adventures in fertility: Chapter II, The Syringe of Hope


continued from Tuesday

I spent 2009 and 2010 masturbating all over the country. I did it in offices in Santa Monica, in sterile rooms in Denver, in New York, even at our house in Venice – all, confusingly, in the name of procreation. When you’re ensconced in fertility treatment with your wife, the man has relatively little to do except give shots, give succor, and abuse themselves every few weeks into a plastic jar.

There are two kinds of hormones that make sex possible for a guy: the calming “parasympathetic” hormones that can give men erections; and the fight-or-flight “sympathetic” hormones that allow ejaculation. At biopsych class at Carolina, the mnemonic device was “Point and Shoot”. I’m here to tell you that neither is easy at 7:30am in a tiny, sterilized “collection” room at a fertility center.


Worse still is the collection of “porn” left in these rooms for your inspiration – obviously curated by a woman nurse with little knowledge of man’s basic depravity. Lots of Playboys and then the occasional chunky African American fetish mags. Honestly, it was like listening to your mom try to use your slang when she was driving a car full of your friends.

“Playboy?” I was tempted to say to the nurse, “Honey, I’m 42. If I’m going to get off, you better have carnival animals, bearded ladies, duct tape and a rope swing” but they weren’t interested in gettin’ to know ya. In fact, they would occasionally give you a look as you went into the room, a warning salvo that seemed to say, “you better not be thinking of me when you’re in there.”

We had decided to skip all the intermediaries and go straight to the current zenith of the fertility world: a clinic called The Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine located just outside Denver. They had pioneered a way to flash-freeze an embryo, do genetic tests, and transfer it to the mother (a combination of PGD, CCS and healing time) that was giving them some of the best results in the country. CCRM is a classy place – honest, careful and responsive.

But the shots, O LORD the shots. There was a time, many years before we were thinking of kids, when Tessa and I would hear stories of couples in fertility treatment. We’d heard about the syringes full of mood-swings, the endless battery of tests, the poking and prodding, and we would say, “god forbid we end up doing anything like that.” And yet, there we were, suddenly traveling to Colorado, taking television meetings via phone in airports, waiting for test results, and spending every morning and night sterilizing needles.


forgot the alcohol pads – had to use hotel gin to sterilize the needle (not recommended)

I got pretty damned good at the shots, I have to say. I could swab, measure cc’s, and get in and out of there within fifteen seconds without leaving a bruise. I’m glad I was able to do something nicely, because Tessa was heroic through it all. We harvested seven eggs in October 2009, managed to fertilize four of them, and would have sent them for testing except they were concerned about their fragility. Three made it to “transfer” status in November 2009, so we did it. And waited.

And while we fixed Thanksgiving dinner for the whole family in New York, Tessa was going through a chemical pregnancy ending in lots of pain, cramps, and an instinctual feeling it hadn’t worked. She was right. The tests came back negative, and then we spent the rest of the holidays working on an ultimately-abortive TV pilot.

And I use that word not as a pun, but as a literal statement of how things felt. None of this stuff seemed to be working – we couldn’t hold a pregnancy, we couldn’t get a foothold with our TV producers, and here’s the kicker: I couldn’t get anything to grow in our LA garden. I was actually planting seeds, and while others were plucking tomatoes, we had crap for two years.

This spring, we agreed to try the Colorado merry-go-round one more time, with a codicil: Tessa could take the craziness of IVF if we were also researching adoption at the same time. Always game for research, that was fine by me, and we began the shots and the travel and the harvesting all over again.

We got 8 or 9 eggs, and at least 5 went off for testing. Two came back as strong candidates, one in particular. When we went to Colorado for the transfer in August, I got to see them in the microscope just before the procedure, and there they were – a bunch of concentric circles trying to form a being, like a nascent Saturn building its rings. Tessa got acupuncture, and we both saw a hypnotherapist afterwards, which, again, I filed under “always game for research.”

On the way home, a double rainbow appeared off the highway, a huge arc that ruled over Denver and the mountains below, a prism so big I could only capture the smallest part with my phone:


It reminded Tessa of the day we found out we were pregnant with Lucy, and a rainbow lit up the valley in upstate New York. After two days of blissful bedrest and a cavalcade of hotel movie rentals, we flew back to LA, taking it very easy. We were eating well, the stress was low, Lucy was excited about kindergarten, we had a brand new project at a major network, and Tessa was feeling good – or bad in the right ways – where all the excitement was taking place in her belly.

And two days later she woke up and knew it was over. She didn’t even need to take the pregnancy test to know it was going to be negative. A blood test proved it a week later, and there we were, two years into the process, and Tessa said “that’s it.” No more doctors, needles, and tests to fail. We had done everything there was to do, used the most cutting-edge technology available, and two things remained clear: there was no medical reason why we couldn’t get pregnant; and we just couldn’t make it happen.

Upon hearing the news, which at this point didn’t surprise me in the least, I was inspired to break out of the funk that had held me captive since 2008. I switched medications, sought to reassess my social habits in LA, installed something silly and awesome, and tried to attack my worst traits head-on. Which was good, because I was about to be faced with them.

TOMORROW: Part III, Wherein I Face Demons, and Try Dipping Adeptly into Adoption

15 thoughts on “adventures in fertility: Chapter II, The Syringe of Hope

  1. CM

    I’m sorry that you both had to go through all this. The way you support each other is wonderful, though. And again, I am so glad you are writing about it.

  2. LFMD

    “I spent 2009 and 2010 masturbating all over the country” made me snort and shoot coffee all over my cubicle and computer. I should know by now not to imbibe a beverage when I first open xtcian.
    Looking forward to part 3.

  3. constant reader

    Forgive my sangfroid…
    But I hope you are writing a novel or short stories as well as screen-/tele-plays. This is terrific writing and rich subject matter.
    And as your friend, I’m sorry you and Tessa have had to go through so much difficulty.
    I hope the story has a happy ending!

  4. GFWD

    You know Ian, I think you need to have a little perspective on the road blocks that Mother Nature has thrown your way. No one said you couldn’t follow in the great, adoptive footsteps of Sandra Bullock and adopt a big 6’9″ kid with feathery soft hands and an indefensible drop step shot in the lane. Hire a nice tutor like LFMD (who never missed a class at UNC) and let the recruiting begin. Seeing as how we just missed out on Cody Zeller, Carolina could use a young Shaquille Blake-Williams on the roster. Just food for thought [and a sincere attempt at levity after reading your naked, personal revelations].
    For what it’s worth, today’s post featured the best first line I’ve ever read on your blog. Thank God I was not taking a sip of coffee. (Rookie mistake on your part, LFMD).

  5. Paul G

    Love y’all.
    Thank you for telling this story ’cause it’s gonna help a lot of families.
    Would love to get together before the holidays are over.

  6. LFMD

    GFWD is right. I NEVER missed a class at Carolina. Not one in four years. NERD.
    I apologize for yet another comment from me, but I keep coming back to your entries. First, I think that the entries are among your best writing ever, and second, I am just flat-out impressed with your bravery and fortitude. All this time, I assumed you and Tessa were members of my “One and Done” club of parenting. I had no idea that you were going through this struggle to add to your family. Not that I would have any reason to know since we are but Internet friends, but you know what I mean.
    What I am trying to say is that I imagine any one of these events would have put me out of commission. My husband and I would have turned on each other under the stress for sure. Maybe I am stronger than I think, and you never really know how much strength you have until you need to summon it. . . but I am impressed that amid all the disappointments and the pain you were able to focus on your projects and your work and your parenting and your love for each other. And your wonderful blog! If it were my blog, the final post would have been: “Laurie does not feel like engaging. Check back in a few months and leave me alone.”
    I have no idea what tomorrow’s posting will bring, but I want you to know that I am really proud of you both.
    And, your posts are reminders to me to always be kind because you never know what kind of struggles people are going through. I am putting snark to rest in 2011.
    Sorry to ramble. Hugs!

  7. Caitlin

    Ian, I always enjoy your writing, have since the DTH days. But there’s something about these two posts. Something distilled, something that approaches wisdom. However this story unfolds, thank you, and Tessa, for writing about it. Much love to you both.

  8. D

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. As a mom of 2 elementary schoolers, your posts recall for me all of the stress we went through in relatively easy pregnancies due to family medical histories etc. I am so sorry you and Tessa have been through so much. For what it is worth, I know several families who went through similar experiences aa you did who became pregnant within months of adopting. You never know….
    I wish you all the best.

  9. xuxE

    damn, life is so fucking insane!!!
    you guys are so full of love and have gone through hell and back trying to have a baby, other people throw babies out with the trash.
    and even when you have a kid, some people do absolutely nothing and their kids are totally healthy, others are totally vigilant to keep the kid safe and strong and it still doesn’t save them.
    i mean what the fuck can you really do??
    i’m lighting a road opening candle from the botanica and hoping for all the most awesomest stuff in the world to happen for you and everything to turn out amazingly great at some point. i think you’re due for an uptick. positive thoughts and energy coming your way.

  10. Anne

    Damn. While I was busy adopting a Manhattan shelter dog (from death row) yesterday, I was missing this.
    My husband did the “produce semen on demand” thing for more than a year while I popped Clomid (not as bad as poor Tessa’s shots, but still a hormone rollercoaster complete with bloating) and got inseminated every month on the optimum day per temperature readings etc. Our senses of humor helped a lot, but it was nevertheless a dispiriting venture overall.
    Then we stopped and went the adoption route. This was before our insurance covered IVF, so our finances allowed either adoption or IVF, not both.
    OK, on to your next installment…. Thanks again for sharing this crazy intimate journey. Mad props to you both for being able to function AT ALL while it was going on.

  11. Anne

    Laurie wins for best comment:
    “your posts are reminders to me to always be kind because you never know what kind of struggles people are going through.”
    So, so true. Be kinder than you need to be.


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