Monthly Archives: November 2010

adventures in fertility: Chapter II, The Syringe of Hope

11/10/10

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.

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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.

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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:

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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

adventures in fertility: Chapter I, heavy clouds, no rain

11/8/10

In many ways, this blog has been a lie – I’ve been living through two huge era-defining events over the past three years, and neither of them have made it to the pages you read here. One is career stuff, the vaguely juicy gossip about the LA world, mixed with the pieces of awesome (and occasionally infuriating) news about our shows that I keep quiet out of a respect to the process.

With blessing and permission from Tessa, I can finally state the other: we’ve been caught in the choppy, non-navigable waters of fertility en route to having our second child. I will not skip to the end of the story because in many ways, the conclusion isn’t yet final, but if you don’t mind, I need to write this all down because if I don’t, I’m in danger of exploding.

You remember 2007, right? Nice enough year, Lucy was two, and we had just begun to wrap our heads around having another kid. Actually, it was a screening of “Children of Men” that really did it – something about that world bereft of kids awoke the desire in earnest. We had unprotected sex for the first time since Lulubeans came around, and within weeks… we were pregnant.

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in Columbia County, May 2007

I always thought I’d have a bunch of kids, even if I had no idea how or even why. It seemed like a happy default setting, something that twas ever thus and t’would ever be. I came from many, and assumed I would leave the world many, and besides, I always wanted a house where someone was awake. When Lucy surprised us in 2004, even after we were using Tessa’s math-challenged “rhythm method”, it seemed obvious and natural.

At week 7, when we went to the OB-GYN to see if we had a heartbeat, she immediately shook her head at the ultrasound. The cells had stopped, no growth, the levels were all negative. On a gorgeously sunny Labor Day 2007, I drove Tessa to the hospital and we had a D & C done as an outpatient procedure.

Still, it seemed fine. I’d just turned 40 and she was just 38. We got pregnant the first time while trying not to, and we got pregnant the second time in one cycle. After letting ourselves recover for a few lunar revolutions, we tried again several times, and on Father’s Day 2008, Tessa leaned over in bed and said “I have a present for you.”

She was pregnant again, and this time she knew it was fine. She had pretty bad morning sickness, sensitive chest, all the usual trappings from 2004. On a week 6 ultrasound, our doctor saw the little fluttering heartbeat, and we felt good enough to tell our extended family the news. I remember how excited my dad was on the phone.

We took a short trip to Napa, and came back for another ultrasound in week 8 just to check in. The doctor found the little dark spot on the screen and said, “Oh. I don’t think this is going to happen.” No more heartbeat, nothing. A few hours later, I drove Tessa to the hospital yet again, and as they put my brave, wonderful wife under anesthesia one more time, I realized this was different. When we drove home, the sunlight was blinding. I remember thinking, “I can’t do any more abortions on these cruel sunny days.”

I wasn’t prepared for how hard the 2nd miscarriage hit me; I don’t think either of us were. We had a lot of confidence, inner instinct, an ineffable understanding that it was going to work, and we now knew that to be a load of crap. They tested the “fetal material” recovered from the operation, and it came back as “female normal chromosomes”. It’s a notoriously unreliable test that often mixes the mother’s DNA with the fetus, but you know… I have a girl, and all I could see was another little girl, somehow not allowed to make it.

I sank into a deep melancholy, tried to write obliquely about it on the blog, but the lack of real-life community was beginning to drag me under. Tessa’s milk had already come in, despite the miscarriage, leaving her suffering from mastitis as well as recovering from surgery. At that point, Tessa was starting to talk about adoption, but I was still headstrong in my belief: there was no reason why this wasn’t working.

Only 20 months before, a GP had told Tessa she “had the eggs of a 21-year-old”. She had an FSH test that showed her to be nicely in the realm of fertile. We had a hysterosalpingram that was normal, I checked out as normal and “nicely motile” (thank you very much) and we exhausted every other test in the playbook. We did an IUI as a lark, but like most larks, failed to produce larklings.

And then a chance conversation with another mom brought us to the Promised Land: the very best fertility center in the world, right here in America, with a brand new procedure that was revolutionizing successful birth…

COMING UP: To Conceive Where Tessa Was Conceived… The Centennial State!

short on clue, but we gots lots of sunshine

11/3/10

I’m not sure how much of my environmentalism is actually about the environment, or if it’s a vestigial survivalist holdover from my Mormon ancestors storing cured meat in the barn for the lean times. Either way, doing anything that involves electricity, climbing shit and “fending for myself” is always a turn-on, so I decided to tackle a DIY solar project for our little bungalow in Venice, CA.

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when together, panels are about 4’x4′ square

We rent, so there’s no inducement to go nuts with any installation – and as those of you who have visited may attest, we’re nestled between two ancient apartment buildings that cut off most sun before 10am and after 4pm. Fortunately, when it comes to solar power, 10am-3pm are really the only hours that matter.

I can’t stress how theoretically easy solar power is to figure out – and if you’re installing panels at ground level or on a garage/shed, you really can do everything yourself. Just don’t do anything terribly stupid and follow the diagrams. I would describe it best as this:

SUN

SOLAR PANELS

SOLAR CONTROLLER

BATTERIES

YOUR STUFF

The two major items – the panels and the deep-cycle batteries – can be expensive, but for small projects, you can definitely surf the low end. I went with two relatively-inexpensive 80-watt Sharp panels and two deep-cycle batteries I found at the boat & marine supply store. The rest is just logistics (pointing the panels the right direction and angle) and getting thick-gauge wire.

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angled at 31 degrees – perfect for Oct-Feb in Los Angeles

I won’t go into the specifics unless prodded, but this project is meant to accomplish one thing: take all of our iPhones, iPods and laptops off the grid. I want all of the juice required by our computing to be from the sun. Getting everything to plug in somewhere is the next phase of the project, but there’s always time to break more omelettes, right?

a low tide raises all smells

11/2/10

For reasons I’ve bored you with before, my range of emotion for politics extends all the way from “cynicism” to “disgust”, and thus my dog is barely in this fight anymore. But there’s no harm in expressing a few pros and cons stemming from this particular midterm election.

PROS:

• the Democrats kept the Senate even while losing the House, which is the first time that’s happened since WWII.

• Prop 23, which was bought and paid for by oil companies, got shitcanned in California.

• Speaking of California, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina wasted MILLIONS of dollars en route to losing.

• Harry Reid kept his seat, which is only meaningful for metaphorical reasons, keeping the Tea Partiers and Palin Troglodytes from any real celebration. Palin herself is now, by many definitions, the kiss of death.

• Larry Kissell (NC-8) has been on my Most Favored Donations list for a while now, and upset the Republican in 2008. Tonight, he handily won back his seat in the lands of Kannapolis, Rockingham, and Polkton, NC.

• After reading a newspaper article this summer, we gave money to Marcus Brandon, a then-unknown openly-gay African American running for the North Carolina House of Representatives (District 60 – Greensboro and High Point)… he won tonight!

• Our wonderful lady Kirsten Gillibrand (NY-Sen.) beat her Repub challenger by millions of votes. MILLIONS!

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Kirsten in this month’s “Vogue”

CONS:

• Rand Paul? Kentucky, you suck.

• John Boehner is the House Speaker. Truly vomitous.

• Our home district of NY-20 flipped back to the Republicans. In fact, it was a pretty disastrous night for most of upstate New York.

• Our Senate now has no African Americans. Call me a weak-kneed progressive, but I find that unbelievably depressing.

• This country has the attention span of a Tourette’s-afflicted 3-year-old after a sugar bender. Their voting pattern can be summed up as “Me mad! Me no like economy! Me vote for guy who not in office! (*burp* *fart*)” I’d find it tragic if I could muster the emotion necessary.

And you? What did you think of last night’s events?