First, J and I are seriously considering donor sperm (though we are agreed that no matter what the final decision is, we will do one more cycle with his sperm). I say “considering,” because J hasn’t made a final decision, and it’s 100% his call. As far as I’m concerned, where we get the sperm is his half of the child-making venture, so he gets to decide. I know that I would prefer trying donor sperm before adoption, but that’s only my preference if it’s what J wants.
Donor sperm. What a terrifying concept. In the abstract, in the tiny world of the family that is me, J, and our future child, it isn’t so scary. I mean, if adoption is cool, what’s so strange about half-adoption? That’s all donor sperm is.
But in the Big Scary World of extended family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, using donor sperm takes on a whole new shape. While everyone thinks adoption is the greatest thing since deep-fried cheese (so much so that many already have suggested that I start the process now), the use of donor sperm is considered freaky, unnatural, bound to cause problems. As my very best friend said to me when I floated the idea, “I think that’s a terrible idea. J might want to do it now, but he’ll never be able to live with it.” I love her, but she’s so wrong. Sure, there would be things that would be hard about it, and I’m sure that it would cause J both jealousy and pain as well as joy. But the worst part of what she said is that she’s proven to me what I suspected all along; this isn’t acceptable to the general public.
If we were to adopt, everyone would know (especially given that we’d probably adopt from
And though I’m the least secretive person I know, I think this would have to be very, very secret. First, unlike adoption, donor sperm can be kept a secret. Second, it’s just too controversial for me to lay out there. And there is the privacy of my kid to think about. I don’t know how you tell a kid about donor sperm, but I don’t think it’s like adoption—where you tell them from the very start. How can you? Can it even be explained before you explain the birds and the bees? What if a well-meaning friend said the wrong thing to my child by mistake, before we had told him or her? And maybe my kid won’t want everyone knowing. It just doesn’t seem like it’s my secret to tell. (By the way, anyone who knows anything about this is welcome to chime in here. I’m desperate for information about how this is handled.)
For those who keep their IF and ART a secret, I don’t imagine that sounds all that daunting. But for me, it’s really scary. I have a pretty big IVF support network. At least six women at work––not even counting my bosses––know I’m doing IVF, along with another six or seven close friends outside of work. Even more co-workers and friends vaguely know that I’ve been TTC for three-plus years, and that treatment is involved. I’m just a wide-open person. I don’t like keeping secrets about myself; it’s just too important to me to be able to talk about how I really feel.
So here’s how I picture this: We switch to donor sperm early next year, and I get pregnant. (Because if it doesn’t work, there’s no point in being freaked about this.) And then my wide world of friends and co-workers learn I’m finally pregnant. Finally! After three to four years! Huzzah! Babychaser finally has everything she ever dreamed of!
Do you see the problem? What if I’m still grieving about the loss of J’s child? How can I accept the congratulations of everyone I love, telling me how glad they are that I’ve gotten everything I’ve been wanting all these years, when I’m still hurting because I didn’t get what I wanted? How can I pretend to be concerned about ordinary fears of an ordinary pregnancy, when I’m worried about much stranger and larger concerns, like having no idea who the father of my child really is, or what that child will be like? (And it also will be strange after we have the kid. How many people will tell us how much our kid looks like J? How odd to have to just smile and say “thank you” to your friends.)
If we use donor sperm, I will be thrust into this strange new world, completely cut off from some of my closest friends (I probably won’t even tell my aforementioned BFF). Infertility is already so isolating. More isolation seems terrifying.
And now there’s more to the equation, something I never dreamed of. Last spring we learned that T, our little 2-year-old niece, has missed every communication milestone. She is the child of J’s twin brother (fraternal, in case it matters), and they live all the way across the country in
This weekend I learned that she was diagnosed with dyspraxia, a condition that affects both muscle tone and fine motor functions. T doesn’t have the fine motor skills to talk, but she also doesn’t have the motor skills in her hands to sign. She also has trouble distinguishing language with her hearing. She’s 2 ½ years old and she can’t communicate. She’ll never have good muscle tone, and she’ll probably be in special ed for the rest of her childhood. She’s a sweet and mellow kid, which is a good thing, because she’s plenty smart, and this must be so frustrating for her. Not to mention the strain on her parents.
Here’s the kicker: it’s hereditary. My MIL tells me that she thinks, after reading about the condition, that it’s the same condition J’s cousin had before he died a few years ago, and that even J’s uncle has a mild version of it.
It’s hereditary. It’s in J’s genes. And we’re almost ready to give up on those genes.
See what I mean about the merry-go-round, the whirlwind in my thoughts? Just when I thought donor sperm would be such a sad alternative to what I really wanted, I have to wonder if it would be so bad after all. Because now if I do get pregnant with J’s baby, it will be years before we know whether our child is developmentally disabled. And while I know that J’s brother and his wife are in love with their child, and aren’t sorry they had her, right now I can’t face the idea of having a special-needs child.
Of course, donor sperm doesn’t come with guarantees either. I’m sure J (were his sperm count normal) would have qualified to donate when he was younger. And there are a lot of conditions out there, like dyspraxia, that aren’t yet identifiable with genetic testing. But suddenly I’m less sad about the idea of using donor sperm.
And along with that less-sadness comes a certain excitement. Because, to be perfectly honest, I no longer believe that J and I can make a live baby. I believed it wholeheartedly until this last cycle, but I just don’t anymore. And I’m tired of beating my head against a wall, getting nothing but more pain and more debt on every try. The idea of doing something new, something that has a good chance of working (apparently my eggs this last cycle, while few, were very high quality), leaves me almost breathless.
Did I mention that there’s more? The merry-go-round just spins faster and faster. I talked to my RE on Friday, sort of a post-mortem on the last cycle. As I mentioned, my eggs were great, and J and I actually produced better quality embryos than ever before; they were much farther along at day 3 than the day 3 progress the last cycle. But J’s sperm quality was much, much worse. (It can get worse, you ask?) The post-wash motility was so low they couldn’t even measure it. Apparently they found a few sperm to ICSI into my eggs, and we made good embryos. But this rapid decline in J’s sperm is astonishing, especially given how much he’s cleaned up his lifestyle in the last year.
So I asked her whether that could be due to age, because how is it that his sperm are getting progressively worse so fast? And she said no. And I asked, with my heart pounding in my throat, if she thought it might be “health-related.” And she said that was her concern as well.
Last year, J had a strange occurrence of “primary-cough headaches,” (we only learned what these were afterward), blinding headaches that would hit him after he started coughing. We spent about 8 hours in the ER, where––after he uttered the words “worst headache of my life––a flurry of tests began. He was given an x-ray, and MRI, and a lumbar puncture. And while we waited for the results, we knew that it was possible that he had a tumor, or a bleed in his brain, life-ending or life-altering conditions. It turned out to be nothing serious, and he was given a shitload of painkillers and inhalers and it went away.
But I felt a cold fear in my veins, a blind terror, that I had never felt before. In a matter of minutes I realized that the ability to have a baby was nothing, nothing in comparison to my need to have J. So when my RE suggested what I had feared, that J’s rapidly declining sperm was a sign of something else, that rush of cold adrenaline kicked in again.
She’s going to talk to the endocrinologist next week, and I imagine J’s in for a lot more bloodwork, etc. I did manage to ask her whether, if it were testicular cancer, the urologist who saw him in March would have picked up on it, and she said yes. So I’m not freaking out like I was last year with the headaches. But I’m worried. More worried than I’ll admit to him, as he doesn’t seem scared and I see no reason to make him that way.
And if that weren’t enough spinning around in my brain, today is the day we tell J’s mom that we’re running away for Christmas this year. If this last cycle had worked, there was a chance we’d make it out of the woods on a pregnancy before Christmas. But last January, J and I had agreed that if I wasn’t going to be three months pregnant at Christmas, we weren’t going to do Christmas this year. It’s just too sad for us. Christmas has been exactly the same for the last 10 years. Four adults (J’s mom, J’s aunt, and the two of us) sitting around for two days having the same meals (the women won’t let me change it up), the same conversations, the same stupid jokes about who’s going to get more presents, about who’s going to steal from who’s pile of loot at the end of the day. Each year, J and I think more and more about what it’s supposed to be—a time filled with hysterical children hopped up on too much sugar, freaking out about Santa, filled with delight at the magic of the lit tree at night, entertaining the older women. Every year, J and I get more and more depressed, sad, and our forced merriment becomes more painful.
We’re not doing it this year. We’re running away, probably to a cabin in WV for a few days. And J’s mom is going to FREAK OUT when we tell her. She literally spends all year planning for Christmas (which is part of why it’s become such a nightmare). Oh my god, this is going to be ugly.
My life is insane. I don’t know what to think of it. Right now, I’m just trying to hang on to the merry-go-round, less I fly off into space and madness.
Thanks to all of you for your kinds words and support this last week. I know it’s all been said before, but you women mean so much to me, and I really don’t think I could do this without you.