Saturday, August 22, 2020

Snip, Snap! Snip, Snap!

The morning after my reassuring HSG, my husband and I woke up early and set off for the hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, where he would have his sperm set free once and for all.

My lead foot got us to the medical mecca of the Midwest in an hour, just as the sun was coming up. After checking in, my husband changed into a lilac gown and was whisked away to anesthesia. It would be hours until he’d return to the recovery room, so I ate a greasy breakfast in the cafeteria, then drove the few blocks to the local YMCA to work out.

Text updates pinged on my phone at random intervals: “The patient is in the operating room.” “The patient’s procedure has begun.” “The patient is doing well.” It felt weird to receive updates in this robotic way, but I used them as reminders to pray.

After lunch, I went to the surgical waiting room, where a board on the wall showed all the patient ID numbers alongside status updates like “Surgery Prep,” “In Surgery,” “All Done!” I felt like I was waiting for my flight to land. My husband’s number finally appeared. It said, “Waking Up.”

I headed to the recovery room. My husband wasn’t there but a new roommate was – an older gentleman who’d just had heart surgery. He and his wife were watching Fox News, which seemed like the wrong kind of programming if you were trying to keep your stress level low. There had been another school shooting, in Denver. This was the world we wanted to bring a child into?

After an hour or so of gloom-and-doom reportage, I started to get worried. I asked a nurse where my husband was.

“Oh, is he the one with the notoriously low heart rate?” she asked.

“Um…not to my knowledge,” I said.

She looked over her notes and read off pulse rates in the 30s and 40s. Those did sound low.

“That’s probably what’s behind the delay,” she said.

I took a walk to pass the time, the gravity of the situation creeping up on me. This surgery was much more intense than what we'd been sold. My husband could die. And for what? A few (million) sperm? What the hell we were thinking?

When I returned to the recovery room, my husband had finally arrived. As soon as he saw me, he opened his arms and started crying. The urologist, the baby-faced Dr. Howser, graciously passed it off as a side-effect of the anesthesia. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him my husband was a crier.)

Dr. Howser launched into after-care instructions.

“No ejaculation for two weeks,” he said. “Then oral and manual ejaculation only until one month post-op. Penetrative sex after one month, but only with him on top. No woman-on-top until two months post-op.”

I was shocked, not because of the dirty talk but because this was new information. Somehow, I’d thought that after a couple of weeks of recovery, we could try to conceive right away. Now it sounded like this was going to take longer than I thought – a recurring theme on this baby-making journey.

“Sorry for being blunt, but I don’t want you two to damage what we did today,” Dr. Howser said. “We’ll see you in three months for a sperm analysis.”

“Three months?!” I thought. I tried to imagine trying to conceive naturally for that long without knowing if my husband was shooting blanks. I knew I didn’t have the patience for that. I started to wonder why we’d thought this was such a good idea in the first place.

“We were able to freeze some sperm,” Dr. Howser continued. That had been a $1,200 add-on we’d opted for at the last minute, just in case the procedure didn’t work. “You could do IVF right away with it if you wanted. Just let us know where to send it.”

Dr. Howser handed my husband a form saying that in the event of his death, I would be given custody of the sperm. I barely had a moment to register how ridiculous this situation was. Then the doctor gave me his cell phone number and shook my hand. “Let us know how it goes for you! We love to hear success stories!”

As soon as we were left alone, my husband said, “I want to punch everybody.”

I was trying to be a calm and patient caretaker, but the truth is I kind of wanted to punch everyone, too. Or cry. It was a toss-up.

“You’re just loopy from the surgery,” I told him. “Eat something.”

He grazed his way through pudding cups and cookies and granola bars and string cheese, all washed down with ginger ale and Pepsi. I was peeved that none of these foods or beverages were on the “healthy sperm diet” list. It was like the hospital was actively working against us. My husband’s gown was soon covered with crumbs and stains. He looked so vulnerable and weak, instead of the strong, virile man capable of impregnating me.

I wondered if this had all been a waste and if we should have done IVF instead. Why did every decision feel right in the moment but wrong later on?

“Is our dream dumb?” I asked my husband.

“No,” he said.

I had my doubts.

In order to be released from the hospital, my husband had to complete a couple of tasks, like walking down the hall and peeing into a measuring cup. The former was no problem but he couldn’t make the latter happen, not even with the so-called soothing sounds of the tap running or me (instead of a nurse) holding his cup. A bladder scan was ordered (Can you believe that’s someone’s job?!) and when it showed his bladder was overfull, a male nurse had to “cath” him. Then my husband had to start the fill-the-bladder-and-try-to-pee routine all over again.

After 12 hours at the hospital, my husband was finally discharged.

“Next time we see you, you're going to be helping her with the pain!” a nurse said as we departed.

I wanted to believe her, but at that moment, giving birth seemed so, so far away.

Would I be able to wait for nature to take its course? Or was it time to fast-track the baby-making process?

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