I’ll spare you all what it’s like to give a semen sample. All of those stories are the same: “I got to go into a room in a doctor’s office and jerk off! And it was weird but also awesome. But weird. But awesome.” I’ll try to tell you the rest of it, but my January is a blur. 2018 was beginning with several million points deducted. First, my grandmother had died a few days after Christmas. And then one of my kid’s Pre-K teachers had been killed in a car accident on New Years. But there, on January 2nd, I was awake at Jesus Christ AM to go do the weird-but-awesome-but-weird-but-awesome thing. Because when it’s time, it’s time.
Having a second child was proving difficult, and that’s why we were in this place. We were doing this thing called an “IUI,” which people very tastefully refer to as the “turkey baster method.” I’ll spare you all the details, but it’s slightly more sophisticated than that but just about as dignified as it sounds.
Jump forward a couple weeks: it worked. We were both quietly incredibly excited. Worked on the first try! Amazing! We told our parents and we went in together for bloodwork to keep an eye on things.
And then something in the numbers indicated trouble. We had an ultrasound and confirmed the doctor’s fears: they couldn’t find the embryo. Their best guess was that it may have attached itself to one of the Fallopian tubes, but it was developing — or not — somewhere outside of the uterus. And they didn’t know where. In medical terms, it was considered an “ectopic” pregnancy. Abnormal. Not viable.
On February 4, two days after her birthday, my wife and I went into the doctor’s office so she could receive an injection to end the pregnancy.
Up to now, I realize that I’ve been using very inclusive language — we went, our appointment — but this was an experience I was there to hold hands through. I can’t say that I carried a fraction of its weight. I’ve had a very difficult time talking about this since it happened, because let’s be clear: after the weird-but-awesome-but-weird-but-awesome part, my sole contribution to this entire process was being in the room. I’ve had a difficult time talking about this because it does not feel like my story to tell. It left a lot of room for introspection.
Watching the woman I love getting a frankly terrifying-looking injection in her pelvis made me think. A lot of my friends are writers, let me know if this sounds familiar: You try to stay in the moment and be present for people, but you cannot shut your brain off. Every new piece of information, every stimuli sends you off in a hundred directions in your head. I’m in a sterile room, trying to be a comfort, and I’m taking in our surroundings and extrapolating similes, drawing associations, already working out how to tell this story in my head. This drives me up a wall. I can’t ever just be in a place, doing a thing, because my head is always working the angles — casing the joint for symbolic significance to employ later. I hate it.
But as the drugs are being administered, I’m thinking of how unfair this is, how unbalanced our experiences are in this moment. I’m thinking of how I don’t want anyone to have to go through this, but I also wish I could force every man on the planet to sit where I’m sitting. We put so much importance on our part in making a baby, but there are a million things that can go wrong and women bear the brunt of all of them. Like, dudes love David Cronenberg movies because they’re soooo fucked up, but show me a woman who’s given birth or had a miscarriage who has the patience to put up with what a man thinks is “body horror.”
I think about how much I wish I could force every “well, actually”-ass Twitter pizzle Gamergater potato-faced Alt-Right Pepe-fucking 4chan cock knot and each and every conservative gerrymandering Bible humping pink-faced cracker fuck to Sit. In. This. Room and realize that they have no fucking clue what women’s experiences in the world are like.
But even that’s just misdirected anger. That’s just toxic masculinity looking around for someone to yell at because that feels better than looking out into the random, blameless universe and feeling the dimensions of my insignificance.
My wife did her best to shield me from what came in the days and weeks after the drugs. The sobbing in the bathroom told me the worst of it. We were told we would have to wait about six weeks to try again, the drugs are that strong that they wanted to make sure they’re completely out of the body before attempting to get pregnant again. For over a month, her body is the Dead Sea.
There was a moment; I was breaking down into sobs as I delivered news of the loss to a close friend — giant, wet gasps over cell phone lines, trying to say “This is so hard. This is so hard.” I realized Oh, I think this might be the first time he’s heard me cry. And I pushed against my instinct to be guarded and let myself be exposed, messy.
One challenge in processing tragedy has been realizing that it is not simple action/reaction. There is the collection of experiences — the diagnosis, the kind, dim lighting in the doctor’s office as the procedure happened, the effects — and then there is the protracted acceptance that those things all happened and the processing of what they mean, what they will mean for the rest of your life.
Our son, in the way kids sometimes do, talks about how he’d like a little sister. And it’s as if he’s reaching into our chests, Indiana Jones-Kali-Ma-style, and pulling out our hearts. My partner and I both have wonderful siblings and we can’t imagine our lives without them and we want that for our son. Because childhood is lonely. And one avenue toward building the empathy I’m talking about is having to share your toys. It’s not foolproof, but it’s one way.
Normally here is where an essay would wrap up with some concluding thought, but the only thing I have there is “all of this is horrible,” so instead, I’m going to end this with a very short poem. I hope you don’t mind.
On my son’s first day of kindergarten
He was maybe a year older
than I was when my
brother was born. I remember
being in pre-K, just after he was delivered
and being so excited
about having a little brother that
I started signing my worksheets
with his name. Only
I was four, so I didn’t quite
have a handle on how to spell “Nick”
so it came out a mashup of both of our names:
Nike. My teacher had no idea who
to return the graded worksheets to.
I was no longer a single person
The two of us, melded together on the page.
On the first day of kindergarten
my son insisted
on being dropped off
and walking in