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