How can I enjoy the good news of our pregnancy?
Hormonal Dad wanted to break the news of his pregnancy to his old buddy, but it was not to be. Life can be really tough on some people.
I’m sitting with my buddy in a Tel Aviv pub. Even though we’re best friends from high school, we manage to meet only once in a few months. This evening I wanted to break the news to him that I and Babe are pregnant – he would be the first among my friends to know this. All the way to the pub I planned how to tell him the news. Should I make this story suspenseful or should I just treat him to a drink and raise a glass for the soon-to-arrive addition to my family? But by the time we meet, I am not decided, and it turns out it’s for the better. We hug briefly like men do and joke about our thinning manes and bloated bellies, and Buddy sits down and says he must tell me something.
It was about the past year with his wife, of stopping birth control and planning pregnancy. I was glad for him, and for a minute was afraid that he was going to steal the show with his happy news, but before I understood where the conversation was moving to, my instinct told me to just be quiet and listen. He liked the “process”, he said. “It doesn’t happen every day that they tell you to have sex three times a day – morning, noon and evening.” But as it went on, it stopped being so much fun. The joy and bonding was not the point, but fertilization was.
Sometimes, when he wanted to pounce on his wife like a king of the jungle, he hit a stop sign, because sperm should not be wasted on non-ovulation. Conversely, on days when he came home from work tired and annoyed, his babe would order him to get undressed and commit to work. And yes, it started to feel like a job. The act became technical, there was no longer foreplay, no amusement and no play, always in the missionary position to get the sperm delivered to the right place. “No more oral sex!” he exclaimed, “so we don’t waste the semen.” Of course, you don’t get pregnant in the gastrointestinal tract, he added sardonically, and I started to form a small smile, but erased it quickly because it seemed the story was not going towards a very happy ending.
…Until now, all the fertility problems he heard happened to other people, in other worlds, in the movies, on TV, in the neighbor’s stories of that woman and this woman’s daughter who works with that man.
Buddy took a long drink from his beer and explained that they tried to get pregnant for six months, but because they were impatient and not really ready, as all their lives they imagined a much simpler process, his wife suggested they turn to a doctor for instructions. Buddy knocked lightly on the table and said that short of being kicked in the balls, you wouldn’t know what blue balls are until you are told that you need to get sexual training. He was warned all his life of unprotected sex to avoid unwanted pregnancy, and venereal diseases, and now, twenty years and something later, he learns that you can do it only on certain days, certain hours and in certain positions. “How much money did I waste on condoms when it is actually so difficult to get pregnant?” he asked, quite rightly, come to think of it.
Pal described how he arrived with his babe to the doctor’s clinic, holding a white envelope. He took a deep breath and explained that the envelope contained the results of his sperm test. When they were finally let in, they entered the doctor’s office where the walls were covered with pictures of pregnant women and their letters of gratitude, like “Thank you for helping us fulfill a dream!” They handed the envelope to the smiling doctor, who then opened it, thoroughly read it for three seconds, put the paper back in the envelope and handed it back to them. “Well, friends, the problem is very simple,” he said with a smile. “You, sir, have a 100% morphology. You will need IVF.”
Buddy, who was retelling me all this in the pub, fell into silence. He then said he didn’t know what the dickens “morphology” was, which is the physical health of sperm, or “IVF”, which is in-vitro fertilization, meaning extracting an egg from the woman’s ovaries, fertilizing it with sperm in a dish, and implanting it back in the uterus. Only one in seven IVF couples end up with kids, at a great cost. “It means test-tube fertilization, of course, because of infertility,” said the doctor. “Shall we set an appointment and start the process?”
The evening with buddy was supposed to be light and merry, but it turned more somber by the minute. He recalled how he held his wife’s hand and felt a cold shudder throughout his body, feeling the room was beginning to freeze and that he left his body and watched everything, including himself, from above and feeling he was about to cry. He explained that he heard of extra-body experiences, where people feel they leave their bodies and all their life passes before their eyes like a movie, usually as a result of a life-threatening experience like an accident, but this happened to him in an ordinary clinic with a slightly built doctor who couldn’t stop smiling.
He watched himself playing as a four year old in the neighborhood as in a black and white movie, felt the basketball he held, trying to throw it at school, the family birthdays with the clown costumes, the bittersweet high school days, the first date, the first wet kiss, the military service, his first meeting with the love of his life and her smell, and then the entrance to that awful clinic. He could not believe that the guy or lady upstairs decided to turn their lives upside down and to end their longings for a child so early. All that he planned to do and was so obvious, was no longer relevant. The normal course of life – army service, girlfriend, love, marriage, children, pension, grandchildren – all was severed, as if someone mixed up their cards. In his innocence, until this moment, he did not know that there was any other way. Until now, all the fertility problems he heard happened to other people, in other worlds, in the movies, on TV, in the neighbor’s stories of that woman and this woman’s daughter who works with that man.
“Will I not have children? Ever? Who will be after me? Who will carry my name and be my living memory? And why is this doctor smiling,” he said. He was hardly in control, now, my good old friend. This big man, who always controlled his life with precision, broke down in my presence like a china doll. I tapped on his shoulder, ordered water for him, and he drank and all he wanted to do was to continue his story.
He said that after they heard the bad news, they asked several short questions but then requested not to make the decision at that moment because they had to go home to process the news. They shook hands and left the room. It seemed ages to him until they reached the car, he said. People passed by them looking calm and normal while they were burning inside. His love took his hand and led him on the way. No doubt women can be tougher than men in these situations. They didn’t talk. The car was parked near a small, unlit garden. She pointed there with her finger and walked there. They stood in the garden, finally alone, looked at each other and knew that the first one to talk would cause them both to break down in tears, so they stood against each other in silence, held hands and took deep breaths. They hugged, his head on her shoulder and her head on his chest and knew that in this terrible, dark quiet, they could cry, and indeed, they cried their hearts out.
He didn’t remember how long they were embraced in that garden, only that it lasted a long time. He wept and said that the tears had not stopped. They cry in the car alone on their way to work, cry on their way back, cry between meetings, in the supermarket, everywhere.
He told me all this and broke into crying, and my own tears were not late coming. I embraced him in a big hug and whispered to him that everything will be fine. There are moments in life that all one should be is there 100% for someone else. I did not say too much, did not try to give advice, and not to explain. We stayed in the pub a few more hours. I felt his hurt. He was the son of a holocaust survivor, and his infertility meant the end of his blood line. There is not much that can be said.
And my story? The little happy one in Babe’s belly? My story will wait for another day. Sometimes we need to hold back our joy and be part of someone else’s sorrow.