Going through IVF.
THOSE WHO REGULARLY READ THIS COLUMN (BOTH OF YOU) MAY RECALL I’VE TWICE WRITTEN ABOUT TRYING FOR CHILDREN IN THE PAST FEW YEARS. The fact that I have not subsequently mentioned the arrival of a sproglet may lead you to suppose those attempts have so far proven unsuccessful. And you’d be right. When you’re growing up, you never imagine having any diffculty in The Downstairs Department. Most young men presume they’re as virile as Blackadder’s throbbingly priapic Lord Flashheart, whose vulgar boasts would be accompanied by pelvic thrusts: ‘The last person I called ‘darling’ was pregnant 20 seconds later. Woof!’ You arrogantly assume that as, and when, you and your partner decide the time has come for kids, you’ll just dispense with the usual precautions and let nature take its course. But nature’s course can be more circuitous than expected. Wrong turns, dead ends, breakdowns can all crop up along the way. And, if you take the signpost marked IVF, so too does masturbating into plastic cups. ‘Do you have kids?’ It’s a question I’m often asked as a man in my mid-30s. ‘Not yet, but we’re trying,’ I reply. Fact is we’ve been trying for the past fve years – and we’ve given just about everything a go. As a younger man, I was dismissively sceptical of anything considered ‘alternative’ or ‘new-age’, or bullshit. But as time’s gone on, I’ve (had to) become more open-minded. Some of it – yoga, meditation, a daily zinc tablet – has been benefcial for wellbeing if not in creating another human. Other ideas – my wife’s placement of crystals and fertility stones around the bed, for example – not so much. We may be able to order a taxi, a movie, dinner or a booty-call at the swipe of a phone. Babies, however, aren’t so easy to deliver. At times it’s felt like we’ve been starring in our own disappointing rom-com, organising our diaries around my wife’s monthly cycle. The joy of sex is diffcult to maintain when it becomes a perfunctory transaction, performed to order when the ovulation sticks and fertility apps dictate optimal conditions. And it’s hard to stay positive when the home pregnancy tests keep coming back negative, month after month. Things become increasingly stressful, which is counterproductive. And as the pain intensifed of seeing others succeed where we fail, we self-imposed a Facebook ban. Infertility. It’s a scary, emotionally charged taboo. For a long time, it remained unsaid in our house, the elephant in the room to explain the absence of an infant in the womb. Medically, infertility is defned as ‘the inability to conceive a pregnancy after 12 months of unprotected sexual intercourse’ (which sounds like the mother and father of all Tantric sessions). It affects more people Down Under than you might think: one in six Aussie couples of reproductive age struggle to get pregnant, according to the Fertility Society of Australia. And it’s a trend on the up: infertility expected to impact one in three couples within a decade due to us all leaving it later, determined to live our own lives frst. But Sam and I started early enough: she was 30 when she came off the pill, I was 32. We’re ft and healthy. We’ve done all the tests and there’s no medical reason for our struggles – ours a frustrating case of ‘unexplained infertility’. And so, inevitably, inexorably we ended up at the IVF clinic. These days test-tube babies are increasingly common: 1 in 50 births the result of IVF, and rising each year. Still, this wasn’t how I envisioned conceiving a child. Sat in a greige waiting room flled with couples on cheap two-seater sofas, all around the same age, all with similar expressions of pained hope. We each flick distractedly through out-of-date magazines, avoiding any contact, waiting our turn. All of a sudden, I’m called. They check my name and date of birth. I’m asked to initial my name and date of birth on the test-tube stickers that will ensure my baby gravy isn’t mistaken for anyone else’s. I’m then shown to a cubicle. In the corner sits a leather armchair covered in a disposable sheet. A sign by the sink tells me to wash my hands. I press the Apple TV remote control and the screen comes to life with a menu of adult movies. There are some sorry-looking porn magazines in a drawer beneath the TV. I try hard to block out thoughts of those who’ve come before in this wipe-clean room. I really don’t want our child to arrive into the world via the aid of pornography. If I must do it this way, it’s important, to me, that the only person I think about is my wife. Somehow I feel it will make a difference. Job done, I screw the lid on the cup and hold it up to the striplight. Is that enough? Is my child in there? Was that an appropriate amount of time to take? I open the hatch in the wall and place the cup inside. For some reason I give it the thumbs up as I close the hatch. And then, sheepishly, I leave the clinic and go to work. The men get off lightly, so to speak. IVF is much more invasive for women. We returned to the clinic a few days later for the embryo transfer. Six eggs had fertilised. We decided to place two embryos to increase our chances of pregnancy and freeze the other four for possible use down the track. And then every evening for the next three weeks, I flled a 4cm-long syringe with the hormone progesterone and injected my wife in the buttocks to increase the likelihood of success. Parenthood isn’t for everyone. But you at least hope to be able to make that call, not have it made for you. Human nature dictates that the harder you’re made to work for something and the tougher the struggle, the more you want it. Hell, I’m desperate to be a dad. And all being well, by the time you read these words, I will be. Like buses, you wait ages for one, then two come at once. We’re expecting twin girls in April. n