The Needle and the Damage Done

When I was very little, one of my favorite things to do was watch the evening news on CBS. I know a lot of people these days don’t let their kids keep up with current events, but back then I don’t think people cared about shielding their children that much because we were all going to die in a nuclear war with the Soviets anyway.

I also recall being incredibly confused one night by a story I saw about “test tube babies”. I was not clear on where babies came from, but I thought something seemed weird about the idea of a baby that lived in a test tube. How did that work? Was the baby smooshed inside a small test tube, or was it a really large test tube the baby could rest comfortably in? Was Doctor Bunsen Honeydew somehow involved? My copy of Slim Goodbody’s album The Inside Story failed to provide with me answers. I eventually moved on to worrying about other things, like The Incredible Hulk.

A few decades later, I was on a mission to create a test tube baby of my own.  Contrary to popular belief, fertility clinics are not run Vincent Price-type figures, cackling about tampering in God’s domain and running a laboratory filled with theremins, Erlenmeyer flasks filled with bubbling potions, and hulking assistants created from the bodies of dead babies and raccoons. Actually, I might be the only person who believes that. Instead they’re just like a normal doctor’s office, except with an unusually large number of pamphlets featuring stock photography of smiling parents holding smiling babies.

Lisa had been though a lot of tests already, and we were reasonably sure her one kidney could handle a pregnancy, and while there was a risk of a premature birth, we started doing IUI. I checked the fine print on one of the pamphlets, and the chance of success wasn’t great even for women with a fully intact uterus. But the doctors seemed pretty enthusiastic about our chances, so I wasn’t sure what to think.

First try, no baby. No problem; we would try again. It would just mean another month of strange looking drugs in our refrigerator and my wife sticking more needles in herself than G.G. Allin and Sid Vicious combined. I’m sure Mr. Wizard didn’t do all of his experiments in one take, so there was no need to panic.

Second try, no luck. By now, I was pretty much convinced this wasn’t going to work.  However, we were on this crazy carousel ride, and I didn’t know how to stop it.  I was scared we were going to keep doing this, it would never work, and then we’d have to deal with the failure for the rest of our lives.

It was around about this time we started discussing IVF. I don’t remember if it had a better success rate than IUI for women with unicornuate uteruses, but insurance was going to pay for it, so we decided to go for it. Around this time, Lisa found out she’d been accepted to grad school, so we came up with a new plan.  Lisa was going to have the IVF, get pregnant, have the baby, and then a couple of months later, start graduate school.

You know how it is when you hear that Nicholas Cage has bought a castle and filled it with dinosaur bones and vintage gumball machines? That’s kind of how I feel now when I look at this cunning plan. Also, at the time, the company I was working at was going through some rough times, and there was a possibility I would be losing my job, but why would that stop us?  I’m not sure why we thought this was a good idea, but I guess I knew that if it worked, we could all live in Nicholas Cage’s castle.

Whatever happened, I was just ready for it to be over. I wasn’t sleeping well, work was awful, and I was drinking about eight cans of Coke Zero a day. I was tired of feeling like I was letting Lisa down by not being able to give her a baby. At least IVF seemed like a definitive answer as whether we would have a baby or not.

The doctors extracted 15 eggs from Lisa, and one by one they died. A few fertilized, and pretty soon they died too. At this point I was wondering if babies really were brought by storks, because it didn’t seem like conception was possible. We were left with one living fertilized egg. All the discussion about whether we’d be freezing the extra eggs were moot. It was this or nothing.

The implantation was in a different doctor’s office than where we’d been going. We were the youngest people in the waiting room by about ten years. Everyone else looked to be in their early 40s, and if you think the waiting room of a fertility clinic is filled with happy-go-lucky people with a spring in their steps and a song in their hearts, you would be completely wrong.

We went into a room, Lisa was strapped into an undignified position, and they inserted the egg. We got to watch the process on a video monitor. I remember looking at the look of joy on her face and thinking that if it didn’t work, we had just made the worst decision of our lives. They gave us a photograph of the fertilized egg being implanted, and sent us home to wait.