Posts tagged: men

Day 326

By , September 19, 2011 10:00 am

Wednesday 15th September 2010

One year ago.

 

The lull that is the luteal phase has come, and it feels strangely anticlimactic.   Following two full weeks of action steps, there’s not really a lot to do this week.

It leaves a guy wanting.

There’s only the Crinone pessaries to administer.  And as much as I like to help – there’s helpful, and then there’s wrong.

It’s not quite like giving a needle.

I enter the bedroom, to find Suse on the bed, a plastic pessary in one hand, the consumer information in the other.  She sighs heavily.

“Very common side effects,” she announces, “Include cramps, abdominal pain, pain around the genitals and the back passage, headache, breast enlargement and breast pain, feelings of severe sadness and unworthiness,” she say, looking straight at me, “decreased sexual drive, sleepiness, feeling emotional.”

She takes a breath.  “…Constipation, nausea, passing urine at night.”  She flicks the page over.  “Common side effects: include bloating, pain, dizziness, vaginal discharge, itching of the vaginal area, vaginal thrush.”  She sighs again, taking another deep breath, “diarrhoea, vomiting, painful sexual intercourse…”

“…What sexual intercourse?”  She looks at me daringly.  “Only joking,” I say, offering my palms up conciliatorily.

“…And painful joints.  Please note – this is not a complete list of all the possible side effects.  Others may occur in some people, and there may be some side effects not yet known.”  She looks at me.

“Are there symptoms they left out?”

“Sorry?”

“I mean, can you think of anything else that could possibly go wrong with your mind, body or vagina that they haven’t already listed?”

Suse looks at the sheet for a moment.

“They haven’t mentioned heart attacks.  Or stroke.”

“Or leprosy.”

“Or consumption.”

“Better email their legal team tomorrow.”

 

* * * * *

We’ve both tried to remain busy.  Suse has to reprimand an employee, while I meet with an old boss because I am a long time between reprimands.

We pass the time, any way we can.

The latest newsletter from IVF Friends arrives in the mail.  This time, they’ve abandoned the snow theme, instead brandishing the cover with a sleeping kitten, lying between bedsheets.

The pictorial symbolism of this rag is overwhelming.

Within, I find a four-page article called ‘Secret Men’s Business’, written about IVF from a male perspective, published in The Age in 2004.  It is a riveting read.

It marvels at the fact that men tend to remain peripherally involved, that we usually remain externally unemotional throughout the process, that we don’t like to talk about or share their experiences, and that our stories remain largely untold.

Unless, I guess, you’re me.

 

* * * * *

Day 301

By , August 19, 2011 10:00 am

Saturday 21st August 2010

One year ago.

 

Frequent Ejaculation Improves Sperm Quality

‘Cosmos’, Wednesday, 1 July 2009

PARIS: Men who want to become fathers should have sex or ejaculate daily in order to maximise sperm quality, scientists report.

Australian fertility specialist David Greening recruited 118 men whose sperm had a higher-than-normal level of DNA damage.

Before the test, 34% of the group’s sperm was rated as damaged, meaning that it was classified as ‘poor’ in quality. For individuals, 15% to 98% of their sperm were classified as such.

The men were asked to ejaculate daily for seven days, but were not given any drugs or told to make any changes to lifestyle. After seven days, their sperm was examined again. The average of damaged sperm fell to 26%, placing it in the category of ‘fair’ in quality.

Greening presented his findings the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Amsterdam, The Netherlands on Tuesday.

Dr. Greening says the improvements were “substantial and statistically highly significant” and that daily ejaculation not only boosted sperm quality for most of the men, it also helped sperm motility, another big factor in successful fertilisation – even though the volume of semen declined.

 


* * * * *

 

Suse isn’t interested in sex every day.  I’m yet to meet a woman who is.

So I improvise.

In the lead up to the big day, I’m doing my utmost to improve my quality.

It’s important.

 

* * * * *

We’re sitting in bed reading the paper, when Suse turns to me.

“So when you have to abstain for four days, are you going to get cranky?”

“Sorry?”

“Before the sample.  Are you going to get cranky again?”

“What do you mean, again?”

“Like last time.  ‘The horror, the horror’ time?”

“I was nervous about wanking in hospital, hon.  I don’t know that I was cranky.”

“You were cranky.”

“Really?”

“Really.  Is this news to you?”

“I’m not sure what the right answer is here.”

“Well, let me tell you.  It’s like a barometer with you.  When you don’t get it, you get grumpy.”

“Not all the time.”

“Really?”  I look at my wife.  “Let me test you out then.  How long has it been?”  I pretend to think, like I don’t know the answer.  “How long since we had sex?”  Again, I look at my fingers like I’m trying to figure it out.  Like I don’t know.  “Go and do your duty for this family, and come back when you’re less cranky.  I swear, Mark Nethercote, bodily functions and you.  When you haven’t eaten you get cranky, when you haven’t had a shit, ditto.  And when you have to hold off for four days…”

“…What?”

“I’m just saying.  You’re a bodily function kind of guy.  And when you delay your bodily functions, you get cranky.”

 

She’s spot on.  Absolutely spot on.  I can tell you exactly how many days it’s been since we had sex.   I know I’m supposed to be all cool and relaxed about it, like I’m not quite sure, like it’s not important to me.

I’m not counting.  Consciously, I’m not.  But the point is, all guys are counting, even if they don’t know it. We’re all aware.  It’s instinct.

“Go and clear the pipes, and come back to me in a better mood.”

IVF has taken the romance out of things somewhat.

But from a pragmatist’s viewpoint, it’s right on the money.

 

* * * * *

Day 277

By , July 27, 2011 10:00 am

Wednesday 28th July 2010

One year ago.

 

I sit in the pub, looking across the table.

“Just get on with it, I reckon.”  Dan finishes this declarative statement, in his Scottish lilt, and takes a swig of his beer.  “We did a lot of farting around at the start.  I mean, really, when it comes down to it, I wish we’d just had a crack at IVF from the start.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.  Absolutely.”

“I thought you started IVF pretty early?”

“Nah.  Fuck no.”

“What did you try before that?”

“All sorts of shit.  Including turkey basters.”

“Really?”

“Yep.”

“I never knew that.”

“You never asked.”

“I guess I didn’t.”  I take a swig myself.  “Well, I guess they didn’t really know what the problem was with you guys.”

“Exactly.  Unlike you guys, where you know you’ve got a blocked tube, we didn’t have that sort of certainty.  We lost our pregnancy, and no one could tell us why.  So we had to sort of start at the start.  We did a round of hormones, and then tried the dye test, and gave it a few more rounds, and fucked around some more.  And eventually we got onto the IVF.  Personally, I just wish we’d done it from the start.  It took us four rounds, after all.”

“Four harvests?  Really?”

“Where were you this last three years?” he jokes.

“Being a guy, I guess.  I mean, I guess I had just lost count.  I don’t think I realised it had taken you guys that long.”

“It seems to have flown by for you, doesn’t it?”

“Yep.”

“Funny that,” he says, laughing.  “You only know how shit it really is when you’re the one standing in it.”

I sigh, taking another sip.

“So how many weeks are you now?”

“Bel’s thirty-nine weeks today.”

“Bloody awesome.  I swear, you’re the only pregnant couple in the last year that I’m not jealous about.  You guys have put in the hard yards.”

“I know.  And some of our mates don’t even know how many rounds we did!” he says, in mock disgust.  “We were pregnant before anyone else,” he says, nudging Adam playfully on the arm.

Adam has been quiet throughout this whole exchange.  As the guy with a kid, he knows to lie low through the IVF talk.

I look back across at Dan.

“Where are you working at the moment?”

“The Women’s.  In the neonatal intensive care.”

“Will you be there next week?”

“Yep.”

“Really.  What days?”

“Tomorrow until next Tuesday.  Why?”

“Because Bel is being induced there next week.  I might see you.”

“You don’t want to see me, mate.  You don’t want to be coming to NICU if you can avoid it.  Which you will.”

“Good point,” he says, nodding deeply.  He takes another sip.  “So you’ve done all of your tests?”

“Most of them, yeah.”

“But what about you.  Have you done yours?”

“Wank into a cup?”

“Yeah.”

“Sure did.”  He takes another sip.

“So what’d you get?”

“Sorry?”

“What was your score?”  I look at him, suddenly understanding.

“What was my count?”

“Yeah,” he says, trying to sound casual.

“Ummm, I can’t remember exactly.”  For as traumatic it was, I’ve forgotten very quickly.  “Two hundred and something.  Two hundred and twenty, two-thirty?”

“Bullshit,” he says quickly.

“No.  No, I think it was.”

“I knew I shouldn’t have asked.”

“Why?  What was yours?”

“Not telling.”

He takes another sip.  We all do.

Nowadays, I can happily talk about wanking without getting embarrassed.

But, it seems, chats about sperm counts remain well out of bounds.

 

* * * * *

Day 253

By , July 12, 2011 10:00 am

Sunday 4th July 2010

One year ago.

 

My wounds are healing.

I’d never realised it until Friday, but my thumb ring – something that I bought overseas ten years ago, and have worn every day since – doubles as a weapon.

It probably works as a bottle opener too.

I’ve been applying paw paw cream and antiseptic lotion to my bruised, abraded skin.  At least it gives us the chance to begin antibiotics for the ureaplasma.  As ropable as I was when were told to use condoms for fourteen days, the state I’m in right now, I don’t know that I’ll even be healed by then.

I’ve told just about everyone I’ve met in the last forty-eight hours about the horros of Friday.  I’ve got mileage out of this event.  If my pain can cause someone else’s laughter, I’m all for it.

About half the guys that I’ve told have been horrified by the whole banned lube thing – like it’s an infringement on a man’s very civil rights.  The other half don’t understand what all the fuss is about.  One friend laughingly asked why I didn’t just resort to a rolled up T shirt, smiling like it was an in-joke, only to realise that he is the only person in the conversation who uses this method.

Seems I’m not the only one to keep my techniques to myself.

And it seems that I’m not so shy about being a wanker after all.

 

* * * * *

Day 250

By , July 4, 2011 10:00 am

Thursday 1st July 2010

Gestation: 39 weeks, 6 days

One year ago.

 

Masturbation is not a standard conversation topic for me.

In fact, in the twenty-two years since inadvertently injuring myself as a thirteen year old – to the point that I had to consult my slightly embarrassed and wholly reassuring father about the swelling that I’d inadvertently caused (to which he offered me the sage advice to avoid activities that may lead to excessive swelling or bruising) – I don’t know that I’ve discussed it with another man.

You can talk about golf club grips till your blue in the face, but masturbation techniques?

It’s not really the done thing.

Masturbation has polarised society as far back as there are records.  The Ancient Greeks were not the slightest bit fazed by it, thinking it a healthy release.  In Ancient Egypt, it was considered a creative act, especially if performed by Pharoahs, during a ceremony, directly into the River Nile.  The ancient Indian text, the Kama Sutra, gives explicit instructions on the most enjoyable techniques available.  And even into the seventeenth century, nannies regularly used the practice as a method for of getting their adolescent boys to sleep.

Can’t say I ever had a baby sitter like that.

But despite this, the conservatives have always been more vocal.  As they say, those that do, enjoy;  those who don’t, complain.  In the book of Genesis, Judah gets mighty pissed when Onan decides to spill his seed rather than impregnate Tamar.  The Qur’an, as interpreted by most scholars, also sees the practice as ‘haraam’, or forbidden.

By the 18th century, as a veil of conservatism fell over the western World more thickly than the sooty pollution of the industrial age, the term “onanism” was coined.  In 1716, Dr. Balthazar Bekker, a Dutch theologian, circulated a pamphlet through London, titled: ‘Onania, or the Heinous Sin of self-Pollution, And All Its Frightful Consequences, In Both Sexes, Considered: With Spiritual and Physical Advice To Those Who Have Already Injured Themselves By This Abominable Practice.’

It was a really light read.

It listed the risks of this sin as the following: “Disturbances of the stomach and digestion, loss of appetite or ravenous hunger, vomiting, nausea, weakening of the organs of breathing, coughing, hoarseness, paralysis, weakening of the organ of generation to the point of impotence, lack of libido, back pain, disorders of the eye and ear, total diminution of bodily powers, paleness, thinness, pimples on the face, decline of intellectual powers, loss of memory, attacks of rage, madness, idiocy, epilepsy, fever and finally suicide.”  Luckily, he had a cure – a ‘Strengthening Tincture’, at 10 shillings a bottle, and a ‘Prolific Powder’ at 12 shilings a bag.

Thank God for that.

These claims – based on absolutely nothing – became incorporated into science for nearly three centuries.  By 1743, Robert James had published his Medicinal Dictionary, stating that masturbation was “productive of the most deplorable and generally incurable disorders”, concluding that “there is perhaps no sin productive of so many hideous consequences.”  By 1760, Auguste Tissot furthered the claims, stating that the loss of this essential oil would lead to “a perceptible reduction of strength, memory and reason, blurred vision, nervous disorders, gout and rheumatism, blood in the urine, loss of appetite, headaches, and weakening of the organs of generation”.

 

* * * * *

So, essentially, masturbation was thought to be responsible for all illness. John Harvey Kellogg saved the day by inventing Corn Flakes, and Reverend Sylvester Graham made Graham crackers – both with the express effort of trying to stop young men from pulling their puds.

By 1870, Ellen G. White, in her book ‘A Solemn Appeal’, said that women who masturbated – being “less vital than the other sex” – were at high risk of developing “catarrh, dropsy, cancerous humour, and inward the decay of the head.”  I mean, these people were inventive.  Not only do they make this shit up, but they start inventing new diseases.  I mean, catarr?  Dropsy?  Inward decay of the head?

Things began to liberalise at the beginning of the 20th century, when the Governments of Western Europe realised that if they kept propagating fake consequences for jerking off, that they wouldn’t have enough healthy men left to send to war.  By the 1950’s, Alfred Kinsey cracked the whole thing open in conservative America by revealing that men have penises and women have vaginas.

Ken and Barbie sure were surprised.

But some people still haven’t caught up.  I found an Ayurvedic internet site warning about the risks of over-masturbation: fatigue, lower back pain, thinning hair, fuzzy vision and groin pain.  They suggested keeping ejaculations to less than three times per week, for fear of over-stimulating the acetylcholine/parasympathetic nervous system, disrupting liver enzymes and affecting neurotransmitters.  The words may have been updated, but the message hasn’t changed.

I’m not kidding.  It’s live now.

There is actually someone who is paying to host this site.

 

* * * * *

Today, most of medical science understands that masturbation has health benefits.

A study in 2009 showed that daily ejaculations, whether through sex or otherwise, improved the quality of the sperm.

Another study in 2003 found that frequent wankers had a lower incidence of prostate cancer, and it is also known to lower blood pressure.  It is thought to raise self-esteem and relieve depression.   In 2009, the U.K. Government joined several other European nations in encouraging teenagers to masturbate at least daily, in an effort to stave off the highest teen pregnancy rates in the Western world.

And yet, we still don’t talk about it.  Men just don’t talk about it.  Men don’t chat about having a toss.

We just don’t.

Sure, we joke about it, we jokingly allude to the topic, but that’s it.  I don’t think I’ve ever openly discussed bashing the bishop with anyone.  My biggest question, the one bugging me before tomorrow, is about the lack of lubrication.  Surely I’m not the only guy in history to baulk at the idea of using a dry hand?  And it’s not like I can ask advice at the IVF centre – the only pre-requisite for working there is that you have boobs.

So, as I’m writing a book about this whole drama, and revealing my own dilemmas and predilections, I figure now’s the time.  I owe it to myself.  At least one person.

It’s time I talked to someone.

 

* * * * *

So there I am, chatting to Joel on the phone, when I slip it right there into conversation.

“I’ve got my semen analysis on Friday.”  Smooth as silk.

“Yeah right,” he says.  There is a palpable change in his voice, like he’s just taken a step back towards the door.  Any male who has been through adolescence has this automatic response – by which, I mean, all of us.

It’s like that old statistic: 95% of males masturbate, the other 5% are lying.

I hear him take a short breath, like a nervous tic, a subconscious association with some memory of nearly being caught as a teen.

Like I said, 95% of us have nearly been caught, the other 5% are lying.

But then his brain catches up, and melts quickly into curiosity.

“So what’s the go?”

“I have to go to hospital to have a wank.”  He pauses a moment, catching the pace.

“Right.”

“And they’ve told me that I’m not allowed to use any lubricant.  It might contaminate the sample.”  He is silent.  “So, basically, I’ve got to dry hump my hand for the good of science.”  There is another pause.  He’s an old friend, but I get the feeling he’s almost at the door.

“And you’re not into that?”

“No way, mate.  I’m a helmet.”  There is a long pause, like he’s considering his move.

“You see, I don’t mind knocking of a dry one every now and then.”

There you go.  I’ve just had my first adult conversation about masturbation.

“Really?” I continue.  “Doesn’t it hurt?”

“Not if you do it right.”

“I guess I’m just not doing it right.  I haven’t been lube free for twenty-two years.”

“Really?  You know how many years?”

“It’s amazing what you figure out when you’re ordered to beat off in hospital.”

“So they give you a room?”

“I’m guessing so.  I’m pretty sure you don’t do it in the foyer.”

“How long do you get?”

“As long as you want.”

“As long as you want?”

“That’s what Cheryl said.”

“I don’t even want to know who Cheryl is,” he says, laughing.  “Sounds bloody great.”

“Not for me, mate.  I’m circumcised.  Doing it without lube is like… It’s like sticking my dick into a hole in a tree.”

“Dude.”

“Well, it’s the best I could come up with.  It’s no good, mate.  And seriously, I’ve got soft little doctor’s hands.  Imagine if I was a tradey with callouses.”

“Then you’d have callouses to match on your dick.”

“Good point.  Still, it’s no good.”

“Well, wait till you have kids.  Then you’ll be happy to ever get to flog the log.  You won’t even do it anymore.  You’ll wake up one day, and your balls will be that sore, and you’ll just go, ‘well, ain’t that something.  My balls are sore because I haven’t ejaculated in weeks.’  And then you’ll go and change a nappy instead.  Count yourself lucky.”

“You’ve got the kids, mate.  We both know who’s lucky.”

There is a silence.

“So this is a room specifically designated just for this?” he asks finally, still fascinated.

“Seems so.”

“And nothing else?’

“Nothing else.”

“Does it ever get cleaned?”

“Dude, it’s a hospital.”

“I know, but – what happens if you spill a bit?  I mean – those little suckers can live for a while.  I remember a story from my ex-girlfriend, about her uni science class.  They were doing mouth swabs to see the bugs that live inside everyone’s mouth.  So they get this girl, swab her mouth, and then look at the swab up on the big screen.  And they see sperm, swimming around on the slide.  A few of them.  So, being the good little scientists that they were, they start looking at them, at their motility and shit, like that’s what they’d done the swab for in the first place.  The girl reckons they been in there a couple of hours.”

“In her mouth.”

“Yep.  Just sitting there next to her teeth.”

“Interesting.”  There is another pause.

“So,” he continues, “like I said, what if you spill a bit?”

“Well, I guess wipe it up off the carpet, and then just hope that I don’t get Brian’s sample.”

“Good, old Brian, eh?  That would suck.  That would really suck.  You accidentally spill a bit, scoop it up, and then end up with Brian’s kid.”

“Yep.  That would really blow.”

“So don’t scoop it up, bro.”

“Oh, no, I’ll be scooping it up.  We’re just doing my count.  Brian will help with my numbers.”

“Good luck with that, mate.”

“Thanks.”

“Maybe you could take along one of those spill-proof containers?  Tupperware or something.”

“Thanks, mate.  You’re a real sport.

“And say G’day to Brian for me.”

“Will do.”

And there ends my first conversation.

Piece of cake.

* * * * *

Day 246

By , June 29, 2011 10:00 am

Sunday 27th June 2010

Gestation: 39 weeks, 2 days

One year ago.


So I practised.

I produced a sperm sample without lubricant.

I know, I know.

Hand me the medal later.

* * * * *

This whole pregnancy thing has taught me a lot about humility.  Nothing in my life has ever been quite as confronting – as directly questioning of my sense of worth and value – as this little ride we’re currently on.

I mean, I’ve had things come and go that have made me wonder about who I am and what I’m made of.  But generally, at the end of the day, I’ve been able to confirm for myself that I’ve got what it takes.

That I’m made of the right stuff.

Until now.  This whole ride, this entire cascade of events that began with the simple ease of falling pregnant, to losing that pregnancy, to learning that we might not be able to even have kids, has taken us both all the way down to the bottom of the valley – where our fertility, our very virility – has been questioned.

And it is in that valley, that Suse and I have had stare deeply into ourselves.  To look within, and within each other, and face a simple question with very humble hearts.

That question is simple.  But the answer to longer to arrive.  But it did.  Eventually it did.  The answer is equally simple.  And it is this:

‘Yes, we do.  And we will do what ever it takes to have those kids.’

Yes, we will medicalise it.

Yes, we will surrender our bodies and our very seeds to science, so that we can be given the chance for a child of our very own.

Yes, we will surrender our innocence, and along with it, the assumption that to have children – easily, happily, seamlessly – was our birthright.

Because for us, it is not.  This very concept has burst.  A stern teacher checked our maths assignment and decided that the figures don’t add up.  We have to relearn the course.  We have to resit the exam.

And so, we do as we are told.  Our pride swallowed, we do as we are told.  And nothing – I can tell you nothing, to this point – has made me swallow my pride more than my sperm assessment.  Not only will someone in a laboratory assess my sperm and give me a mark out of a hundred, but I’ve been instructed on exactly how to produce the specimen.  I’ve been given strict instructions on how to masturbate.  Masturbation 101.

If there’s one thing I was pretty sure I’d perfected by now, this was it.  I was pretty sure I had it licked.

Apparently not.

I’ve been informed – by Cheryl in Andrology – that under no circumstances am I to use lubricant.

It seems that I’ve been doing it wrong for the last twenty-two years.

 

* * * * *

And that’s the sticking point.  Not since inadvertently injuring myself as a thirteen year old, have I ever used my bare hands.  I’ve not had locker conversations with others regarding this kind of thing – I’m not that kind of a guy -  but until now, I’d just assumed that anyone who hasn’t yet discovered the joys lubrication is a pie short of a pastry shop.

So understanding that, you’ll appreciate why I woke in a cold sweat this morning, as I remembered that I have to turn up to hospital this Friday, to enter a room that I’ve never previously even seen, and come out with a full jar.  Not a tissue.  A jar.

And I’m not allowed to use lubricant.

* * * * *

And that is what has led me to this very toilet, at this very moment.

It’s Sunday afternoon.  We’re due to fly out of Fiji in two hours.  Our bags are packed and in the luggage hold.  We’re left to hang around the hotel lobby, listening to the tuneless guitarists and the squeals of one thousand chlorine soaked children.

It’s five days until I have to produce the goods for Cheryl.  As she explained to me over the phone, she doesn’t want anything stagnant – so nothing older than five days.  But I must abstain for at least three days.

As per instruction, I’ve got to clear the pipes one more time before Friday.

So why not now?

Initially, the thought fills me with dread.  And embarrassment.  In my brain, cemented through years of adolescence, masturbation and shame go hand in hand.  For a man, I don’t think that link ever really disappears.  Not even in adulthood.

Come on guys.  Let’s be honest here.

So, if I’m embarrassed about it now, and I’m embarrassed about it in the comfort of my home, and have to turn up to hospital and spank the monkey, and I’m not allowed to use lube, and so I’ve got to use a new technique for the first time in twenty-two years, and I’ve got to get it right on Friday, like a whole jar-full right – then how embarrassed and awkward am I likely to be?

Do I really want to hand in my first draft on the day?

I mean, do I?

Really?

* * * * *

So, I decide to practice.  Right then and there.  In a cubicle.  In a toilet.  In the lobby of the Westin Hotel.  In Nadi, Fiji.

Without lubricant.

Okay, okay, I know.  I’m hardly a hero.  And it’s not as bad as it may sound.  There’s no one else around, no one even uses these toilets.  But there’s the chance that they might – just like there’s a chance that Cheryl might accidentally walk in on me on Friday.

I’m in a cubicle, in a foreign country, concerned about someone else walking in.  And I’m polishing the family jewels.

If that isn’t a simulation of pressure, then I don’t know what is.

* * * * *

You don’t need to know the details.  I’ve already told you more than I told Suse when I returned from the loo.  Somehow, it just didn’t seem pertinent to let her know that I’d just been tooting my own horn for practice.

But I did.

And it went okay.

In fact, it went better than I thought it would.

I feel strangely proud of myself, in a shameful, repressed, Western-society-teenage-kind-of-way.

But at least I know I can do it.

Bring on Friday.

 

* * * * *

Day 245

By , June 28, 2011 10:00 am

Saturday 26th June 2010

Gestation: 39 weeks, 1 day

One year ago.


We sit there at dinner, on this, our last night in Fiji.  Suse and I lean into each other, hugging our beers.

“You know, I really want to read your diary.”

“I know you do, honey,” I say, bristling slightly.

“So why haven’t you sent it through yet?”

I stop for a moment, thinking.

“Because… Because it’s my therapy, I guess.  Writing about all of this has been my therapy.  And because it’s pretty harsh, in places.  In places, I’ve just written exactly what was on my mind.”

“Well, there you go.  I guess I’ll get a taste of my own medicine, won’t I?”

We both laugh.

“I guess I haven’t had the chance to edit it back yet.”

“I don’t think you want to, honey,” she says thoughtfully.  “I think that’s going to be the strength of it.  It’s raw.  That it’s exactly what it is.  This is your experience.  A man’s experience of the whole IVF game.  You started it before you knew what was going to happen, and you continued it, bleeding onto the page at every step.  We’d get shit news, and you’d go straight in to the computer and begin to write.  I think that it’s going to be a really important book.  I think it’s going to help a lot of men.”

“Really?”
“Guys don’t say what they’re thinking.  Guys don’t sit around in groups, talking about what’s going on for them.  A lot of guys – most of whom I managed to go out with before you – are emotional retards.”

I nod in agreement. “So what makes me any different from all of the other emotional retards?’

“Nothing honey,” she says, smiling cheekily, “and that’s the point.  You’re just like all other men.  Which is exactly why they’ll want to read it.  To realise that they’re not the only one struggling with the whole thing.”  She leans in close.  “You wrote about it as it happened.  I know the story so far, and it’s a ripper.  They’ll want to know.  People will want to read it.  Hell, I want to read it.  That’s why I’ve been bugging you to send it to me this whole time.”

I sigh, leaning back.  I take a sip.  “Okay, okay.  I’ll send it to you.”

“I’d love that.  I’d really love that,” she says, cradling my hand in hers.

“And what about you then?  Is there anything I should do to understand your experience any better?”

“Oh, shit honey,” she replies, sitting back in her chair.  “I’m a woman.  You don’t need to read a book I’ve written to let you know how I’m feeling.  Just look at my face.”

 

* * * * *

Day 228

By , June 8, 2011 10:00 am

Wednesday 9th June 2010

Gestation: 36 weeks, 5 days

One year ago.


“Hello, Doris speaking,” says the spritely Asian girl through the end of the phone.

“Hi there, I was just ringing up,” I say, hearing my voice waiver slightly, “as this was the number on the top of the pathology slip…”

“…For a semen analysis?”

I pause for a moment.

“Ah, yes.”

“I’ll put you through to Cheryl.”  Happy, chimey muzak pipes through the end of the phone.  Clearly, I’m the umpteenth male to have rung up today sounding awkward.

Clearly, I need my sperm checked.

“Hello, Andrology, Cheryl speaking.”

What a way to answer the phone.

“Hi Andrology…”

“…Cheryl.”

“Yes.  Hi Cheryl, my name is Mark, and I’m ringing about a test I need done…”

“A semen analysis?”

“Is it that obvious?”  She laughs kindly.  “I mean, I think so.  It seems to say SA and IBT.”

“Yeah, a semen analysis.”

“Sure, but what’s the IBT bit?”

She sighs slightly.  “It’s just part of the analysis.”

“Okay, but,” time to pull out the card, “I’m a doctor, and I’m just interested in what the IBT bit is?”

“It’s an immuno-B assay.”

“…Right.”  No response.  “ ‘Immuno-B test’, I guess?  IBT?”

She sighs again.  This time it’s an ‘I don’t get paid enough for this shit’ sigh.  “I guess,” she says finally.

“Great.  Okay.”

“So, anyway, we’re pretty booked up for the next few weeks. The first available is on Friday 2nd July.

I flick to my diary.  “What time?”

“Anytime you want.  Open slather.”

I blink at the use of the phrase.

“Okay. Open slather on the 2nd of July,” I say, blinking.  “Maybe, 9.30am?”

“Do you want to do it here, or do you want to bring it in?”

“You can bring it in?”

“Yep.”

“Right.  In anything in particular?”  Rag?  Tissue?  Hand?

“A sterile specimen jar will do.”

“Just any old specimen jar?”

“Any sterile specimen jar, yes.  You just have to bring it in within an hour.  Don’t cool it, don’t heat it, just keep it in your pocket.”

“Okay, then.”  I’ve been a doctor for twelve years, but all the same, this is weird.  “And if I…”

“…Do it in here?”

“Yes.  What’s the time… how long are the appointments?”

“As long as you need.”

“Really?”

“We’ve got several rooms, so you’ve got as long as it takes.  It’s not like we’ll come knocking on your door after ten minutes, or anything.”

“Okay,” I say.

“The IBT is to see whether there are any antibodies to your own sperm,” she says, thawing a bit.

“Cool.” It comes out before I can stop it.  “I mean, not cool.  You know.”

“I know.”  She sighs again.

“And, I guess there’s abstinence times?”

“Three to five days.  No more than five days though.  After that, things become stagnant.”

Stagnant.  She’s describing by sperm as stagnant.

“No stagnance.”

“Well…”

“A little stagnance.  Just not too much.  I get it.  And lubricant use?”

“No lubricant allowed.”

“Mmmm,” I say.  “That’s going to make things a little unpleasant.”

“If you must use lubricant,” she sighs again, “just use saliva.  A lot of the lubricants have spermicide in them.”

“Okay then.”

We pause, it seems, waiting to see if I have any other stupid questions.

I think I’m done.

“So the cost is $198,” Cheryl continues.  “Of which, Medicare gives back $65.”

“$130 out of pocket.”

“Yep.”  Leave the pun, Mark.  Just leave it.

“And Health Insurance?”

“I don’t think they provide anything.”

“Yeah, right.  They only cover inpatient stuff, and I guess this is outpatient.  Although, if I come in and do it there, maybe that counts as an inpatient stay.  Imagine!  They pay for me to use your facilities, but not if I use my own.”

“Imagine.”  All monotone.  “Just come up to Andrology on the fourth floor.  At 9.30am on the 2nd July.  You’ll either have a jar, or you’ll use our facilities.”

“Thanks, Cheryl.”

“See you then,” she says, trying to sound light.  She hangs up.

Not even allowed to use lubricant.

Now that really is a two-hundred buck jerk off.

 

* * * * *

Day 137

By , March 17, 2011 10:00 am

Wednesday 10th March 2010

Gestation: 23 weeks, 5 days

One year ago.


Today, I have a session with my coach.

I detail the argument, keen to let him know how hardly done by I have been.  How hard this is for me.  He listens, taking it all on board.  He pauses at the end.

“Yep,” he says.  “Yep.  I hear you.  I hear where you’re coming from.  And, I could sit here, and collude with you about how hardly done by you’ve been, and how tough this must be.”  He pauses.  “But, what we really need to know is what’s going on for you.  Going on for both of you.”

He pauses, to see that I’m listening.  I give him a deafening silence of approval.

“To do you both justice, let’s get a plan of attack to get this relationship back where you want it to go.”

“Okay,” I say reluctantly.

Through the next hour, I come to realise that this is not all Suse’s fault.  That she is not fucked.  That, as well as having an effective, functional communication style, at other times I can be completely dysfunctional in how I communicate.  From her end, I can appear insensitive.  Like I don’t care whether we get pregnant.  Like it’s not important for me.  And that I don’t need her.

The truth is, that I don’t want Suse to know that I am vulnerable too.  I really don’t.  I really don’t want her to know that I’m just as scared as she is.  That I’m scared shitless of what could go wrong next.

I feel my anger dissipate, as I am pulled apart, and then reconstructed.  To be understood, and evaluated in a way that I can’t see myself.

I feel the weight slowly lift.

* * * * *

The minute Suse walks through the door, I sit her down.  I read through my notes from my session, from beginning to end.  I feel a tightness in my voice as I start to list my faults, and I notice that it heightens when I take responsibility for being wrong.

How messed up we are, as humans, that when we’ve dug in, we’d gladly forsake happiness for being right.

As I speak, I feel the lifting of that weight again.

“I’m not good at this,” I say.  “I need to let you know that I’m struggling in telling you where I’m at.  I may look cool on the surface, but underneath, I’m fucking scared.  I’m scared shitless that we won’t get pregnant.  I’m just as afraid as you are, but I’m like a caveman when it comes to expressing my fears.”  I take a gulp of air.  “Because I can’t let you see me as weak.  I can’t let anyone know that I’m vulnerable.”  I swallow again.  “But I am.  I’m scared, and vulnerable.  And I need you, Suse.”

As I finish, I look up through misty eyes.  She has a warm glow, and a soft smile.  The first I’ve seen in days.

“Do you know how relieved I am to hear you say that you’re afraid?”  I shrug dumbly.  She leans forward, and touches my cheeks, pulling me closer, to a kiss.

“I love that you let yourself be vulnerable for me.  I love you even more.”

She kisses me softly on the forehead

How fucked are we, that we think have to be Superman?

Men.

How fucked are we?

* * * * *

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