It didn’t work.
And it keeps not working. But we keep trying, falling into a routine of sorts. After the first couple of tries, we all agree that having Don make his donation in our bathroom while we walk around the block or hang out on the porch is way too uncomfortable for everyone. We decide to change things up: Don will jerk off at home, as the good Lord intended, then chauffeur his genetic material over to our place (in a paper bag, since light can kill sperm). Each time, Charlie takes the bag into the bathroom to perform the delicate syringe procedure, while I make small talk with Don just inside the front door. Except that when the moment arrives, anything I might have been able to offer on the subjects of work, weekend plans, etc. flies out of my head, and all I can think to say is, “So this is kind of weird, huh?”
It’s always a relief when Don leaves, carrying a new bag with next month’s clean jar in it, and Charlie and I can retire to the bedroom. The science surrounding the “orgasms facilitate conception” thing is shaky, but we go for it anyway, because we’re looking to increase our odds every chance we get. The syringe lying there on the bed next to us–not to mention the mental balancing act of trying to stay in the moment, but also keep Charlie’s hips elevated and make sure there’s a towel on hand to prevent the dreaded wet spot–doesn’t really create a romantic ambiance. After the first try, we anticipate these encounters with mild dread, not arousal. Still, when it’s just the two of us we can at least giggle about how awkward it is. Afterward, we lie there with our arms around each other daydreaming about our future child.
A few days before what should be our fourth insemination attempt, I get a call from Don. “I can’t do the donation this month,” he says, his voice low and embarrassed.
“Why not?” I ask.
He pauses before answering. “I was at a party last night and I got drunk and slept with someone. I didn’t use a condom.”
Before we started trying to conceive, we had Don tested for a whole host of communicable diseases, including a full STI screen, and our donor contract includes a clause that he has to let us know if he has unprotected sex. To be honest, though, up until now I wasn’t sure he would abide by it. Would Don really tell us about the gritty details of his sex life?
Apparently he would–even though he’s clearly hating every second of it. Though I’m irritated at having to postpone insemination while we wait for Don to get tested again, I don’t want to punish him for being honest, so I keep my frustration to myself. “Thanks for letting us know, dude,” I say. It takes an effort of will that is almost painful, but I end the conversation there and don’t lecture him about the importance of safer sex. He obviously feels bad enough.
The known-donor relationship is a strange one; you find out things about your friends that would ordinarily be none of your business, and they find out things about you. It makes you feel close to that person, but also very vulnerable and sometimes downright weird. As glad as we are that Don is willing to participate, we’re not always overjoyed about including him in what would, for a straight couple, be an extremely personal experience shared between just the two of us. And I always feel like I’m imposing on his schedule when I call and say, “Charlie’s ovulating. Can you stop by?” We take him out to dinner a couple of times, but I’m not sure this really balances the scale.
As more months pass without a positive pregnancy test, Charlie becomes obsessed with watching every movie related to pregnancy or child-rearing that Netflix and Amazon Prime have to offer. In my role as supportive partner, I have to sit through them too. Why are most movies about pregnancy so bad? It’s the way every single human being arrived on this planet, yet as a species we cannot seem to tell a compelling story about it to save our lives. We watched What to Expect when You’re Expecting, you guys. I don’t want to talk about it.
Shortly before Christmas I see a copy of Juno on the bargain shelf at Target. Vaguely remembering that I saw it when it first came out and found it charming, if a little overly self-aware, I pick it up as a stocking stuffer for Charlie.
I don’t know if it’s the heightened emotional state of trying to conceive, or what, but Charlie imprints on this movie like a baby bird. I would estimate that in the sixteen-ish months since Christmas 2013 we have watched Juno no fewer than eleven hundred millionty bajillion times. It is Charlie’s comfort food; for every heartbreaking on-time period, there is an equal and opposite Juno viewing. As Charlie put it, “Juno is about how everything about reproduction can go catastrophically wrong and still end up right. Every time I got my period, I needed that reassurance. Not from someone who had kids, and not from someone who was feeling the same things I was, but in some way that was removed from me.”
I am somewhat less enamored. I’m not saying I’m immune to the charms of a story where mistakes and heartache are transformed into joy, nor to the considerable theatrical talents of Ellen Page and my imaginary cool aunt Allison Janney, but good Lord, that soundtrack. This might get me kicked out of Queer Lady Club, but I can only take so much folk music. Like, why make a movie about a protagonist who’s obsessed with 1970s punk and then not include any 1970s punk? How much more wonderful would Juno be if instead of bittersweet acoustic guitar it was full of the Runaways and the Sex Pistols? I’m just saying.
Anyway, as tired as I am of Juno by now, I can’t deny that it has been a much-needed life raft for Charlie–especially as the months blur together and we begin to lose our optimism, our certainty that this will be quick and easy. When we started trying to conceive, we were overflowing with ideas for baby names and plans for all the fun things we’ll do as a family. It felt so close, so immediate–we just had to brave the awkwardness of receiving our sperm donation for, say, a month or two, maybe three tops, and then we’d be on our joyous way to parenthood.
Well, it hasn’t happened yet. And every month, we curl up on the couch and watch Juno, Charlie’s head on my shoulder. Even though I spend most of the movie making mental to-do lists, when Sydney Bristow finally gets to hold her baby, I always find myself tearing up. As winter closes in, we wrap ourselves in blankets and hope.