I compose an email full of links to various blogs written by bummed-out donor kids and articles summarizing studies and send it off to Dashiell at work. Then I send him a text warning him that I’ve sent him an email that might be sort of overwhelming to open on the job so that he can read it at a moment where he has the space to have some feelings. Then I go to the café to meet up with my friend Brenda who is at the beginning of her own search for a sperm donor.
Like Dashiell, Brenda’s partner wants to exert as much control as possible over the creation of their family, and is leaning toward the seeming simplicity of a sperm bank. Like me, Sharon is an Aquarius, who is likely to frame life quandaries in spiritual terms. And sperm banks just don’t seem very spiritual.
“Who are these guys jerking off in a room for money?” she asks frankly. It’s a super good question. “Who are they to say they’re not alcoholics -– they might not even know they’re alcoholics!”
It’s true. Like me, Brenda comes from an alcoholic family and has been through the ropes of recovery. Lots of alcoholics don’t know they’re alcoholics at all; it’s part of the creepiness of the disease that it sort of tells you you’re fine even as it is slowly shredding your life to bits. When I was bottoming out I was sure I was just going through a rough astrological transit. Denial is very real, and very baffling.
Brenda’s partner is going to have to legally adopt their baby, just like I’m going to have to legally adopt mine -– technically, I’m just a surrogate. We muse and commiserate on all the weird, sort of lousy and costly maneuvers we have to go through to make a family.
I feel so lucky that I friends around me on the same spooky journey. Just yesterday I saw photos on my Facebook feed of a couple I know at the courthouse taking care of the adoption issues in their lezzie family. They actually looked so proud and happy and beaming, it made me realize that it could maybe be something joyful rather than intimidating or infuriating.
Brenda is so on top of business she’s already had a lawyer draw up the contract for her donor, even though she doesn’t yet have one. A guy who had initially signed on bailed, and we talk about how hard it is to find that perfect person –- someone detached enough to not want to raise the kid or be really involved, yet invested enough to show up at your house five days a month to masturbate in your bathroom.
Again I flash on Quentin and feel a flare of urgency shoot through my body. I wonder if Dashiell has read my alarming email? It’s not like Quentin is going anywhere, but I still feel like we need to act quickly. What if we lose him, somehow?
I bust out my tarot deck and Brenda picks cards on various possible sperm donors. It looks like a close friend who is a gay genius Russian scholar may be a great bet.
She tells me about how she approached a friend of hers who is a film producer and infamously good matchmaker and asked her if she would help Brenda source a donor. The woman was horribly offended and told Brenda she wasn’t comfortable being a "sperm pimp." We sign and shake our heads. People have so many feelings and opinions about this whole thing.
We finish our coffees and tuck away the tarot and it’s time for me to hop on the bus to Dr. Wendy’s office for my saline sonogram. Some sort of balloon is going to get inserted in my uterus and filled with liquid and then they’re going to put that wand up me and wiggle it around while looking at the scan of my womb, black and scratchy on the computer monitor.
I pop my pill on the bus and send a text to Tali telling her I’m popping pills on the bus. Tali is a recovered alcoholic too, and we enjoy texting each other dark humor jokes about drugs and such. But Tali is also coming to fetch me from Dr. Wendy’s after my scan; I was told that I would not be allowed to leave the office, doped up on pills, without an escort.
I felt a little annoyed at this -– as an addict, I know I am perfectly capable of walking around on a single solitary pill; indeed I was even looking forward to perhaps popping into the Marc by Marc Jacobs shop around the corner, doped up just enough to foolishly splurge on something I don’t need without feeling those sharp pangs of anxiety. Oh well.
At Dr. Wendy’s office, I am directed to a whole new waiting room, one not for check-ups and exams but procedures such as this. Pregnant women flip through magazines, and a doctor I have never met comes to fetch me. She is in her 50s, gruff and way dykey. No way! Dr. Dyke has a sort of short, sort of spiky hairdo that is borderline mullet, and she talks with a Jersey accent. I can’t believe Dr. Wendy’s office just got even more awesome.
The little room she takes me into is dark and holds the familiar machine with the long, alien-dildo probe thingie jutting upward. Dr. Dyke gives me a minute to change into my paper smock and then she joins me, wielding the wand.
“I just want to get the lay of the land,” she quips, and slides it up there. “Looks good. We just need to get into your uterus and make sure.”
Dr. Wendy joins us, fresh from a surgery, looking a bit windswept and harried but capable and ready for action. She gives me a big smile and hunkers down between my legs with Dr. Dyke. They start fiddling around, inserting things and making me generally uncomfortable. Despite the downer, I don’t feel very relaxed and have to fight the clenching of my muscles. I feel something liquid fall out from me.
“That’s not you, it’s me,” Dr. Wendy smiles, and returns her focus to my area. There is a poking and a prodding that is increasingly terrible, leaving the realm of discomfort and inching painfully into, um, pain. They’re trying to thread a catheter through my cervix into my utertus, and it just won’t go. Poke, poke, stab, stab.
My fingers clench and unclench, grasping at nothing. I move my hands up into my hair and grips handfuls of it close to my scalp, trying to count my breaths like I learned at the Zen Center. They try flushing water into my uterus but it just pools in my cervix.
“Has this ever happened to you before?” Dr. Wendy asks Dr. Dyke.
“No, I’ve never had a problem threading a catheter.”
“Me neither. Sorry,” Dr. Wendy glances up at me, frustration and concern on her face.
My abdomen is filled with terrible cramps, and the pain spawns a familiar anxiety. I used to have a severe phobia of the dentist, where the minute the cranked open my mouth to scrape the plaque from my teeth I would start weeping. Weeping.
It made me feel so terrible and human and vulnerable, and I would think about people, people everywhere, in pain, and instead of this thought making me feel strong and connected, the truth of our communal suffering just broke my heart and made me cry harder.
I would try to talk myself out of it by imagining people in real pain, which inevitably made me think of torture, and then I would begin to sob at the thought of it, people causing pain to other people, how horrible, how incomprehensible, why? In my dark, existential hole I grew increasingly traumatized, the hygienists murmuring in soft, alarmed voices behind their masks, sometimes even kindly daubing my tears with a Kleenex.
Since getting a really awesome dentist and getting on some really awesome psych medication, my dental phobia has really gone away. But that terrible maw of pain and injustice was wide open and ready to swallow me there on the table with my legs in stirrups, a catheter being drilled through my unwilling cervix.
How, how would I be able to bear childbirth? How? I hate pain, I can’t take it stoically, I squirm and hyperventilate and cry. My mind spins out to psychedelically grim places. However bad this catheter might feel in my cervix, a baby’s head is going to feel much, much worse.
On the table, my hands have gone numb. The valium is not working at all.
“I feel like we’re torturing you,” Dr. Wendy says, upset.
The mention of torture makes me flash on the thought of Nazis torturing women in and a surge of fresh tears pour down my face. Life is too cruel. I think about my friend Bernadine, how before she got her kidney removed a sadistic doctor put a scope up her urethra and you could hear her howling from the waiting room.
When she came out, she could barely walk, and was so pale and shaky she looked like she’d been shot. I cry for Bernadine. I think about how Dashiell will have to have her eggs retrieved , and I cry for her. I never want Dashiell to feel any pain, not ever.
“You can curse at us,” Dr. Dyke says, breaking the terrible existential spell I’m under. “I’m an Italian from New Jersey, I’ve heard it all.” But cursing isn’t going to help me. I don’t feel angry, I feel horribly, profoundly sad.
Finally they give up. Which makes me immediately relieved, though concerned that this means I’ll have to go through this whole thing all over again, which it does.
The doctors talk to each other while I lay on the table, my tears now tears of gratitude that it’s over. “I’ve never seen this before,” Dr. Wendy says to Dr. Dyke, mystified.
“Me neither,” Dr. Dyke says.
They discuss what they can do different next time –- something with bubbles? Dr. Wendy promises to Lidocaine my cervix, and give me not one but two painkillers. My crying is constant but under control.
When they leave, I burst into tears, balls-out sobbing. There is a ton of blood between my legs, soaking into the paper and pads beneath me. I mop myself up with a handful of paper towels, try briefly to clean the mess on the table and give up.
Now that I’m standing I can suddenly feel the valium, or maybe it’s just the trauma. My legs are noodles and there is a haze in my brain. I have a pain in my right shoulder and realize it’s from how tense my muscles were throughout the interrupted procedure.
I dress and check my phone –- a text from Tali that she’s almost there and jealous I’m on pills. I’m actually happy she’s coming for me. I’m in no state to go browsing at M by MJ, and could use some company. Left alone, I fear my mind could plummet back into the existential k-hole that feels close a as a shadow.
I walk right out of the office without anyone stopping me and run into Tali in the hallway.
“I thought you couldn’t leave without me!” she exclaimed. I shrug and walk weakly out to her truck. I’m dying to eat my feelings so we go to the excellent burger place by my house that I’ve dying to take Tali, a great connessour of burgers and milkshakes. Over amazing food, we talk about what I’ve learned about donor kids, how bummed and haunted they are by not knowing their dads,
“That’s so weird,” Tali muses. “Most Dads are so terrible.”
It’s true. And having had not one by two bad dads, I was really resistant to the thought that having an absent dad could be rough. It was hard when my bio-dad bailed, but ultimately great to not have his bitter, alcoholic stress harshing my mellow.
Tali’s dad is a stressful alcoholic super into right wing radio. Bernadine’s dad is an alcoholic, as is Brenda’s. Dashiell is estranged from her dad, as is Mallory. Rhonda is in a constant struggle with her dry-drunk, anorexic dad.
Do I know anyone with a good dad? My sister’s husband Walden is an incredible dad to their kids, but that’s honestly it. The reality is, having a sperm donor dad might be one of the better dad-having deals around.