my end of the bargain.

I left the office with a zip in my step, happy to know our lack of conception wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t until I was halfway home that I realized that if it wasn’t me, there was only one other person to “blame” and my thoughts immediately turned to my wife.

Now what? I wondered, as I made my way home. Since she didn’t even know I went, I could just keep the info to myself and wait and see what happened.  I knew she wanted another kid for “us”  - and would feel like she let me down if she were incapable of getting pregnant. But I also knew she wanted another kid much more than I did. And even though we had already both agreed that if a baby didn’t come “in the natural way,” then it just wasn’t meant to be, and we would accept that, I also knew  my wife would want to renege on that deal. And if I held her to it, she would eventually grow to resent me for it.

I had a decision to make. Several actually. But they all hinged on this initial one. My future lay before me more clearly than the route I was driving on. Projecting down the road, I saw that our seemingly solid marriage would ultimately crumble, or at least shake itself into an empty shell, over this issue. I clearly saw the two ways for how it would all play out, and neither was a happy ending: I could try keeping it to myself, but knew it wouldn't be long before guilt set in. Or I could tell her, which I knew would start the snowball rolling down the slippery slope toward in vitro fertilization.

I had strong reservations about artificial insemination/IVF – nothing religious, mind you, as I had long ago stopped fearing the power God - but - I have always had a healthy respect for the power of Nature. Even as an 8-year old, hearing about the Titanic for the first time, I recognized that claiming the ship unsinkable was more to blame for the tragedy than the lack of lifeboats.  You just don’t mess with Nature. Nature always finds a way to win. And if Nature was making it impossible for us to have a baby, than so be it. I was fully convinced that any attempts by us to rectify our situation would end as tragically as the Titanic.

But if we didn’t try, our marriage would sink just as quickly. I knew every time we saw a baby, be it on TV or real life, there would be a pang of loss, regret, and, deep, deep, down, some bitter blame. If I held Sarah to our agreement, she would grow to resent me for it. Not that I thought she would be conscious of it, but I could foresee neverending arguments over trivial matters that were really about her wanting a baby and me not letting her.

I saw no other options. It was either accept Nature and be miserable, or use Science and be miserable, as I did not for a minute think IVF would work out - I was certain we would go through six failed attempts and end up back where we started, or have a baby with birth defects, or worse (Nature's way of saying, I told you so.) I never considered the third possibility that we could have a happy, healthy baby.

Resigned, I pulled into the driveway and told wife about my trip to the doctor and the "good" results I received. She was touched that I went and did such a thing, but other than that, things got very quiet for a couple weeks. She took to keeping a journal, while I just kept things to myself. I did not share my fears with her, as I didn't want to scare her into agreeing with me (even though I DID want her to agree with me) as I felt our only hope was if we both came to the same conclusion without any debating or discussion.

Over the next month or so, we nervously joked about the elephant in the room, but never really talked about it. Then one day Sarah handed me her journal, and while what was inside did not change my mind, it did change my heart. It made me realize that my fears about in vitro were really my own fears about being a father. The idea terrified me, and I was using my worries about IVF as an excuse not to take that scary journey. The thought of giving up my freedom, and free time, and nights sleep, as well as my money, my spare room, and my wife's undivided attention and affection were all causing me to question if having kids was really worth it. But reading Sarah's words made me realize that it might be.

So on Mother's Day, she came home to find a wooden statue of an elephant (pictured above) prominently displayed on our coffee table. We never talked about it, but she knew right away what it meant - and less than a year later, with only one try (and one egg - no way was I risking twins!) we had our boy. And now I know it was worth it.

I won't lie and say I don't miss certain aspects of my old, carefree life, but at the same time, having this little life to care for is far more rewarding than being free. So this Father's Day, I am grateful for my wife, who knew better than I.  I'm thankful for the doctors who helped bring Eli into our lives. And I'm hopeful that I can become half the father that my own father is to me. There are many downsides to being a dad, and even with my world (and living room) now turned upside down, there is nowhere else I'd rather be. And nothing else I'd rather be doing.

Well, most of the time!


  1. Wow, thank you for sharing that experience. I'm hoping to become a first-time mom myself through IVF or adoption soon and it's a very complicated, fearful time in which to make decisions that could go either way. Wishing you a wonderful,if a little early, Father's Day.

  2. Thanks Lisa, and best of luck to you - as great as it is that we have such options available, it almost makes it harder to deal with - and try to ignore all the people who will tell you that things happen (or don't happen) for a reason -they mean well, but sometimes it just sounds, well, mean!

  3. Happy Fathers Day Michael,Sunday and every day
    to follow.Dad and i are so happy you and our wounderful Sarah made the choice you did.Little Eli is such a beautiful Boy and lights up all of our lives,I know Poppi Dave,Uncle Dave,and Julianna agrees.
    God works in mysterious ways,and he certainly did when He gave you both His special Gift.
    Dad and I Love to read your Blogs,You put into words the way we feel.This one is one of youe best.
    we are so very proud of you,and love you very much.
    Mom and Dad

  4. Please excuse my typos