It’s holiday time. The malls are packed. People are swarming around like bees on a nectar hunt. It’s a sea of jovial faces, loads of chatter and the occasional laughter echoing down the lines. I walk with my head high. Life is good. I share my complacency with my wife by giving her hand a gentle squeeze. In return, I get a disinterested half-hearted semi-squeeze. Turning to look at her, I notice the tears welling up, chin trembling.
“Seventeen,” she says in that voice that makes time stand still, the voice that warns me she is on the verge of bursting into a million pieces. “Seventeen! Since we’ve come into the mall, we have passed seventeen pregnant women.”
My heart just caves in when she says this. All the colour and joy fade away and a bitter reality sets in. The rest of the day will be like driving around in a hearse with all your good intentions hidden in the coffin you are showcasing. This is the reality when you are trying to conceive, but aren’t able to. It’s a situation and a complication in its own category. Nothing can equal the feeling of inadequacy brought on by the fear of infertility, for both men and women.
When my wife and I were married, we were keen to get over the parenting hurdle quickly. We began trying at once. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of fun to try. I mean, who doesn’t like sex? But at some point, you want the payoff. We kept at it for seven years, during which a lot of new challenges and monsters showed face.
We figured out something was wrong in the first two years of trying. So, we began doing what every couple would do. We made work of it. Sex became very hard work. I know this sounds like I am contradicting what I said earlier, but it is quite a big turn-off when your partner makes it a business negotiation and expects you to do the same. The romance aspect is out the window and fondling, foreplay and all other kinky bits sit on the sideline and watch in dismay. You do the deed and get dressed, while your partner positions her buttocks in such a way to give your swimmers a fighting chance.
Since heat has a negative impact on semen, you constantly find yourself checking the temperature down there. Am I wearing the right undies today? How else could I keep the guys on the go? On a hot day, you call in sick and stay in shade. You stop short of spending the day in the living room, straddling a bucket of ice.
The “O” word. This becomes a dreaded word when you want to conceive. It is the enemy of fun. When your partner tells you she’s ovulating and orders you to drop your pants, it’s like saying you are visiting the in-laws. You are about to have the most organised sex you’ve ever imagined. And that is like sleeping with someone you don’t really know. She makes the sounds, but even that sounds like she is ordering extra cheese with her croissant. You never lose sight of the goal and no longer enjoy the act of making love.
You do a series of tests, from intrusive probes on your partner to cup samples, which is best not to think about at that stage of the game. You put it out of your mind, not knowing your relationship with the cup is far from over. The tests come back positive. According to professional analysis, there is no reason you should not conceive. This makes you want to jump your wife in the car!
Man, we tried it all. My wife was on a special vitamin mix. I drank many supplements and possible enhancers, including Horny Goat’s Weed. Eventually, I was as horny as a goat, but that didn’t make the exercise more fun.
After having tried as many natural solutions and pills and oils as we could, we were told that the next step was artificial insemination (AI). During all of this, every visit with a doctor became more daunting than the previous visit. My wife’s expectations, as well as my own, weighed heavily on us and set us up for failure every time. We believed that AI would do the trick. If my boys were super-slow and my wife’s eggs were super-selective, then this would be creating the best possible dating-mating scenario we could. But there would be no sex.
If ovulation was the enemy, then that damned plastic cup was its evil minion. Doing it in a cup will spoil most things sex-related. I do not dislike Tupperware. I just don’t fancy it that way. You take this cup from the friendly lady at reception, who seems to be apologetic when they give you your new object of desire. You and the cup get a room, a small impersonal cubicle. Outside, you still hear the nurses chatting and printers buzzing. You need to shut off and get at it, but you are not a machine. The idea of making babies this way confuses the hell out of you. It doesn’t seem right. While you are reasoning it out, the cup sits there, waiting for you, staring at you, almost saying, “I’m ready whenever you are, big boy.”
“Since the only real enemy of endometriosis is the natural birthing process, we decided to have three kiddies in three years.”
You do what is expected of you and you hurry to the doctor to get your boys in there ASAP. The grimace on your wife’s face tells you this is just as unpleasant for her as it is for you. Your heart breaks a little more. And, the swimmers are off. You go home and wait. Nothing. No baby. So, you do the cup again. This time you take some supplementary material with, some earphones, too. Rush it off, put them in, more waiting, and… nothing. No baby. Your heart can’t take much more at this point. Doctor fees shoot through the roof.
After the cup, your gynae sits you both down and starts painting a glum picture. This is when you really start to worry. Somewhere, something is very wrong, and no one seems to know what is going on, or why. The final hurdle ahead is your visit to the urologist and your wife’s laparoscopy operation to check for cancer and endometriosis.
You know she is scared to death of the operation, so you man up and agree to do the urologist first, almost hoping the problem is with you. The visit to the urologist is uncomfortable, cold and eerily humiliating. Not because of being fondled down there, but because you know, after this, it is either you or your partner who will carry the burden of having stalled the pregnancy.
The urologist results roll in. Nothing’s wrong with your junk. The pipes are working just fine. You look at your partner’s face as the news arrives and your heart just gives in. Her pain far supersedes the joy of hearing you are working as God intended. Your wife bursts into tears and runs to the room, bangs the door shut and sobs in solitude. There is nothing you can do. If you think you can comfort her after all of this, then you have not been paying attention.
The seven years of trying has culminated in this unpleasant climax. Your partner is about to go under the blade. In man terms, the mechanic is going to open the hood to see what is wrong with the engine. The operation is a non-invasive keyhole-incision operation. It is a brief procedure, but as tense as anything if you’re sitting out front without a clue what is going on.
Finally, the doctor shows face and confirms that the true criminal was aggressive endometriosis. By then she’d had level three endometriosis*, level four almost certainly resulting in never becoming pregnant. We had caught it in the nick of time and the doctor had done all he could to burn away as much of the tissue as he could.
After this, we got practising again and two months later, we were pregnant. Since the only real enemy of endometriosis is the natural birthing process, we decided to have three kiddies in three years.
*Endometriosis is a condition where the uterine lining occurs outside as well as inside the uterus. When shed, the lining is trapped and may cause cysts and lesions. It occurs in about 5% of the general female population (15 000 000). Up to 80% of women who present with chronic pelvic pain have endometriosis as well as about 25% of women who experience infertility. (Living with endometriosis, News24 Coastal Weekly, 2018-02-01)