timing is everything

I wish I could say that the whole insemination process has been great, because I am so very in-tune with the wonder of my feminine cycle.  In reality, it is a frustrating pain in the ass.

I tend to ovulate late.  My cycles are kind of long, and last month I got a positive ovulation kit on day 18.  So when the nurse suggested I come in on day 10 so they could measure my follicles and predict when I would ovulate, I balked.  I explained that my cycles were on the longer side, and my ovulation on the later side.  But what if it wasn’t late next month?  She countered.  Okay fine, good point.  So I agreed to come in on day 11, which was Wednesday, and have the follicle-measuring sonogram then.

Only, as I predicted, it was too early.  Or I wasn’t going to ovulate this month, but I tried not to think about that.  Either way, there were no follicles developing at this point, but it was too early to tell why.  So I had to wait, and come back later.  Usually, they will ask you to come back in three days, but three days from Wednesday was Saturday, so they scheduled me for today, Monday.

Saturday night, I got a positive ovulation kit.  This was on the heels of a family-wide fight about the new baby and the bedroom arrangements (which ended beautifully, by the way, as our family-wide fights tend to — with long pent up feelings expressed on all sides and a new understanding of each others’ viewpoints).  So here we are, all of our emotions raw, needing nothing more than a little down-time as a family.  I pee on the stupid stick, and I get that fucking smiley face looking back at me.  Of all the times.

What this means, though, is that I have to go in on Sunday and get a sonogram before they can thaw my sample, to see if I have any follicles at all, or if I am surging but not ovulating. Then, if the timing is right, we would wait while they would thaw the sperm and we would do our first insemination. HOWEVER.  We have three kids and a new puppy, and do not actually want to bring all four of these creatures to the insemination.   AND it’s Sunday, so it’s not our normal doctor.

Also, it’s our one-year wedding anniversary.  And have I mentioned we are on vacation on an island, which is only accessible by boat, and where there is a decided lack of appropriate child-care?

Without even really thinking about it, we decide that we will take the ferry off the island, pile everyone in the car, drive to the doctor’s office, and leave the kids with the dog in the parking lot watching a movie on the iPad.  Hooray for electronic babysitters, and a stellar parenting moment.  Only when we go to get in the car, the battery is flat.  It’s possible at this point that I chucked the dog’s towel across the parking lot and announced that it was hopeless.  We are now late as well.  We decide to compound the lateness by stopping for bagels, much to the delight of everyone in the car except the dog, who is not allowed a bagel.  I figured that once you’re already late, there is no point in being late AND HUNGRY ALSO.  This chaos is our life.  I wish I could say it was abnormal, but to our kids, this was just another Sunday.  Good thing we are having another baby.

We jump the car, get the bagels, and drive to the clinic, with my wife artfully dodging “slow” drivers the whole way.  When we arrive, our oldest daughter loudly asks, “Why are you having a meeting at a building called HUMAN REPRODUCTION?” Oh yeah, did I mention that we had vaguely told the kids we had a “meeting” to go to, but did not go into detail as to what it was?  We figured that the oldest, at least, would figure it out if she wanted to, being nearly 13 years old and well aware of the fact that we are trying to have a baby.  So, I’m guessing that she figured it out.  Our general approach to questions we do not want to answer is to either not respond at all, and hope they get distracted, or to respond with words that are beyond their vocabulary, in order to confuse them even more.  Before she can ask again, the dog goes ballistic, trying to get a bite of the little one’s bagel, and everyone is appropriately distracted.  Success.

We go in for the sonogram, which is…. inconclusive.  My follicle’s at 17mm.  Some people do ovulate with 17mm follicles, but not all that many, I guess.  Usually it’s around 20mm.  We hem and haw.  Do we do the insemination, and risk that it’s too early?  It is our anniversary, after all, which is bound to be good luck, and we did drag the kids and dog here to sit in the parking lot all morning.  We decide to go for it.  The doctor recommends that he also take blood to confirm the hormone surge, and anticipate when I should come back.

My wife runs outside to check on the kids, and recommends that they move from the overly-hot car to the shade of a nearby tree.  She leaves them lounging on the grass, playing with the puppy and watching Wall-E.

An hour later, and I am lying on my back, while my wife holds my hand, waiting for the doctor to come back in.  And you know what’s playing on the radio?  “I see a red door and I want to paint it blaaaaaaack.”

“Do you think we are allowed to ask them to change it?”  I wonder.  “This is creepy.”  I am so nervous.

My wife just looks at me and starts imitating sperm to make me laugh.  It works.  Also, the song changes to “Bobby McGhee,” which helps.

The insemination itself is uneventful.  The doctor makes a joke about the speculum.  It feels like a pap smear and mild period cramps at the same time.  It is over before I know it.

I drink a glass of champagne that night, because it’s my anni-fucking-versary, thankyouverymuch, and over the champagne and the review of wedding photos, I look at my wife.  “I’m totally pregnant,” I tell her.

“I know,” she says.  “I can feel it.”

The next morning, we get a call from the doctor’s office, saying that my blood work showed that it was almost certainly a false positive on the pee stick, and I should go in for another sonogram because the insemination was in all likelihood way too early.

So, this afternoon, I go in for the third sonogram in under a week.  Thus, this man is the third stranger who has looked into my vagina in 5 days.  He informs me that I’m NOT totally pregnant, because I haven’t ovulated yet.  But my follicle is a ripe 21 mm, so I’m going to ovulate any day now.  He offers me a shot to make me ovulate in the next 24 hours, which I decline.  It seems a little early to me to have shots of hormones and who knows what injected into me.  It’s the first month!

On my way back to work, I run into our old babysitter in the subway.  I say “old,” but I mean she used to be our babysitter and isn’t anymore, not that she is actually old.  She is actually the same age I am (which is YOUNG).  We make plans to go to the beach.  I am forced to tell her that we are trying to have another baby because I am so excited I can’t NOT tell her, and also, what am I doing on the upper east side in the middle of the workday?

I go back to work, and pee on the stick again.  It’s an O, not a smiley face, so I am not surging (according to stick).  Apparently the smiley face guy does not know about my 21mm follicle.  Maybe I peed on the stick too early?  I decide to try it again tonight before bed.  I have decided that I will not get pregnant this month, and that I should not get my hopes up.  This is the month where all the crazy shit goes wrong, not the month for getting pregnant.  But it is also the month we figure out the timing, which will help us in the future months.

I call my wife, and tell her about the babysitter and the 21 mm and the pee stick.  “You’re definitely getting pregnant tomorrow,” she says.

“I know,” I say. “I can feel it.”

So much for not getting my hopes up.

talking about it won’t help

Our oldest daughter is 12, going on 13.  My relationship with her has always been the most challenging.  Maybe this is because she was the oldest, so she’s the only one of our three kids who really remembers life before I came along.  Maybe it’s because we have the least in common (I can’t believe she doesn’t like to read!).  Maybe it’s because she reminds me so much of myself at her age, and how hard middle school was — sometimes I think we never really recover from the trauma of middle school.  Whatever the reason, our relationship can sometimes be tough.  She thinks I pick on her, and that I am the STRICTEST PARENT EVER SO MUCH STRICTER THAN ALL HER FRIENDS WHY CAN’T SHE STAY UP UNTIL 11 DURING THE SCHOOL YEAR LIKE ALL THE NORMAL PEOPLE.  Etc.  You know, normal 12-going-on-13 stuff.

She told my wife, a few days ago, that she doesn’t want the new baby.  More specifically, she said she doesn’t want ME to have the “stupid thing.”  She has some difficulty in saying, or even hearing, the word baby, so she has kind of named the baby the “stupid thing.”  She seems to have formed pretty clear views on who’s fault it is that we’re having another baby (mine) and who has betrayed her by going along with this crazy scheme (my wife).  And, she stated, in a matter-of-fact way, the other kids don’t want the baby either.

Last night, my wife and I were standing in the front yard “discussing” the difficulty that comes with raising a 12 year old, who is about to go into the 8th grade.  We “discussed” the length of her shorts (too short!) and how it came about that she has an instagram account before she turned 13 (parental caving!), and how many hours per day she should be allowed to be on it (less than she is now!).  We talked about my relationship with her, and then, we talked about her feelings about the baby.  When my wife told me about the conversation they had, I got defensive.  “Well, good thing a 12 year old doesn’t get to decide what size our family should be,” I snapped.   You know, a really loving and compassionate reaction.

“We need to work through this with them,” she replied.  I am making her sound really mature and level-headed here, which is of course annoying, because I’m the one telling this story, so I am supposed to be the one who comes across in a better light.

“I know,” I sighed.  The kids are bound to have feelings about a new baby, and not all of them will be positive.  My friends assure me that once the baby gets here, the kids will love him or her.  I am not so sure.  I think it will swing between extremes – she will sometimes love the baby, she will sometimes resent the hell out of the baby.

Then, she came downstairs and informed us that her windows were open, and could we please stop talking about her, because it was upsetting her.


We followed her into her room, where we discovered that she had changed out of the shorts that sparked the conversation.

“You didn’t have to change your shorts,” I said.  “I’m caving, you can wear the shorts.”

“I just really don’t think they’re too short!” she said.  “But it’s fine. Whatever.”

We ran through the things that we had been discussing, giving context to the shorts discussion, and the Instagram discussion.  “What else did you hear?” my wife finally asked.  “We need to talk about this, to make sure you understand what we were saying.”

“It doesn’t matter,” our daughter replied. “Talking about it won’t help.  You’re not going to change your mind.”

“It will help,” we urged.  “Just tell us.  Even if we don’t change our mind, maybe you don’t quite understand what we were saying.”

“You don’t necessarily know all the background behind everything,” I told her. “You may think you heard one thing, but really we were talking about something completely different.”

“Something is still bothering you.” My wife said, “Just talk to us about it.”

“No,” she said.  I wonder where she got her stubbornness from.  “It won’t help. You won’t change your mind; I know you won’t.  So I don’t want to say.”

This went on for some time, so I will spare you.  Finally, my wife said, “I think she is talking about the baby, but I don’t really know, because she won’t say.”

“Is it that you don’t want the baby?” I asked her.

“Stop saying that!” she said, “I don’t want to talk about that stupid thing!” and she ran out of the room.  So I guess, yeah, it was the baby.

In a way, she is right.  Talking about it won’t change our mind.

Later in the evening, we went to pick out all the things we will need for the next member of our family, who happens not to be the baby, but to be a 7 week-old puppy named Meg, who we are picking up this weekend.  For the first time in what felt like months, my tween-age daughter and I were laughing about things together.  We both wanted the pink collar, everyone else wanted the green one. “We have the same fashion sense,” I said.  “Come look at the baby kittens!” she said, dragging me across the store.

We joked about how much our cat, Bella, was going to HATE the new puppy at first.  “I think they’ll be friends, though, once they get used to each other,” my daughter said.  “Don’t you?”

“I do,” I said.  We moved on from collars to gates for the doorways.

“This is so fun,” she said.  “I just love picking out all this stuff.”

“You think this is fun,” my wife chimed in, “wait until we get to do it for the baby.  It’s even MORE fun.”  Our daughter didn’t respond, but she did smile, just a little.  So I guess maybe talking about it helped a little after all.

picnic tables and sperm donors

After we realized that we would miss our July insemination, my wife and I took a deep breath and looked toward August.  In reality, we needed this time.  It was too hectic, coming home from our trip to Paris, dealing with the prolactin issue, and we hadn’t really had time to process what we were getting into and how we were feeling about all of it.  Over the last two weekends, we have spent a lot of time talking about the emotional and logistical issues that we needed to work through before we could get pregnant.  We talked about what it meant to bring a baby into a family with three older kids.  We talked about how we would handle work and family pressures with a baby to care for.  We cried a little, fought a little, and talked even more.  It took us two weeks to do the emotional and logistical work that we needed to get to the point where, Sunday morning, we sat down to pick our donor.

A few months ago (is it months already!?) we sat down with a couple bottles of beer and an iPad and narrowed the field.  Let me start by saying that the sperm bank has 3 different subscription levels, which each cost a different amount.  The cheapest plan gets you the most basic information, and the most expensive gets you the most comprehensive information.  On the weekend that we did the narrowing of the field, we had just bought a picnic table.  Picnic tables are shockingly expensive — the table that we had to spend 11 hours assembling (that is a slight exaggeration, but only slight) was like $300.  And they go up from there.  Anyway, through a glitch of ordering, we wound up with two picnic tables being delivered.  After some deliberations, we decided to keep both of them, because we have a big deck and didn’t have room for anyone but our family if we only had one.  My wife likes to have room for company so we can constantly invite people over, so we just spent the extra $300 and kept them both.  We’re sitting there, after putting together one of our extra picnic tables, trying to decide what subscription to get.  I vote for the middle-of-the-road subscription, which is about $100 cheaper than the top-of-the-line subscription.

Moon Valley Cedar Works M700 Outdoor Picnic Table

(not our actual picnic table, but the actual picnic table we bought. and finished.  and assembled. for hours.)

“Okay, good idea,” my wife says. “It’s just HALF THE GENETIC MATERIAL FOR OUR KID.  You’re right, let’s save a hundred bucks.  Maybe we can go buy some more picnic tables with it.”  We got the most expensive subscription.  This included, for the record, some kind of cool things (like baby or childhood pictures of the donors) and some kind of creepy things (like audio of them answering questions, which made my skin crawl so I made my wife turn it off after 2 seconds).

We used all of our most idiosyncratic criteria, indulged all of our whims and gut-feelings (“That guy looks like he would be mean to the other kids on his baseball team!  Delete!”), and got ourselves down to 4 potential donors.  We tried to choose someone built like my wife (long and lanky) who was good at sports and had Irish ancestry.  I wanted freckles, because one of the things I love about my wife are her millions of freckles.  She even has freckles on her earlobes.  (No donors have freckles.  They should find some donors with freckles.)  We liked donors who were described as neatly dressed.  We liked donors who were articulate on their personal essays.  All of these things mattered, but none was controlling.  They were just sort of guides as we navigated through the thousands of profiles, random reasons to say yes to this one and no to those five.

And.  We preferred an anonymous donor.  Donors can be either anonymous or open, meaning that they agree to a one-time meeting with their potential future offspring when said offspring turns 18.  Maybe it’s because we watched The Kids Are All Right.  Maybe its because it undermines our sense that we (WE) are the parents, not the donor.  Maybe it’s because just last week we had to deal with yet another person asking us “But whose kids are they REALLY?”  Maybe we will regret this one day, but we did not want to choose an open donor.  The donor is a donor, not a dad.  And so, he will remain anonymous — to us, to our kid — forever.

I must admit, we have a teeny bit of ambivalence about this choice, because we have a good friend who was adopted, and went to great lengths to track down her birth-mother when she was 18.  She felt it was really, really important to her to find and make peace with the woman who gave birth to her, and firmly supports adoptees’ access to this information.  But we believe that there’s a difference.  We know this isn’t the right choice for everyone, but it’s the right choice for us.

Anyway, when we sat down to look at our six potential donors (I had added in two more that met our criteria as I checked back with the sperm bank website over the weeks between initial review and decision time) with our coffee on Sunday morning, we quickly ruled out four of them.  We were down to one Hot Donor and one Smart Donor.  Let me just say, I don’t know where they find these guys, because basically they are ALL hot and ALL smart.  But one was hotter than usual, and one was smarter than usual.  Smart Donor had a kid already, of his own, so he knew he could get someone pregnant.  But something about Hot Donor just felt better.  Maybe we are shallower than we thought, but he also seemed articulate, and the “staff impression” was that he was well-dressed in professional clothes. I like someone who takes their shit seriously, and puts on some goddamn khakis before he goes for a sperm-donor interview.  For all of these reasons and none of these reasons, we chose Hot Donor.

In the end, my wife is right, it’s a super important decision (more important than, say, a spare picnic table).  But also, it’s not.  There’s no way to know the really important stuff, or how much the really important stuff is even passed down through genes.  Sometimes, two hot people have funny-looking kids.  Not that being hot is the most important thing, but it’s not the LEAST important thing either.  Sometimes, two smart people have a kid who’s kind of…. not as smart.  Sometimes, two totally average people produce spectacular offspring.  Whatever.

What really matters is that we finally picked our donor.  It actually felt great to take our time, talk through our shit, and be in a really good place when we finally sat down to choose.  Maybe, just MAYBE, it was a good thing that we had this extra month, because now we are both CRAZY EXCITED.  Today, I’m going to call the bank and order up some premium IUI sperm from our Hot Donor.