(In)Fertility Isn’t Exactly Egalitarian

Trying isn't fun

Bret was strategizing about how to submit his sample for the semen analysis. The options were extract the sample at home and bring it to the clinic within thirty minutes, while holding the container of the sample close to your body to keep it warm. Or, go to the clinic and get the sample there. He was anxious about this. Should he plan to access porn on his phone? He wouldn’t want to touch any videos or magazines that other people had used. I sympathized, made my kind listening sounds. But after a point, I got frustrated. We had been trying to get pregnant for seven months or so, and my OB-GYN had ordered this initial round of testing for us to make sure everything was in order. So far, I had had a lot of blood drawn to be tested for all variety of maladies, and I had a vaginal ultrasound. Next, I would have a test that involved threading a catheter up my cervix so that dye could be injected, to make sure my ovaries were clear. This would be incredibly painful, and my competent, matter-of-fact OB would be entirely uncomforting. Bret’s part of this, in its entirety, was to have one orgasm in an awkward place. Yet he had kvetched more about this than I had about any of my tests. Typical male weakness, I thought in my less charitable moments.

Getting Pregnant Isn’t A 50-50 Job

There is no helping the fact that no matter how egalitarian your relationship, getting pregnant cannot be a 50-50 job. I’m the one who took daily ovulation tests, charted my cycle on an app, stayed in bed in uncomfortable positions after sex. When I told a good friend that we were trying, he said, “Well at least the trying is fun!” and I had to stifle my outrage. Maybe the first couple months were fun. By half a year in, it was tedious, and after a year, worse than that. It didn’t matter what kind of mood we were in, during the fertile window, we had to have sex. After fitting in as much timed intercourse as we could for those few days, it felt like we had checked a household chore off a to-do list. Not the most unpleasant chore, but drudgery nevertheless. “Good work, team, see you next month.”

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I had a harder time with this emotionally than my husband. Even though I knew it wasn’t rational, I felt like my body was failing at a basic biological function that it should be able to manage. Isn’t this what my body was made to do? As far as we know, it could be Bret’s body that is responsible for our infertility, but I blamed myself for no reason other than my depressive self-loathing tendencies.

And Throw In Depression, Too

Speaking of depression: I got mixed messages from at least five different physicians who I talked to about anti-depressants and pregnancy. My prior psychiatrist told me he would not prescribe them to any woman who was trying to get pregnant, no matter what. “When it’s just you, we care about your comfort, but when you’re pregnant, there are more important things than your comfort”—as if my depression was a second-rate hotel room, not a debilitating condition. “Some of my clients have found that using their SAD lamps more often helps,” he told me. “Some women find that the pregnancy hormones elevate their mood so that they really don’t need medication.” I refrained from pointing out 1) there was no way to know whether I would fall into that category, and 2) I didn’t know how long it would take me to get pregnant, so I would just have to muddle through for months while waiting for the mythical hormones to possibly make me happy. Instead of saying any of this, or pointing out the hypocrisy of this man lecturing me about the importance of prioritizing my future baby’s health over my own, I found a new doctor.

Waiting On An Ending

This story doesn’t have an ending yet, happy or otherwise. We have been trying for close to two years now, with a few breaks for mental health and logistical reasons. The next step is intrauterine insemination, which we will try when I can coordinate it with my work schedule—because it involves at least three separate doctor’s visits on specific days of my menstrual cycle, and as a trial lawyer, this isn’t easy to fit in. I’m nervous about injecting myself with medication, about possible side effects, and about the high chance that this won’t work. If it doesn’t, we’ll be looking at IVF, and I will be thinking hard about how far I will go to have a biological child. Bret and I have talked about adoption but not in any detail, so that’s something we’ll have to think through.

Please Don’t

In the meantime, please don’t ask your friends, relatives, or coworkers whether they want kids or when they will have a baby. You have no idea what they might be going through. I came to work last year after a successful settlement, and one of the secretaries, overhearing people’s congratulations, said, “Emily, are they congratulating you because you’re pregnant?!?” She delighted in my embarrassed reaction and made jokes about it for days, and I had to swallow my feelings. Don’t do this.

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