My route to fatherhood wasn’t the usual one. The thing with watching your girlfriend undergoing IUI with donor sperm to get pregnant with a baby you don’t particularly want is that over time you come to accept that, for better or worse and with no input from you, there’s going to be a baby in your future. And that does weird things to both your head and your heart.
Because Lizzie so wanted a baby – because her very being ached for it – I wanted it to work. For her. I read books on babies, pregnancy, parenting and babies conceived by donor sperm so I could support her through every stage of her becoming a parent. I injected her every afternoon with hormones, drove her thirty miles to watch her have probes inserted into unmentionable areas to scan her ovaries, then thirty miles back listening to her excitement that we’d seen a follicle or heartache that we hadn’t.
Then, after a couple of years adjusting to this weird set of circumstances, I sat in the room and held her hand as she underwent insemination with the seed of a man she’d never met and was never likely to (which means a virgin can get pregnant – take that, God!). After which, I treated her like a queen – albeit a queen that needed her court jester to help her with two suppositories a day. Definitely think I got the shitty end of this arrangement…
Two weeks later came the agonising – ‘Is that blood? No, that’s not blood, it’s just – oh God, please don’t be blood. Oh Christ, it’s blood. But maybe – no. It’s gone. That little follicle we watched grow and grow on the ultrasound screen, that we nurtured and spoke to and treated as though it was an actual baby, has gone. And those two weeks we’ve spent thinking and hoping you might be pregnant – they’re over.’
The strangest thing – I was just as heartbroken as Lizzie. I don’t think anybody who hasn’t undergone fertility treatment can understand what it’s like when it doesn’t work. It feels like a miscarriage because you’ve seen the egg, you’ve seen the sperm, you’ve seen them meet. It’s not just a period – it’s the loss of a baby, a dream.
People who knew what was happening said, ‘So? It took me/my partner a year to get pregnant.’ But that is not the same thing. When you’re trying for a baby naturally, a period means you simply try again – an upcoming month of sex, cuddling and romance, yay! When you’re having IUI, it means another month without sex. Another month of injections, three-hour round trips to the clinic every couple of days, scans, pressure, insemination, suppositories. It’s cold, clinical and the most unromantic thing you can imagine.
Also, you’re acutely aware of the fact that you only have enough money for three attempts. As Lizzie couldn’t grow follicles without injections, and wouldn’t ovulate without a different injection, and was using donor sperm, each failure dramatically reduced the possibility of her ever having a baby. So it’s completely different from trying for a baby naturally.
On the second attempt, on the way to the insemination, I drove my car into flood waters and screwed the engine. Looking back, I wonder if, subconsciously, I did it deliberately as a result of the stress of the whole shebang. But we were towed out of the flood, made it to the hospital, and Lizzie was promptly inseminated again.
This, similarly, didn’t work, but we were more prepared for failure this time and we knew we still had one shot.
It really was third time lucky. The follicle grew beautifully; the hormone-induced mood swings were almost non-existent; and the insemination went so well, we were almost guaranteed a healthy, happy baby. So when the blood came again, we pretended it wasn’t a period for the longest time, until we had to face the devastating truth – there would be no baby in our future.
After having spent three years getting my head around having to raise a baby, the fact that suddenly there wasn’t going to be one knocked me for six. Over the years, I had grown not just to accept my impending parenthood, but desire it, not in my head but in my heart. I was as desperate to be a dad as Lizzie was to be a mum.
But we’d run out of money. That third miscarriage/period was the most painful experience of my life.
On the other hand, I’d run out of reasons why I didn’t want to be a father. After a lot of soul-searching, I realised they were all based on fear – that I wouldn’t be good enough, I’d mess the kid up, I wouldn’t be able to cope, it wouldn’t like me, it’d be autistic. But then I thought: what if I was able to cope? What if I was good enough? By wrapping myself in cotton wool and avoiding the possibility of bad things happening to me, I was denying myself the possibility of good things – great things – happening too.
If you deny yourself the possibilities in life, then you’re not living and you might as well be dead. And what had all my self-protection got me? Life still found a way to intrude, time and time again.
It was like a spiritual awakening. I realised I needed to give up control and learn to embrace a little chaos and random chance – not an easy admission for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. Suddenly, I had faith in myself and life. So I decided to leave the issue of my parenting in the lap of the gods – we would stop using contraception, and if I was meant to be a father, Lizzie would become pregnant.
Not that I expected much. We’d learnt during the fertility treatment that Lizzie ovulated without drugs about twice a year. She also didn’t form a thick enough wall of the uterus to enable the egg to implant without suppositories. And on three occasions, viably-proven sperm had been implanted right on top of the egg and failed to fertilise it.
The odds of Lizzie growing a follicle, the follicle getting big enough to mature an egg, the egg being released, us having sex at exactly the right time, the sperm penetrating the egg and the egg implanting, were so astronomically small that we figured we’d be in for a long, hard slog. So, in the meantime, we’d get a puppy and live our lives as normal. If a baby came along then great, but if not, we had to get on with our lives.
Lizzie was pregnant within two months.
I knew from the second of that first positive pregnancy test that everything would be fine, Lizzie would carry it to term, and it would all work out okay – I’d trusted in the Universe to tell me if I should be a dad and the Universe had answered with a massive, emphatic yes! There was no chance whatsoever we’d be given such a gift only for it to be taken away.
I’m not a religious person, but everything that happened seems as though it was meant to be, as though somebody wanted me to be a dad and took our little family on a journey of pain and spiritual growth in order to make that happen. And as soon as we were both ready and willing and trusted to fate, we were handed our longed-for baby.
Izzie is a miracle. I truly believe that. She is a gift from heaven we had no right to expect.
But now Lizzie wants another…