I’m in what seems to be an unusual position among the infertile women on the message boards I read, in that I have a partner who already has children. I imagine it’s a very different experience when neither partner has children, and both have such a strong desire for children that they are undergoing unusual, painful, expensive assisted reproduction. I wonder what it’s like when both people are in the exact same boat. I imagine they commiserate about the disappointments. They both bite their nails during the excruciatingly slow “two week wait” (the 9-11 days between an embryo transfer and the blood test to detect human chorionic gonadotropin [HCG] to confirm a pregnancy). Together, they seek out every possible scrap of information that might help them make decisions.
This ain’t my husband’s first rodeo, though. He has three children and a grandchild. Two of his children are adults who live in our town, and the other is a pre-teen who lives with us half-time. For him, a baby in the most general sense will be nothing new or groundbreaking. Unlike me, he isn’t nervously wondering how you juggle a job and a newborn, how you change a diaper, how you’re supposed to know when to feed a baby vs. bounce it around vs. take it to the doctor. He knows all about late night feedings and has jokingly informed me that, since he’s done plenty of those already, it’s my turn to have a true baby experience.
Though, is that really a joke? About ten years ago, my husband made a clear, unambiguous decision to end his true baby experiences by getting a vasectomy. This is actually how I knew that my husband was someone special. He mentioned it less than 24 hours after we met. At the time, I didn’t know about my infertility, only that I very, very much wanted children. I took a moment to process this very clear dealbreaker and realized that I was somehow inexplicably ok with it.
And he was somehow inexplicably ok with my desire for a child. I don’t remember even asking him if he would have a child with me – to him, it wasn’t even a question that needed to be asked. Sure, at one point he’d decided he had enough kids. But he loves being a parent and he wanted me to have the chance to become one, too. As I mentioned in What’s Ice Cream Got to Do With It?, I found out I was infertile due to a referral by my husband’s vasectomy reversal doctor. Once we determined that I would need donor egg IVF to get pregnant, there was no point in reversing his vasectomy anymore, and we cancelled the appointment.
The process of obtaining sperm for an IVF cycle normally involves a few minutes in a room in the clinic that contains some lame, outdated porn for inspiration. I picture a well-worn magazine and maybe a VHS tape with a homemade label. It wouldn’t be so easy for my husband. He underwent a procedure called microsurgical epididymal sperm aspiration (MESA). During this, the man is anesthetized and a surprisingly long and jagged incision is made in his scrotum, through which a testicle is accessed. A needle is then used to retrieve sperm from one of the coiled ducts in which it is stored, and the sperm is then frozen for later use in the IVF cycles. Then, the incision is closed, and the man sits around with a bag of frozen peas stuffed into his jock strap, high on Vicodin yet still somehow managing to look sad, for several days, while his guilty wife tiptoes over to him with bowl after bowl of apology/gratitude ice cream.
Anyway, this post is basically an ode to my unbelievably generous and loving husband. It takes a very special kind of person to be willing to go through such a painful surgery with the end-game of experiencing an unbroken four-and-a-half decades’ worth of minor children in the house, especially when he had decided long ago not to have any more. But what if I end up getting to the point where I have to, or choose to, stop trying to get pregnant? In that case, I’m incredibly fortunate that my husband has made it possible for me to be a stepmother to his wonderful kids. And to be a wife to a wonderful man. I had never been as confused and surprised by one of my own decisions as I was the moment I chose to give the guy with three kids and a vasectomy a chance. I must have been very prescient, though because I know that whether I eventually have children or not, I have him, and I am more than content.