Everybody handles bad infertility news differently. In the hope of creating awareness for those who haven’t had the experience of finding out they have the sperm count of a drug addict or chemotherapy patient for no apparent reason at the age of 29, here’a the story of how I handled it. Or more accurately, how I didn’t handle it on an “escape” trip to Mexico a few months after I found out a count of 1 million sperm is not a good thing.
The last night of our trip, we embark on a margarita boat ride. Basic idea is drink as many margaritas as possible on a two to three hour boat ride around the Sea of Cortez. The Corona and Dos Equis aren’t producing enough buzz to take my mind off of all the things Lisa and I aren’t talking about. I need something stronger.
By the sixth or seventh margarita my thoughts defy gravity, easily floating away as I swig another ounce of this sweet concoction. We motor further out into the ocean, and the white excrement that covers the large two hundred foot rock formation bird habitats begins to blend with the green-blue water, like raindrops falling on a watercolor painting.
Everyone bursts out laughing when I practically catapult out of my chair upon hitting choppy waters. By the ninth or tenth margarita I am not really forming any conscious thought. I look over at Lisa managing to focus long enough to see her pursed lips and folded arms.
A couple of our shipmates aren’t enjoying their buzz as they empty their stomachs into the ocean. I lean over the upper deck railing to scream my condolences to them when my glasses fly off my face. I watch them glide out of sight to the bottom of the Sea of Cortez.
“I lost my freaking glasses!” I scream and begin hysterically laughing like a hyena on speed. That’s the last memory I have before the floating free feeling transitions to a rapid horizontal spinning sensation. I can no longer really make out anyone’s faces, and the voices I hear don’t sound familiar, although I am able to focus long enough to hear Lisa’s voice muttering the words “drunk” and “idiot” frequently.
The boat docks, but I’m still sailing. I sense a large hulking figure moving me, and I realize it is Jason. I try to walk myself, but the spinning is now vertical, like I’m a hamster. I sense we are in a car, but when the car stops I become Dorothy swept up in a drunken tornado that violently wrenches the contents of my skull from side to side. I wish I had not downed fourteen margaritas, the record for the boat ride.
We are back at the house and I try to stabilize my head so I can figure out who is in the room. Lisa’s voice is angry as she whispers loudly to someone just outside the door. My stomach is suspended outside my body, lurching from side to side, struggling to cope with its contents. I am not laughing anymore.
Lisa announces that she is leaving with the driver our margarita boat rid, Captain Erin, to watch the Holyfield/Tyson fight at a nearby bar. She must be really pissed. She hates sports, and as long I’ve known her she never even given the remote control a fleeting pause if a boxing match was on. I try to get up to stop her, but the forward motion sends a flood of guacamole, undigested chips, and tequila to the top of my throat.
I hate throwing up more than anything in the world. My brother tells stories of the deals I would make with God if He would just spare me the horrible sensation of upchucking. But this time is different. I want more than anything to unload all the contents in my gut.
My temporary escape from everything ends in a vomiting disgraceful mess. Jason tries to comfort me while I hug the porcelain toilet and release what I swear are my internal organs. I wipe away the chunks of green from my mouth, and look into the mirror. Who the hell am I? I have never been drunk in my life, and barely standing there staring at my pale face, I realize what a coward I’ve been.
Our last afternoon in Mexico, Lisa and I are walking side by side. The sand is warm between my toes and I glance at the sun as it hits Lisa’s auburn hair. I still can’t look in her eyes.
There is too much truth in those eyes. And the truth is I see doubt in her eyes for the first time since we’ve been together. Doubt that I’m not the man who she married—the one with an endless reserve of faith and ambition. I worry that my lack of sperm could be the catalyst for her to ultimately leave me. Procreation is a basic natural function of manhood, isn’t it? In the National Geographic magazines I read growing up the females sought out the fertile dominant males. Is that primitive instinct going to draw Lisa away from me to a more fertile guy? I can work hard to provide financial security, educate myself to become more job or career worthy, practice more if I want to become a better musician or singer. But how do I fix this sperm thing?
Lisa squeezes my hand.
I look into her eyes. I can’t see anything to be worried about in those eyes. Only love.
“I’m sorry Lisa. I just never felt so…so embarrassed before. “
I have to pause a few moments, walking, waiting for her to say something, to yell at me, to begin the prologue for why she can’t stay married to a man with hardly any sperm.
“I mean. I feel like I’m not a real man.”
She looks at me, still not saying anything, waiting for me to finish. She knows the pace of my thought process so well. She won’t jump in and interrupt me until she can hear the period in my monologue.
I stop and look in her eyes.
“Lis. You should just find someone else who can give you a child.”
I search for the sign of acceptance, the resigned sadness that tells me that she indeed intends to move on.
Instead, her face radiates with love and she takes my face into her hands.
“I don’t want a child if it’s not with you. I want to see your eyes in our baby boy or girl some day. I want them to know the beautiful man that you are, the loving, gentle man I fell in love with who believes in me, who dreams with me and who means everything to me. I didn’t marry you for your sperm, Denny.”
The words are so honest and reflexive that I choke off a sob. I have read her so wrong.
“This just isn’t how I thought it would be: the doctors and the medical stuff to have a baby. I just don’t understand it. I did everything right, didn’t I? Never did drugs, never slept around. I don’t understand why the hell this is happening to me. I just feel…I feel….”
Lisa pulls me to her, and wraps me in her arms, staring into my eyes as I try to finish the sentence.
“You feel what?”
I take in a deep breath, distracted by the families running around the beach, wondering if any of them ever had the discussion we are having.
Always knowing what to say, Lisa says nothing. She buries her head in my chest. I feel her warm tears on my skin, and my emotions let go. Holding her and crying, feeling the beat of her heart synchronized with mine, I realize this is the first time I have really cried in front of Lisa. Except for when she lost her Grandma. I comforted her in her time of loss, and now she is comforting me in my time of…loss? Loss of what? My manhood? Loss of the assumption I would have a perfectly normal sperm count that would enable us to make love to have a baby? I ponder that, as I reconnect to Lisa’s soulful brown eyes, warmed by the smile she manages though her cheeks are streaked with tears.
We clasp hands and begin walking again. I have always loved the way her hand fits into mine. I want to hold that hand, watching that sun kiss the seascape on the horizon, and slow down the moment, before the future beyond this moment begins to rise.
- http://www.resolve.org/infertility101 (Basic understanding of the disease of infertility.)
- http://www.resolve.org/national-infertility-awareness-week/about.html (About NIAW)