With a Spoon

Most people don’t have to think about infertility. They don’t have to pause for a single second to ponder that their reproductive choices are entirely in their own hands. They don’t have to think about these things and in turn don’t have to think about how incredibly fortunate they are to have that as a given. And because they’re so fortunate, they don’t have to waste a single nanosecond’s thought on the pain and heartbreak of infertility.

And so, when we, the infertile, wind up feeling insulted or hurt, it’s almost never because of deliberate insult. Often, it’s not even because of a comment directed at us. It’s just because we live in a world surrounded by the fortunate who operate on a lot of assumptions about their own fortune, the fortune of others, and what it means and feels like to be less fortunate.

Ms. Swimmin’s mother, preparing for the wedding of another daughter, makes those little “aren’t I cute and subtle?” insinuations to the bride and groom about how much she wants grandchildren as we sit right there next to her. It simply doesn’t occur to her how every little joke of that sort is like a dagger in our hearts.

Friends, making an effort to be sensitive, tell us they’re pregnant before announcing it to the world at large…and toss out a strange little attempt at a joke about what a horrendous burden it is to have a baby. They don’t mean to offend, they just want to throw a little humor in because that’s “them.”

My brother and his wife – who, yes, of course, clearly got pregnant on their first or second attempt, my feelings about which remain far too complicated and unsettled to go into much depth about here just yet – tell us that we shouldn’t be anxious about Christmas because they’re not going to be talking all baby, all the time. Brother concedes that, yes, “you’ll have to be around a pregnant lady for a few days and if that’s a problem for you, you shouldn’t come.” He is quaintly naive, I guess, about our mother’s grandchild mania, and somehow assumes that if they don’t bring it up at Christmas then she won’t, either.

And what can we do?

It’s a basic fact that we’ve learned over these last months that to be an infertile couple means to swallow an awful lot of pain, to stay quiet and plaster your best phony smile on your face when you’d rather be screaming and crying and smashing everything in sight. It means not talking to people about how you really feel because then you’re the asshole, you’re the turd in the punchbowl, you’re Captain Bringdown stomping on everyone else’s right and proper happiness.

The friends are insulted when we object to their thoughtless attempt at humor, because after all, they were trying to be nice. So who the hell are we to tell them they’ve hurt our feelings when they’re “doing their best?” Brother gets his nose out of joint, reminding us to be oh-so-careful to make sure we don’t hurt his wife’s feelings.

And we swallow it. We keep it all inside, because what else can we do? Our friends and our family deserve their happiness. I don’t begrudge it to them. But…if I slip up, if I have so much as a single moment of saying, “Hey, what about me? What about my wife? Don’t our feelings count, too?”…well, then I’m the one causing drama, and I’m the one RUINING CHRISTMAS FOR EVERYBODY and I’m the bad guy.

And so I take the pain, I take the unintended insults, I take the thoughtless things that everybody else in the whole goddamn world does that remind me a million times a day that for no good reason whatsoever I don’t get the one thing I want more than anything else in the world, and I swallow them.

I worry that swallowing so much can only lead to all of it coming back out eventually, in great gushing, belching torrents of tear-streaked sadness and rage, because nobody else in our lives has to think about it ever, and my wife and I have to think about it all the fucking time. And that’s probably so. But what else can I do? So I take that worry and I swallow it along with all the rest.

Because god fucking forbid that my pain and sorrow and anger, much less my clearly insane desire to have the people in my life give an instant’s actual, real, meaningful thought to all of those things rather than just paying them lip service and pretending that they deserve a fucking medal for “doing the best they can” impinge for even so much as a nanosecond on the warm, glowy happiness of anyone else.

And these are people I love. People I legitimately and honestly love, good people who I believe with every fiber of my being deserve their happiness. People who are and will be great parents, people who have made and will in the future make great, wonderful, amazing kids. But they don’t understand, and nothing I say, nothing I write, nothing I do will ever make them understand. They may have sympathy, after a fashion, but they’re never going to have empathy. They may understand that it hurts, but they’ll never understand how much it hurts. They see my shoes, but they do not walk in them.

So what else can I do? No matter how much it hurts, no matter how full I already am…I just keep swallowing.

The Lengths We Go To

Sitting in the living room on a quiet morning, enjoying my coffee, reading about the winners of the Hugo Awards and vaguely pondering which player I should take next in my on-line fantasy football draft. Y’know, like you do.

Suddenly, Ms. Swimmin pops up from her chair on the other side of the room.

“Hey, do you know where the tape measure is?” she asks.

I look around, spot it not two feet from where she was just sitting and point it out to her. Turn back to my coffee and internet.

“Okay,” she says, grabbing said tape measure, “I need you to stand up and take off your pants.”

Friends, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, one thing I think I know for sure, one piece of Manly Advice that I will pass on to my hypothetical future son, it’s that when your wife tells you to take off your pants, you take off your pants.

Having obligingly dropped trou, I figure she wants to measure my waist or something. Maybe she’s found a pair of sweet vintage grey flannel trousers on eBay and wants to see if they’ll fit me. This has never happened before, and doesn’t seem likely, but I do love me a pair of sweet vintage grey flannel trousers, and there’s a first time for everything.

“I’m going to need better access to certain parts,” she says.

“I…um, what? What are you going to measure?” I am at this point, I must confess, just a wee bit terrified.

It turns out she’s just come across an article about a study that states:

Men who have a shorter perineal length, also known as the anogenital distance (AGD)*, have lower sperm counts, poorer quality sperm, lower sperm concentrations and lower motility, the study has found.

* Yes, that is just a fancy way of saying “taint.”

She explains this and says, “I’m curious, okay?” she says.

“Wait, are you actually planning on measuring from balls to bunghole?” I say.


I prop a leg up on a nearby chair and, fortunately, she is able to get the measurement she needs without actually sticking a tape measure…well. Anyway.

I am pleased to report, and I am sure you are all pleased to learn, that though my count is low and motility is almost non-existent, my…ahem…”anogenital distance” appears to be above average.

So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.

Insult to Injury

I have to let all the inappropriate, thoughtless and insensitive comments from people we know, all the idiocy from popular culture telling us that people without kids are barely people at all, all the self-righteous, holier-than-thou bullshit from internet commenters on any article in which IVF is mentioned, all the myriad of ways that every single day reminds me of the giant gaping hole in our lives roll off me like water off a duck’s back. I have to do this because if I don’t do it, it’ll all drive me crazy. I have to force myself sometimes to have a sense of humor about, because if I don’t laugh I won’t be able to stop crying.

But then I scan the gossip-column headlines and learn that the King of the Assclowns, the Walking Sperm, the Man Who Impregnates Women Just By Looking at Them, the King of the Douchebags:

Mr. Ex-Britney Spears, Kevin Federline, father of FIVE, in case (unlike me) you're lucky enough not to know who this is

has reproduced again. This guy who’s essentially famous for impregnating Britney Spears and owning a brain barely able to allow him to walk and chew gum at the same time, the guy who makes The Situation look like a Rhodes Scholar, has passed on his DNA to five offspring. Five. And I can’t even do it once.

Thank you so much, Universe. I know the nads aren’t good for much of anything, anyway, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy being kicked in them, all the same.

Thunder Stealing

Ed. Note: Not since February? Really? Good grief. Unfortunately, our financial situation has slowed down our parental situation an awful lot. We’re stuck in a holding pattern and hating it, which makes what follows even more difficult. A side effect of this is that there’s not much to write about right now, so posts are kind of thin on the ground, as it were. Anyway…

Ed. Note 2: Fair warning: what follows is completely self-indulgent, intolerably whiny and will probably make you want to crawl through the series of tubes to my end so you can reach out through my monitor and smack me a good one for being such a self-indulgent, whiny bastard. But…well, it is a blog, after all, so that’s kind of par for the course, innit?

For our entire adult/partnered/married lives, I have been able to operate quite safely on at least one very basic assumption: that my brother and his wife would not be having kids. On this blog’s “About” page, I wrote, “I have one older brother, who does not have and will not have kids.” Everything I’d ever heard from both my brother and his wife led me to believe that this was true.

Strange how quickly such assumptions can be shattered.

They came to visit last week, and we went out camping for a night. As we sat around the campfire, drinking beer and talking about life, the universe and everything, the hour grew late and the subject turned to our fertility woes. I brought the subject up on purpose. My brother and his wife were among the very few when we were first telling family members and close friends what was going on to be simply, plainly and unambiguously supportive. Theirs were the first – and essentially only – contact we received from members of either of our families to just say, “This really sucks that you’re going through this, we’re looking forward to meeting our new niece or nephew whenever it happens, if there’s anything we can do to help you let us know.” So I brought the subject up on purpose, because I wanted to tell them how much their simple and heartfelt gesture had meant to both of us. And so I did.

And then my sister-in-law dropped the bombshell. They’d been talking about it a lot, wondering if they would regret never having kids, realizing that if they didn’t do it now they were going to lose their chance…and they’ve decided that they’re “pretty sure” they’re going to start trying to get pregnant sometime in the next year.

Internet, I’d really love to tell you that I took this news in stride. I’d really love to tell you that I told them how great I thought it was, that I said something to the effect of being certain that they would be great parents. Instead, I clammed up. I was shocked. Dumbfounded. Speechless. I really didn’t know what to say.

Eventually, I told my brother that, so far as we knew, our fertility issue was entirely on me, and I really had no idea as to the source of it, so if maybe it was some sort of genetic thing he should probably go get tested before they started trying, so they wouldn’t waste an unproductive and frustrating year of trying with no result like Ms. Swimmin and I did.

But I remained – and still remain – very conflicted. It makes me feel like a bad person. There’s a bit of me that is a truly awful person, indeed, that is completely selfish and petty and small. Because as much as I say I wouldn’t wish an inability to have children when they want to on anyone…well, there’s a little tiny bit of me – a bit that I hate, a bit that I wish I could make go away – that hopes that my brother does have the same issue I have.

I had hoped that typing it out and seeing it there in black-and-white on the screen would be cathartic, or would make me realize that I don’t really feel that way at all, but it is neither of those things. Instead it is just stark and honest and terrible and horrible and awful, but there it is.

I am a terrible person, because in some small wish-I-didn’t way, I am wishing this awful experience not just on someone else, but on two people I love and care about and want to be happy.

Make no mistake, I want them to be happy and there is another, much larger piece of me who hopes their efforts are easy and happy and successful and knows that they will be wonderful parents. But Mr. Petty Jerkbag Asshole No Swimmin’ is there in the back, being a petty jerkbag asshole and stewing and fuming over the whole situation.

I have, like a lot of people who get pregnant or who would like to be pregnant but aren’t, a recurring little daydream. It’s this little daydream about calling my parents and telling them that they have a grandchild. It’s a nice fantasy, a hopeful thought that I can play like a record for a guaranteed smile even when I’m feeling lowest.

And now in that recurring fantasy, instead of hearing delight and joy, I call them up say, ‘Hey, Mom, Dad, you’ve got a grandchild,” the response is, “Oh, another one? That’s nice. Hey, did you see the latest photos of little Thor that your brother posted on Facebook? He’s just so cute!”

This is all tied up, of course, with my own long-standing younger brother issues of feeling second-best, but even my brother will tell you that he’s observed that I am not entirely off-base in feeling this way.

It’s a terrible way to feel not least because it’s so inarguably selfish. In the end, having a kid or not can’t be about me and my parents and my brother. What my own journey to and through parenthood brings won’t really be affected much at all by what my brother does or does not do in a reproductive sense. It goes without saying that what is most important is my relationship with my wife and our relationship with the child we will have.

But that’s the other aspect of this that’s so hateful and awful: that I can’t not feel this way. I can know all of these things, I can intellectualize them and internalize them and feel them with almost all of my heart and soul. But I just can’t get rid of the inner 9-year-old who’s insanely jealous about all the cool stuff that Older Brother gets to do first and look, here’s just one more thing. It’s just a rotten way to feel not in spite of knowing how meaningless it really is, but because I know that and I still can’t just let it go.

That’s all I’ve got. Again, I was hoping that writing this would bring me around to a satisfying conclusion where I achieve some sort of perspective on the matter, or recognize a silver lining or SOMETHING. That’s how it’s supposed to work because it so often has. But it’s just not happening. I still feel angry and selfish and petty and small. That’s all I’ve got. Sorry.

Just Super

We had some people over for the Super Bowl this afternoon/evening. Couldn’t really have cared less about the Packers or the Steelers…but I like football in general, and hey, any excuse to put on a spread of hot wings and chili, right? We had two other couples over – one couple some of our closest friends, some of only a vanishingly small handful of people we’ve told about the root cause of our fertility woes in real life. The other couple are also really wonderful people, great people, but they were not in the know, as it were.

Until this afternoon.

Somehow, improbably, against all sense or reason, as the Packers and Steelers battled their way up and down the field, the conversation turned to our infertility troubles and ultimately, somehow, improbably, against all sense or reason, to my balls and how poorly they function.

It was weird.

It was uncomfortable.

It was embarrassing.

I didn’t like it one bit.

Fortunately, there was a commercial break (I’m one of those weirdos who genuinely cares about the game and for the most part couldn’t give a rip about the commercials), and I was able to flee to the kitchen to work on the chili for a few minutes.

And when I returned to the living room, I was presented with a stark reminder of just why we don’t tell many people a lot of details about what’s going on, beyond the fact that there aren’t many people I know in the real world with whom I feel all that comfortable discussing my balls.

Having stirred and tasted the chili, I walked back in to what could have served as a commercial for K-Tel’s Greatest Hits of Just Having Found Out a Couple is Infertile:

“Have you tried different positions?”

“It might help if you lose some weight, no offense.”

“You should switch to boxers!”

“I believe that if you want anything enough, it’ll happen.”

“Have you thought about adoption?”

It was weird.

It was uncomfortable.

It was embarrassing.

I didn’t like it one bit.

And since I had just emerged from the kitchen and couldn’t really flee right back there again, and because the game was back on and I was actually interested in watching it, there wasn’t much I could do. I clammed up tight and tried to tune out the whole conversation as much as possible.

It was all I could do because these people are good friends and people who genuinely mean well and weren’t actively trying to hurt feelings or be insensitive, and I’d like them to continue being our friends. So as much as I wanted to scream, “Oh, different positions? Really? Different positions? You mean there’s MORE THAN ONE?! I HAD NO IDEA! Why, you’re a GODDAMN GENIUS, coming up with a brilliant idea like that! Why didn’t the doctors we’ve seen mention that idea? Hey, tell you what, why don’t you come in the bedroom with us and take a look so you can tell me whether or not I’m sticking it in the right hole, since you’re in such a mood to be so goddamn helpful?” I didn’t do that. I clammed up, stared as hard as I could at Aaron Rodgers hurling the prolate spheroid pigskin down the field. It was the only time I can think of that I was actually trying to pay attention to Joe Buck and tune out other noise, rather than vice-versa.

It’s so hard sometimes, because people do mean well. They want to say something helpful, and that they botch the effort at doing so like Christina Aguilera botched the Star-Spangled Banner does not negate their good intentions. And my problems are not their problems, no matter how much they wish to be sympathetic. Sometimes the easiest thing when your friend is explaining why he’s “in general” against IVF is to just nod and smile and not make it into A Thing and try to change the subject (“Hey, look at that, will.i.am looks like he stole a robot’s toupee!”).

To their credit, they realized they may have gone too far and offered sincere apologies for any offense they may have caused. Because they’re good people and obviously not without empathy or self-awareness.

But if I could offer just one bit of helpful advice to anyone out there who has discovered that a couple you know is dealing with infertility, it’s this: don’t try to offer any helpful advice. We really, really don’t need it, and it can be weird and uncomfortable and embarrassing. Sympathy is lovely and appreciated. Saying, “Oh, well, you guys just need to try the Rusty Bike Pump, that’ll do the trick!” is maybe not so much.

And on the plus side, it was a good game, and the wings and chili both came out great.

An Open Letter to Dr. Wendy Walsh

Most of you have probably by now read this delightful little missive from self-important windbag Dr. Wendy Walsh. But if not, brace yourself for a giant pile of thoughtless, idiotic and judgmental garbage and click on over to read what she’s got to say. Here follow some thoughts upon reading her, ahem, oh-so-brilliant-and-insightful thoughts on something that she never has and never will experience.

Dear Dr. Williams,

Fuck you. Fuck you sideways with a rusty chainsaw. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you. Oh, and just for good measure: Fuck you.

If there’s one thing in this world I simply cannot abide, it’s a know-it-all busybody with a condescending attitide, someone who merrily tells people exactly how they should live their lives and then tacks on, “but that’s just my opinion, take it with a grain of salt.” In short, somebody exactly like you.

Tacking a meaningless, hollow platitude about how your “heart goes out to parents whose homes are barren through no fault of their own” doesn’t make your entire lunatic screed about how people should adopt rather than have a go at IVF any less insulting, any less foolish, any less condescending, any less asinine.

As you yourself note, Dr. Williams, you have not experienced the pain of infertility. So how can you so smugly explain to infertile couples what they ought to be doing? What in the name of Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ do you think gives you even the slightest qualification to tell us what is right in this situation?

Here’s an analogy for you: I’m a young, straight, white male of Protestantish background. I therefore don’t get to tell black people how they ought to feel when the KKK burns a cross on their lawn. I don’t get to tell Jews how they ought to react when they hear someone making tasteless Holocaust jokes. I don’t get to tell gay people what they ought to do when Fred Phelps and his cult of morons show up on the nightly news explaining that soldiers die because God Hates Fags. You get it? I do not directly experience racism, anti-Semitism or homophobia, so I wouldn’t presume to tell those who do how they ought to respond to such things. You, likewise, have no personal experience whatsoever with infertility, so you should, perhaps, not presume to tell those who do what they ought to be doing.

Look, adoption is a wonderful thing. Adoptive parents are, generally speaking, wonderful people who are doing a great thing that should be lauded. I want to raise children with my wife in part because I think we’re going to be pretty damn good parents, and adoption may in fact be something we pursue at some point, regardless of what else happens.

But I also want to have a child with my wife because I want the experience of HAVING a child. I want the experience of sharing pregnancy and childbirth with my wife, and I want the experience of creating and raising a person who is half me and half her mixed together to create something – someone – entirely new. So tell me, Dr. Wendy Walsh, just who the fuck are you to tell me that it’s not okay for me to want these things? Who the fuck are you to tell me that, because of a quirk of my biology, I shouldn’t have the things I want when modern medicine makes it possible? Just who the fuck do you think you are to tell me that I should suppress the single most basic instinct not just of human beings but of all life – to reproduce, to pass on my DNA to another generation – just because what comes so easily and thoughtlessly to people like you is difficult for me?

The smug superiority radiating from your every word astounds me, Dr. Walsh. The utterly baffling idea that those of us cursed with infertility should subsume our own desire to reproduce into some sort of ill-defined Greater Good is so smarmily insulting. You claim some sort of concern for the population of the planet, but then go on to mention that you, yourself, have contributed to the population by having “biological” children of your own. Which is it? Infertile people should be concerned with environmental issues and not contribute further to the population of the planet, but fertile people are under no similar constraint? That’s not just condescending and thoughtless; it’s actively vile. If you’re concerned about such issues, YOU, Dr. Walsh, need to do something about it, not just say, “You infertiles are required to carry this burden for us.”

Your entire column is so thoughtless, so tone-deaf, so judgmental and shows such an astounding lack of empathy that I must say I’m glad I’m not your patient. And truly, I am surprised: I didn’t know that Ringling Brothers Clown College was giving out Ph.D.s in psychology these days.

In conclusion, Dr. Walsh: fuck you. Fuck you running with a splintery broom handle. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you. In the future, please stick to your areas of actual expertise and experience, whatever those may be…because they are clearly unrelated entirely to the issues that infertile couples face. Fuck you.


N. Swimmin, Not a Doctor But Plays One on TV

Beyond Reason

If someone came to me this afternoon and said, “You can pick one sentence that I have the power to guarantee that no one will ever speak or write to you again,” there’s one clear and obvious choice. I think you readers – most of whom are either in the same boat as me and Ms. Swimmin or at least part of the same flotilla – know exactly what it is.

“Everything happens for a reason.”

It is, apparently, one of the standard responses upon hearing of a couple’s infertility. “Everything happens for a reason.” This is often followed by something akin to, “Just wait, it will happen when you least expect it,” and/or, “it will happen when the time is right.”

To which I can only say: Bull. Shit.

I know people often just don’t know quite what to say when confronted with such news. And I know that they probably think they’re being comforting, or offering a pearl of wisdom that will help us through this time…but all I can say is, “Bullshit.”

Nothing happens for a reason. Things just happen. And it’s not going to make me feel better to imagine that there’s a reason behind whatever biological quirk has caused my sperm to be useless, sluggish, lazy little bastards. It’s not going to give me some sort of philosophical perspective on the matter to imagine a world in which there’s some sort of motive or intent behind all of the misery and unhappiness that the situation causes both me and Ms. Swimmin.

If this is happening for a reason, pray tell, O Wise One, what could that reason possibly be? I try my best to be a good person. So does my wife. We both really, really want to have this hypothetical child. When this child comes, I will do everything I can to be a good father. And yet, the world is depressingly full of scumbags who beat their wives and cheat on them, parents who physically, emotionally or sexually abuse their children, fathers who think nothing of raiding their daughters’ piggy banks to buy beer, mothers who don’t bat an eye while telling their sons, “You ruined my life, you’re stupid, I hate you,” and on and on and on. And for so many people like that, the babies just pop out easy as pie. So what, then, could the reason be to make it so goddamn hard for us?

There’s also Everything Happens for a Reason’s religious counterpart, “It’s all part of God’s plan,” about which the less said, the better. Thanks, I suppose, to the circles I generally run in, I haven’t yet heard that one from anyone. If I ever do, I don’t think I’ll be able to nod and smile politely. I think the, “No, fuck you and let me tell you something…” is going to arise with a fury and intensity beyond my control.

I don’t think people who don’t have to deal with it really understand that infertility isn’t a cold or the chicken pox. It’s not going to get better. I’m not going to become more fertile if I rest for a couple of weeks, get plenty of fluids and eat some chicken soup. So talking about how it’ll happen “when you lest expect it” or “when the time is right” isn’t helpful, or comforting, or even particularly intelligent. For so many people of the “my husband looks at me and Ooops! I’m pregnant again” persuasion, it’s a totally foreign concept.

And because they don’t understand infertility to begin with – and they don’t have to, lucky them – they don’t get that IVF or other medical intervention-type solutions aren’t simple and easy. It’s not like getting a flu shot or having your annual physical. It’s a long and difficult process with no guarantees anywhere along the way. It’s a Great Big “If” and can by no means be considered pregnancy “happening when the time is right.”

I know people want to offer sympathy, offer comfort, offer wisdom, offer advice. But telling me there’s a reason that I feel useless, that I feel like a failure – feelings that I know aren’t really true, but that I can’t seem to avoid having from time to time – just doesn’t help. In fact, it hurts.

We were discussing it with some friends the other day, and one of them really did have some wisdom to offer. It was wisdom that came, apparently from that old busybody Dear Abby, who I guess really did have good advice to offer every now and then. There is really nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know what to say.” It’s okay. It’s honest. It has the supreme advantage of not being an idiotic and meaningless platitude. If you don’t know what to say, say that.

Just don’t tell me that my wife and I can’t have the one thing we dearly and passionately want above any other right now…but it’s okay, because the universe has a reason for denying it to us.