My Fertility Journey Began In A Cold Doctor’s Office, But It Was Also Weirdly Romantic
At first, knowing that Alissa and I could never conceive naturally felt like another queer heartbreak.
Four years ago, my wife, Alissa, underwent infertility treatments to conceive our son. I was there for it all, standing by her side during the biweekly bloodwork, internal sonograms, and the IUI procedure. It’s not that I was there for each moment of my wife’s treatment because I’m an amazingly supportive spouse — of course, I’m also that, but I wanted to be there. I wanted to be a part of conception.
Conception: That magical moment when life is sparked, or at least that’s what my conservative Southern sex education classes engrained into me. Knowing that Alissa and I could never conceive naturally felt like another queer heartbreak. On the queer developmental milestones list, conception grief comes right after realizing you never slow danced with a girl in high school, but before the first time your son asks if Grandpa is his daddy.
“I’ve never had sperm inside of me!” my wife, Alissa, cheerfully announced to a room of medical staff in the middle of her first IUI procedure. Intrauterine insemination (IUI), commonly known as the turkey baster method, is a fertility treatment where a doctor calculates the exact moment you’re likely to conceive. When the time comes, they insert a miniature garden hose into your uterus and pump you with semen. We laughed. The medical team smirked. Maybe they’d grown tired of gay infertility humor? On his way out, the doctor said, “Best of luck” and patted my shoulder in a way that made me feel oddly masculine.
With the combination of modern medicine and sheer luck, Alissa got pregnant after the second turkey basting. Nine months later, we had our son.
Our kid turned out to be such a joy that after his third birthday, we decided we’d try for another baby. This time, we decided, it would be me in the stirrups, my blood being taken, and my uterus being probed. The medical aspects of infertility made me queasy, but at least Alissa would be there distracting me with jokes or at least holding my hand.
I do not want to get pregnant alone, I thought.
On the morning of my own first fertility appointment, I stopped short at a jarring sign: Partners must remain in the waiting room. “Excuse me?” I said to the front desk lady. “Does that mean I have to get pregnant alone?” I pointed to the sign. “My wife and I are twice vaccinated and once boosted,” I added, chewing the inside of my lip and thinking surely, this sign couldn’t be for us.
“Covid protocol states that your partner must remain in the waiting room,” she said, keeping her eyes on her computer screen while her fingers never stop clacking. Her gum smacked. My chest contracted. I do not want to get pregnant alone, I thought. This appointment was for monitoring, but I knew that next time, I’d be here for the procedure.
The night before my first IUI, I decided to try making the best of it. “At least let’s get lunch afterward,” I suggest.
“Ok,” Alissa says, “but I hate that I can’t be in there with you.” We lay 3 feet apart, not a toe touching. “It isn’t fair; don’t they know that being together is all we have?” I say, feeling sorry for myself.
In the gray waiting room, Alissa is working. Her fingers tap incessantly between her keyboard and her phone. I am not working. I read Eileen, which is a story about a depressed woman who doesn’t kill someone and then escapes her sh*tty hometown. The book makes me want to have a cold beer the same way reading Girl on The Train made me thirsty for gin and tonics. “Look at those fish chasing each other,” Alissa says, pointing to the tank in the middle of the waiting room. “Those are Dory fish, like from Finding Nemo,” I say. We go back to typing and reading.
The nurse calls my name and waves me back to the procedure room. A rose quartz crystal and a moonstone appear from Alissa’s pocket. She dubbed these our fertility crystals when she was going through treatments. “Good luck,” she says, kissing me and placing the warm stones in my palm.
Inside the exam room, I remove my underwear and jeans and fold them into a tidy square. These days, I merely trim my vagina hairs and I wonder what everyone else is doing with theirs. I am sure the doctor knows, but I promise myself that I won’t ask.
Waiting, I lie down and place my socked feet in the stirrups. A familiar double tap knocks on the door and a smiling doctor and serious faced nurse enter. They get straight to work opening instruments that sit in sealed bags and have me sign a piece of paper swearing that they have the correct vial of sperm.
“You’re going to feel a small pinch,” the doctor says as she inserts the speculum. I heave out a sigh, willing my body to relax. “Now I am going to insert the catheter into your uterus.” I see the miniature garden hose. It looks longer than I remembered. Sweat rolls down my ribs. Looking up at the ceiling, I squeeze the crystals and take circular yoga breaths. “You doing alright?” the doctor asks. I wiggle my toes, loosening my muscles.
I let out another breath and realize my body is not in any pain. Unclenching my fists, I release the death grip on the crystals. The stones feel heavy in my hands, and I know I can handle this on my own. “OK, we’re sending in the sperm,” she says. I smile, realizing I haven’t had sperm near me in more than a decade. When I start to feel settled, the procedure is over. She instructs to remain lying down for 10 minutes and reminds me not to be alarmed if I see light spotting.
The after care pamphlet reads: If you can, have sexual intercourse this evening. Allegedly, orgasms can help induce pregnancy. Since I have time to kill and I’m an overachiever, I decide to jerk off, twice. Sounds of the tissue paper blanket rustling back and forth fill the room. I text Alissa: I got myself off, twice. She texts me back: LOL
I wait 11 minutes before leaving. “How was it?” Alissa asks. “It was totally fine,” I say and realize I’m feeling strangely confident and powerful.
Maybe it’s the afternoon light or the fresh sperm or the excitement of possibility, but right this second, everything feels very romantic.
We picnic on the Central Park lawn, eating sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies. I eat my entire Reuben and one-quarter of her veggie and cheese. I’ve never been hungrier. “It smells like dog piss down here,” Alissa says, dipping her chips into my Russian dressing. Tiny birds bounce all around us, and I try shooing them away. “The park animals are too comfortable,” I complain. Despite it being midday in July, it feels cool in the shade. I watch Alissa, who is watching a French family argue seemingly about directions. “I’m glad we did this,” she says, gesturing to the picnic. Maybe it’s the afternoon light or the fresh sperm or the excitement of possibility, but right this second, everything feels very romantic.
Alissa hails a cab to head back to work and I walk to the subway thinking about conception. The act of conception is not itself a precious act. It’s clear that being in a room together for a medical procedure is not all Alissa and I have. What we have is a family and a city that has allowed us to live as openly as we’ve wanted. Queer people have long used creative interventions to build families. Queer people have helped build this island as a sanctuary to live outside of mundane and crushing cultural norms.
Alone, I sit on the subway, crystals in hand, and feel content, knowing I am now a part of this ever-expanding legacy.
Samantha is the author of the essay collection Putting Out: Essays on Otherness. She writes personal and nonfiction essays covering LGBTQ life, mental health, and feminism. Her work can be found on Elle, Bust, Bustle, Washington Post Magazine, and in various other publications.
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