[Editor’s Note: In 2009, shortly after marrying her (first and only) husband, Paolo, Elizabeth Heath was diagnosed with premature menopause and resulting infertility. Paolo and Liz are now parents to a baby girl, Naomi. In this series, Liz recounts the couple’s struggle with infertility, and how they finally achieved a successful pregnancy and parenthood.]
PART 2: WANKING AT STRAWS
Following the news from the reproductive endocrinologist (RE) that a natural pregnancy was an extreme long shot for me, I needed a short time to lick my wounds. My fiancé Paolo, still in Italy, offered plenty of reassurance that we would find some way to have a baby and if not, patienza. That literally translates to patience but for Italians, is more a way of saying: What can you do?—his way of saying: If it happens, it happens; if not, okay.
But I’d seen Paolo around babies and young children, and I’d seen his close-knit family, of which he is very much the sun around which the other planets—parents, sister, nieces, aunts and uncles—orbit. I could fathom living my life childless, but Paolo was a man who needed to have children.
LOOKING FOR ALTERNATIVES
So I did what I often tend to do in the face of bad news, which is to refuse to accept it. I scheduled another visit with the RE, and began asking about the least invasive methods for trying to conceive with medical assistance. He talked about doing a round of Clomid, a fertility drug taken in pill form and designed to stimulate egg production. As opposed to the one healthy egg that a fertile woman should produce each month, a successful Clomid cycle produces several eggs at a time, thus upping one’s chances for conception when the eggs are ripe, or mature. Clomid, the RE said, was the least invasive method I could choose, and he still made very clear to me that he didn’t think it would work: “Well, you can try”. And the cost of this shot in the dark? A mere $1500 for meds and monitoring. And we’d have to time the cycle for when Paolo visited me in January, so that those artificially stimulated eggs and his sperm could actually meet.
And I still hated the idea of taking fertility drugs. My friend Vera, a nutritionist and natural health specialist, echoed my concerns. “Don’t take fertility drugs!” she urged. “My cousin took them and her baby has a big, misshapen head—I know it’s from the drugs she took to get pregnant!” Another friend, Fran, was down on the RE. “I haven’t heard one thing positive come out of that guy’s mouth.” And she was correct. I felt like I was being railroaded into staggeringly expensive treatments with no guarantee of a successful outcome.
Read Related: Facing My Infertility
Paolo was less concerned about us having a big-headed baby and more concerned about us spending $1500 on such a long shot of a procedure. He wanted to wait until I got to Italy, so that we could see a doctor there. “But I don’t have time!” I implored. “Every month that passes is like 4 months for me!”
HATCHING A PLAN
On top of all this, even if I had a ready supply of healthy eggs, we still had a geography problem. I was in Florida; Paolo was in Italy. Short of expensive monthly plane trips, there was no way to get egg and sperm together, anyway. Paolo would come see me in January, then it would be several months before we’d see each other again. Of course we had Skype (which is a revolutionary bit of technology, but still not capable of transporting sperm or people from one point on the globe to another, à la Star Trek…), but that was not enough.
So, I hatched—if you’ll pardon the pun—a plan for our far-flung egg and sperm to meet. I made another appointment with the RE, and asked what would happen if: 1) Paolo left a sperm sample while he was in Florida; 2) the clinic froze the sample; 3) I monitored my ovulation using a home test kit like Clearblue; and 4) every month when I was ovulating, I went to the clinic to be inseminated with some of the thawed sperm.
It could work, right?
The RE seemed downright amused, but I guess he admired my tenacity. The only problem was that the branch of the clinic with the equipment for sperm freezing and thawing was in Tampa, so we’d have to go there to leave a sample, and I’d have to drive the hour or so there every time I wanted to get a basting of Paolo’s sperm. No problem, I said. The cost? $400 for the sample collection and freezing, and $300 every time they squirted me with a syringe full of sperm. One healthy sperm sample would be good for three tries. I was on board. Paolo was on board too, somewhat less enthusiastically than me.
My parents, who were initially skeptical of this Italian fella who’d swept me off my feet, were as taken with Paolo as I was. Maybe that’s because the first time he met them, he greeted them with an enthusiastic, “Hi Mommy! Hi Daddy!” and effortlessly lifted my frail father out of the front seat of my car to help him into my house. My father must have been feeling particularly flush that month, as every time we all four went out to eat, which was often, he’d always insist on picking up the tab. “I’m buying!” he’d shout whenever the check arrived at our table. Paolo’s joke for my dad was Pago io! (“I pay!”).
So, I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those women who tend to share too much information with her parents, then instantly regret doing so. They get too emotionally involved in my life, and their worry and concern can often make an already-stressful situation all the more stressful.
And that’s how I found myself explaining to my 85-year-old parents that my Italian boyfriend was going to ride to Tampa with me and jerk off into a cup, and that I would make regular trips to Tampa to try to get pregnant with the output of his efforts. Somehow, I managed to tell them how much the sperm collection and storage would cost, too.
Sure enough, just has he’d offered to pay for our trips to seafood restaurants and Mexican cantinas, my dad offered to pay for my boyfriend to masturbate and ejaculate into a cup. It was one of those surreal moments in life, when I felt like I was outside myself looking in on the situation, and laughing hysterically: In his desire to help Paolo and me realize our dreams, my dad wanted to pay for my boyfriend to jerk off.
Paolo, once he recovered from his mortification at the thought of my dad picking up this particular tab, refused to accept the offer. But we compromised, and told my dad he could pay half. I’ll always remember standing at the billing window at the clinic before Paolo’s visit, telling them to put $200 on Paolo’s debit card and $200 on my dad’s. “Pago io, pago io,” Paolo kept muttering under his breath…