Is it that we are not engaged. . .or are we just afraid?
This leads me to ponder one of my greatest until-recently unspoken and self-ignored feelings - the sense of somehow being "left out" of the picture by IVF. I hate saying it, but truth be told the whole IVF process leaves me feeling a bit emasculated. I know it isn’t rational and certainly not externally imposed but somehow deep down I feel a little sidelined by IVF.
We started IVF as a solid two-person team. I am an MD working in academic medicine, so my work side liked the structure of IVF - you have a calendar detailing each step of the process. At the beginning, I was intent on coming to each appointment to tackle whatever challenge – blood draw, ultrasound, SIS, HSG, surgical procedure - that Mo faced. We would do it all together.
My enthusiasm dampened almost immediately. The hormones started kicking in quickly, making Mo's temperament…um…somewhat unpredictable. And my internal dialogue began to change: When Mo said, “I don't need you to come to today’s appointment,” I heard, “I’d rather go without you.” When Mo moaned quietly during a particularly grueling PIO injection, I’d start to think defensively, “It’s not MY fault that hurt so much!” As the days passed, I started to feel a seeping guilt that Mo had to go through the wringer every single day, while I was relatively unscathed by the process. I also started questioning just what my role really was.
And what IS my role, really in this whole IVF business? It comes down to my producing a single semen sample. I realize it’s an essential part of things, but it seems so…mechanistic. And so removed from me as a person.
In case you aren’t intimately familiar with the sperm collection process in IVF, let me walk you through my first time:
The morning started early with a careful scrubbing of the family jewels with Dial soap. Note to self: Make sure to use the cleanest towel!
I arrived at the hospital with Mo and found about six other couples in the waiting room. The women wore hospital gowns and those dreadful treaded ankle-high socks and the men wore the usual weekend uniform of T-shirts, jeans, and baseball caps. A vague tension filled the room - no one was really talking and everyone seemed particularly engrossed in old copies of the New Yorker. Each man got called (separately, Thank God) to deliver his sample.
The collection room was small and cold and sterile. A vinyl La-Z-Boy engulfed one corner and a TV hung on the opposite wall. Next to the lounger was a small table with a remote control and a stack of well- thumbed porn magazines. A small sliding window was set into the wall where I was supposed to put my completed specimen. I could hear the lab techs on the other side of their sliding window. Good God, they sounded so close!
I settled in to the lounger and carefully balanced the specimen cup next to me with the cap nearly unscrewed. Sorry to be graphic, but trying to coordinate that "moment we are all waiting for" is a bit of a challenge – it’s not like guys routinely catch their sperm in a Dixie cup at home. I turned on the TV and noticed a VCR (when was the last time I saw one of those?!). There was only one tape and by this time it was nearly at the end. I rewound it and pressed play.
The title was something like Rear Entry. Huh. The video itself was somehow both slightly boring AND slightly disturbing at the same time. And the soundtrack was pure 70s and blaring. I tried to concentrate on the task at hand…but I couldn’t help it, I started thinking
Can the lab techs just beyond the wall hear this terrible music?
What about the kind motherly nurse who showed me in?
What if I can't orgasm?
What if, what if, WHAT IF???
Thankfully, I was able to focus and - ahem - complete my assignment. I returned to the waiting room to be with Mo. They called her name and approximately 20 minutes later she was done, groggy and saying weird things because of the anesthesia, but OK. I tried to absorb the few things the nurse was telling us since I knew Mo would have some degree of amnesia. We took a cab home.
After the grueling two-week wait we found out that we were preggers!! I was thrilled. There was still much monitoring to go…days of Betas and ultrasounds and my part already long over.
And I really hate to admit it, but I started to feel that the team was shifting from
me and Mo
Mo and the RE.
This was not Mo's fault but my own insecurity and lack of insight. When we were released from the RE's domain to start a new chapter with our OB, Mo went to the first visit alone since I needed to be at work - she didn't really need me since we had just been to the RE earlier that week and the fetus had looked great – perfect size, perfect heartbeat - right?
But then I got a call from my secretary saying my wife had come to the hospital and was waiting in my office. When I got there, Mo was distraught - I knew what had happened as soon as I saw the look on her face. My heart sunk and my mind went blank. I felt hopeless and helpless. We talked in my office and then slowly walked across Central Park, comforting each other. I'll always remember that. We left each other near Strawberry Fields. We had lost our pregnancy but we had each other.
So what have I learned? I have learned that I need to involve myself in every step, both physically and emotionally. I have learned that I am not truly present if I limit my role to just being a support to Mo. I have learned that I need to be open about my own dreams, fears, and expectations so that we can truly be a team. Turning my emotional firewall off has been enormously helpful in connecting both with Mo and in increasing my ability to feel part of this crazy IVF process.
So now I turn to you readers:
Ladies, what advice do you have to help me be as present with Mo as possible… and dare I say it, not be so…hopelessly male…about this whole process?
And any male readers lurking out there, what have YOUR experiences of the IVF madness been?