Expectations: A Column about Trying to Conceive

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For about the past year and a half, starting right around our first wedding anniversary, people have asked my partner Charlie and me more times than I can count whether we want to have kids.

We always say, “Yes.” We say, “Eventually.” We say, “Hopefully in the next few years.” We say, “Maybe once we get some of these student loans paid down a little.” We say, “We’re thinking about it.”

What we never say, except to a scant handful of people who know us best, is the truth: That we’ve being trying to get Charlie pregnant for a year and a half, and we’re deeply sad and disappointed it hasn’t happened yet.

We thought deciding to have a baby would be the biggest hurdle. It took me longer than it took Charlie to get there, after spending much of my early adulthood sure that I was not cut out to be a parent. But by August of 2013, I was a year out of grad school, settled into a job teaching composition at a community college, remembering to wash my sheets on a semi-regular basis, and generally feeling more than ever before like a responsible adult who might be able to keep a human being alive through childhood.

Charlie was thrilled when I finally said, “Okay, let’s go for it.” He really, really wanted to experience the thrills and challenges of pregnancy and childbirth, which was fine with me because I really, really didn’t.  Screw traditional gender roles; Charlie might be a biker butch and use male pronouns, but he’s already the one who does all the cooking, so why shouldn’t he be the one to carry the babies, too?

When we began trying to conceive (or “TTC,” as the websites Charlie scours on a daily basis put it–there’s something about the journey to parenthood that seems to sap people of the energy to type whole words) we didn’t expect it to take long. Charlie was coming up on his 28th birthday when we started, and we thought, “Easy–we’ll have a kid before he’s 30.” It’s kind of an arbitrary deadline, but it meant we had a year-plus window in which to get Charlie knocked up before that birthday would become a concern. Now, all of a sudden, it’s looming just ahead of us on the calendar.

We had our hearts set on one particular dude as our sperm donor–let’s call him Don the Donor. Charlie and I had discussed the merits of him contributing to our conception efforts (clean medical history, likely to be present in our child’s life without wanting to take on a parenting role himself) and agreed he was our ideal candidate, but asking him was nerve-wracking. We invited him over for dinner, handed him a beer, and laid out our case. I felt like I was talking really, really fast but also like it was taking several million years.

When I was done, he leaned back in his chair, frowning thoughtfully.

“What do you think?” I asked, nervous.

“I think you should have gotten me drunk before you asked me that,” he finally said.

But after several days of thinking it over, he finally agreed. Charlie and I worked together to draw up a sperm donor contract (including the clause that his involvement in our child’s conception not be revealed to anyone without his permission, which is why he’s Don for the time being) and all three of us signed it. Our contract might not actually hold up in court, but we didn’t anticipate any legal issues–the contract was mostly for the sake of getting all our expectations on paper and agreeing on a plan.

We anticipated insemination being romantic, intimate, and joyful, but in fact our first attempt was pretty much a clusterfuck. The morning Charlie’s ovulation-predicting pee stick showed a positive, I texted Don to ask if he could come over that evening. When I heard back from him, it was early afternoon.

“Can I come over now?” he asked. “I have some stuff to do tonight.”

It was a Thursday. Charlie was at work. I was at home grading papers. I called Charlie in a mild panic.

“Don is busy later today, so he wants to come over right now. What should we do?”

Charlie, always cool in a crisis, decided to take a long lunch break and meet Don and me at the house. Don arrived first. I handed him a clean jar and a paper bag and directed him toward the bathroom.

“So you’re just going to… hang out here?” he asked.

“I can take a walk,” I suggested, to his obvious relief. I was happy to get out of the house. It was a gorgeous day in early fall, sunny, a little breezy, and I was overflowing with happiness and optimism. It was a perfect day to conceive a child. This will work, I told myself as I neared my front door again. This is going to work. I was looking forward to remembering this day as the beginning of a journey that would lead inevitably to our child.

In fact, it was the beginning of a year and a half of fruitless attempts, moving from at-home insemination to intrauterine insemination to IVF; a year and a half of heartbreaking negative pregnancy tests; a year and a half navigating emotional, physical, and financial land mines I never anticipated. We’ve weathered the insensitivity of doctors, the judgment of nurses, and the well-meaning but intrusive questions of clueless family members. We’ve gone on diets, stopped drinking beer, painted our guest bedroom and made spreadsheets of baby names. We’ve spent so, so much money.

I’m writing this column because I want to talk about the journey it’s taken to get to the point we’re at now–which is not the finish line by a long shot, but it does feel like a place to stop, look around, and evaluate this journey. I’m hoping this will become the first in a series discussing all the highs and lows of trying to conceive–and later, fingers crossed, pregnancy and parenting–as a queer couple. I want to talk about the doctors, the medications, the hopes and heartbreak, the constant decisions about what to tell whom, the desire for secrecy contrasted with the intense physical and emotional loss of privacy that goes with fertility treatments and assisted reproduction.

All too often, as a queer woman, I feel that my life and family are invisible. When it comes to the fact that we’re struggling to have a child, we’re even more erased from the cultural conversation. So I want to talk about it–with you, if you’re on board. I want to talk about all the nitty-gritty details, from medication side effects to bouts of sobbing and hopelessness to the ever-dwindling bank account to changing sperm donors after almost a year of conception attempts.

This will be a column about queer people in the midst of a deeply heteronormative medical culture, but it will also be a column about the much more universal experience of wanting something very badly and not getting it. Hopefully, eventually, it will have a happy ending. Until then, please stick around and enjoy the journey with me.

Follow Lindsay King-Miller on Twitter: @askaqueerchick.

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