Monday, August 10, 2020

One Baby Bummer Begets Another

“We can’t have a baby right now. It’s not an option,” my husband said.

We were having our morning coffee in the low-lit kitchen, a sweet routine if we were getting along; a bitter one if we weren’t. This was one of the bitter days.

“I think having a baby is something you think you want but I don’t think it would turn out the way you expect,” he said. (He might have been onto something there.) “Can’t you just be grateful for the children you have, our marriage, this house?”

“I am grateful for all those things,” I said.

And yet. When I tried to envision the near future of just us two, even if we made good on our mutual fantasy of a tiny home out West, I couldn’t help feeling like we’d just be sitting on the porch together, waiting to die.

I wasn’t ready to be an empty-nester yet. I didn’t want to just be gainfully employed, married, and comfortable – I mean, I did want those things, but not only those things. I wanted to enjoy life, but I also wanted challenges (the good kind, not the unexpected and devastating kind). I wanted growth and connection with a new human being.

“Aren’t I allowed to have a dream?” I asked.

“It would help if it were an attainable one,” he said.

“I think it is attainable. We just can’t afford it.”

But then a fortuitous thing happened. I got promoted at one of my freelance gigs. I was making more money, and saved enough to pay for a vasectomy reversal. I floated the idea of meeting with a urologist to discuss the procedure. At first, my husband refused. But within weeks, he’d changed his mind. Why? He saw a cute toddler at church. That was it. I still don’t understand how that flipped the switch. (She was cute, but not that cute.) I could give God the credit – I’d been praying, asking Him to intervene. Maybe my prayers were heard. Maybe He opened my husband’s heart.

Whatever the reason, on a frosty February day, we trekked to a clinic where a silver-haired urologist (who we'll call Dr. Dick, for reasons that will soon become obvious) examined my husband, asked a few questions about our health histories, and sketched a diagram of what a vasectomy reversal involved. While the reversal was much more complicated than the original vasectomy, requiring hours under the knife and weeks of recovery, it looked so simple and painless on paper.

Dr. Dick consulted a chart that factored in my husband’s age (47), my age (37), and the length of time since the original vasectomy (six years). The fortune-telling formula said we had around 40 percent chance of pregnancy within six months.

It was a gamble, but the odds were good. (They were also wildly unrealistic, but we didn’t know that yet.)

“You’re both young and healthy. I don’t see why this wouldn’t work,” Dr. Dick said. That first statement should have given me pause. Yes, we were healthy. But young? Come on.

Still, I wanted to believe him. I heard what I wanted to hear. (What I didn’t hear was the “six months” part. That would soon seem like an insufferably long time to wait.)

The procedure was pricey – between $6K and $9K – but at that point, we were unaware of any other alternatives, except buying sperm from strangers on the internet and shooting it inside my womb with a turkey baster. (Seriously. We had no idea that there were other options.)

In our minds, the choice was: vasectomy reversal or empty nest.

Idling in the car in the parking lot, I wondered aloud if we could get the vasectomy reversal and let nature and God decide? Not force it? My husband answered with excited kisses. The idea of making a baby was definitely an aphrodisiac for him.

I called Dr. Dick's scheduler. She wasn’t in, so I left a message. As the hours ticked by without a return phone call, my mind felt flighty; my stomach was squirrely. I was as anxious as a high schooler waiting for her crush to call. I’d never been a patient person, but if I couldn’t even stand a day of suspense, how would I make it through nine months of pregnancy? How did I wait so long to meet my babies twice before?

Finally, a call back, and a surgery date set: March 12. If all went well, we might be able to conceive by Easter. It felt preordained.

In my journal, I wrote: “Thinking about a baby is the only thing that makes me truly joyful right now. In that area of my life, there are no questions. Only, ‘How soon can this happen?’”

Not soon enough, as it turned out. After my husband completed all the paperwork and underwent a physical, Dr. Dick called to inform us he’d canceled the surgery. He cited cost as the reason. Because one of my husband’s vas deferens (the sperm-carrying tubes) was cut very low, Dr. Dick determined he would have to do the procedure under general anesthesia, in a hospital with a specialized piece of equipment. Robotics were involved. That would bump the price up to $20K. He wanted to transfer us to a colleague at a different clinic, one who would do the procedure for $7K. Unfortunately, the new urologist couldn’t see us for at least eight weeks.

So this is how this baby-making thing was going to be: slow and disappointing.

We were back to square one – no, we were even further behind than where we started. This should have registered as a bump on the road to baby, but it felt like a hole opened up and swallowed us. I was infuriated at how Dr. Dick led us on. I went full Karen (before Karen was even a thing) on the clinic. They refunded the consultation fee, but obviously couldn't force Dr. Dick to do the procedure.

My husband said anything over $10K was “crazy money” (how quickly that assessment would change…) and that if the reversal was really going to cost $20K, canceling was the right thing to do. I, however, was desperate enough that I would have paid it. (But in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t.) 

To add insult to injury, that night, a couple we knew – just a few years younger than us – called to announce they were pregnant. I seethed with jealousy. Imagine being able to make a baby whenever you wanted, for free and in a fit of passion! (Granted, I’d done this in my 20s, but somehow that was of little comfort now.) Instead, our ability to procreate was determined by doctors – their procedures, their schedules, their price points. It was all so unfair.

I cried my way through a box of Kleenex, then took to the internet. It wasn’t long before I found a new urologist at a hospital a short road trip away. I'll call him Dr. Howser because he looked way too young to cut anyone open. Still, we set a date for surgery. But before the big day, Dr. Howser recommended I get a fertility workup done. After all, if my eggs were old or MIA, a vasectomy reversal wouldn't bring us any closer to a baby.

It was time to put my body to the test...

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