Expectations: Why Isn’t This Working?


Spring is approaching. Flowers are blooming and rejuvenation is in the air. This would be an incredible time to be expecting a child, but we’ve been doing at-home insemination for six months without success, and we’re getting burned out.

“Why isn’t this working?” Charlie fumes. We’re doing everything right, but still no baby. Meanwhile, the awkwardness of the sperm handoff increases with every month, and it’s obvious that Don feels the same.

Maybe some performance-enhancing drugs would help. Straight couples who struggle with fertility are sometimes prescribed Clomid, or other medications that stimulate ovulation. That sounds like it’s worth a shot. If Charlie could release two or three eggs a month instead of one, it would up our odds of getting knocked up, right?

“No, we can’t do that,” says the nurse in the Reproductive Endocrinology department when Charlie calls to ask if they’ll prescribe Clomid. “You can’t take fertility drugs unless you’re being inseminated here in the office.”

“But straight people can take them and then have sex, right? They don’t have to come to the office for that,” Charlie argues.

“Well, yes, we’d prescribe it for a normal couple,” the nurse says. “But we can’t do it if you’re using donor sperm.”

As nicely as possible, Charlie says, “I would like to speak to your supervisor.”

At the end of that conversation, two things are established: One is that our health care provider will do some additional sensitivity training to dissuade their employees from using “normal” as a synonym for “straight” when talking to queer folks. The second, unfortunately, is that–for reasons no one can fully explain–Charlie cannot take Clomid and do at-home insemination. The doctors are apologetic, but they all say the same thing: This is the rule. They can try to change it, but it will take a long time. We don’t feel like we have a long time to wait.

That means our options are to keep trying with the jar-and-syringe procedure, or to schedule an appointment for intrauterine insemination (IUI). If we decide to start IUI, we’ll have to go through a sperm bank, and the processing and cryopreservation will cost a lot more than a jar and a paper bag once a month. On the other hand, a great many more sperm will actually make it into Charlie’s uterus, which should increase our odds of a pregnancy. And if we want to, we can combine IUI with fertility drugs.

I am in favor of going the medical route. “I’m worried that the time between, you know, depositing the sperm and using it is costing us,” I say. “Who knows how many sperm die in the car on the way over?”

Besides, if we do IUI, we will never have to deal with fresh sperm again. Despite the cost, this sounds extremely appealing to us – and when we run the idea by Don, it sounds good to him too. He can make appointments on his own time and will no longer be at the beck and call of Charlie’s ovulation schedule.

We decide to embrace medical technology. The first hurdle is negotiating with the sperm bank; they want us to pay for their standard spectrum of tests to make sure the donor is healthy. However, we already had Don get tested for most of these things before we started inseminating, and we don’t want to spend more money learning things we already know. “Can’t you just skip it?” we plead.

“Well, if you’re willing to sign a form affirming that you’ve already been sexually intimate, we can waive the testing. That’s what straight couples doing IUI do.”

Obviously in the medical sense, it’s true–Charlie and Don have swapped fluids; anything Don has, Charlie has been exposed to. But the phrase “sexually intimate” introduces a totally different, vaguely unsettling vibe. It’s like that John Donne poem I read in freshman English where he tries to convince someone that, since the same flea has sucked both their blood, they’ve basically already had sex and they might as well do it again.

But if we don’t sign the paper, Don will be subjected to expensive and redundant tests, costing us not only money but precious, precious time. So we suppress our feelings of ickiness–for neither the first nor the last time–and say okay.

It’s March now, and we decide to skip a month before scheduling our first IUI. As a late-November baby, Charlie grew up resenting Thanksgiving for stealing his birthday thunder, so he doesn’t want to give birth near Christmas and pass the grudge on to the next generation. We plan our next conception attempt for April. Don will be traveling throughout much of the spring and summer, so for days I pester him with repeated texts while he patiently assures me that, yes, he’s made appointments to donate enough sperm to last us until he gets back.

Meanwhile, we go on a babymoon. After enjoying a friend’s wedding in Washington, DC, where I dramatically overestimate my alcohol tolerance, we take a few extra days of vacation to hang out in New York City. We see Matilda and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (with Neil Patrick Harris!) on Broadway, take a historical walking tour, and visit the Central Park Zoo. When we first planned this trip we were convinced that Charlie would be pregnant by now, and that this would be our last extended period of quality time together for months or possibly years. Now, a hint of disappointment colors the experience, but we’re still hopeful, sure that the change we’re making is the right one, the silver bullet that will take care of this pregnancy thing once and for all. The bright, cool, spring days in New York seem to shimmer with hope: after this adventure, we will go home and have a baby.

“We have to do this every few years even after we have kids,” Charlie says as we curl in our hotel bed. “A vacation for just the two of us.” Underneath his words is the shine of optimism: we won’t be just the two of us for very much longer.

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