I just finished reading a couple of stories in the press about autism. One was a commentary by Jenny McCarthy about her son’s recovery (she stresses not cured) from autism. This ties into the vaccine link controversy. The other story was about a single mom who used a sperm donor to have a child. Her child was diagnosed as autistic. Supposedly, she ended up contacting several others who had children using sperm from the same donor. Of six children among them, three had been diagnosed with autism and another was showing symptoms of it. The story talked about getting that sort of diagnosis on your child, of how your world changes, how the child you have and the future you dream of for them suddenly changes, how you go through the grieving process. As a father, I can’t help but hurt when I read stories like these, see the Amber alerts being broadcast, read of a child abduction, and a lot of other things where children suffer. I have an amazing five year old daughter who probably has done more to make me a real man than anything else in my life. She is one of my stories. We all have our own.
She was not ours through your “typical” path. My wife and I spent a number of years trying to start a family the “traditional” way. We did not succeed. I learned far more than I ever expected to learn about endometriosis. My wife had a severe problem with that. Usually, when you want to get pregnant and it just doesn’t happen, doctors put the wife on Clomed. It basically turbocharges her ovaries. You get a bunch of eggs each month. That’s supposed to improve the odds. It didn’t. We both learned to be unusually skeptical of those home pregnancy tests. While I never totalled it up, I know we spent a small fortune on home pregancy tests and those ovulation prediction tests too. It’s wierd going into a store and clearing them out of their stock of these products.
It is amazing how something like this creeps into every nook and cranny of your life. It almost takes over and takes on a life of its own. I don’t care how they design these home tests or word the directions, you still find yourself debating, is there a line there?, is it positive?, is it visible enough? We had more than one occasion where we concluded it was. As much as we wanted it to be, we didn’t Clinton it and push the limits on how you define a positive result. My wife is a registered nurse so our knowledge level of matters medical is better that most folks. I’ve picked up enough over the years that when I raise a concern with a doctor, I can present a real challenge to their skill and knowledge. We’d go to the doctor and get their blood test only to have it come back negative. The difference each time was actually time. Several days would have passed since the home test. With the level of accuracy of the home tests these days, you’re don’t expect to be skeptical and to doubt its accuracy. Boy do you learn a lot about reproduction that they never covered back in that high school health class! Seems women actually get pregnant a lot more often than they realize. Yea, that sounds crazy but it turns out to be true. Women don’t make it past that first month a lot more than they know. For us, the low point came in the craziest of places. My parents had organized a “family cruise”. We all took a cruise ship through Alaska’s inland passage. The timing worked out where my wife and I were hoofing on foot through downtown Juneau to get to a drug store and get a pregnancy test. After what was then about four to five years of trying, we had learned to be very skeptical but when your wife says with complete certainty that not only is the test positive, she knows her body and she knows she is pregnant, you really do want to believe her. Still, by that point in time, you can’t shake the feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. As much as I wanted to believe that the line we both really did see really did mean she was pregnant, I wasn’t ready to give in completely and really believe and yet it was so hard NOT to. You so want the dream to be real. With all we had gone through before that and as skeptical and doubtful as we were at that point, we had enough that told us our doubts were wrong and unfounded that, on the last day of the cruise as my extended family gathered for our last meal on board, we did something two very skeptical adults hadn’t done several times before, we shared our news. We got in contact with my wife’s family and shared the news with them too. Then we went home, went to the doctor and had yet another blood test.
The shoe dropped.
While my wife buried herself in the bedroom, I dealt with the task of contacting all the different family members and telling them, oops, nevermind. Yes, you mourn much as you do with the death of any family member and yet more so for you are mourning not just a death in the family, you are mourning the death of a child, a life unlived and a dream unfulfilled. You experience the full grieving process with nothing held back.
From there we went to an endocrinologist -a fertility doctor. They test you every which way you can be tested. You discuss things you’d never imagine discussing – hormones, timings, chemical reactions, details of biology most doctors don’t even know, just about everything this side of how to read chicken bones tossed into a fire pit. Then you start the shots, the drugs, the hormones. While I can’t draw blood, giving injections are almost an afterthought for me. There’s a skill I never expected. Fertility doctors prepare you for failure, mainly because your odds don’t become unbeatable even with all they do. They’re better but it’s not a certainty. We got to try it a second time. On the morning of September 11, 2002, as the world stopped for that awful first anniversary, the doctor implanted three embryoes in my wife’s uterus. A few weeks later, we got something we hadn’t had in almost seven years – a positive blood test. You think you’d scream and shout, jump for joy and generally act the fool. You don’t. You simply sit and feel a lot lighter. You feel a breeze come through and the mustiness clears out. Things seem brighter, better but there’s still one thing you can’t fully shake – the feeling that somewhere out there, there’s a shoe lurking. As the days and weeks pass, it fades. You do finally completely forget about that shoe. I did – the day I held my newborn daughter in my arms.
It’s the craziest thing but I swear it’s like that whole seven years somehow became a part of by DNA and became a part of my daughter. She hugs right and left. Not just us, not just family but her friends, her teachers – she hugs where most folks say hello. You’d swear she’s hugging not just for herself but her lost brothers and sisters.
My daughter taught me one very big lesson even before she was born. She taught me to cry. Even now, still to this day, I see the children with no hair, I see the Amber alerts on the freeways, I see the parents on the news – I see the eyes, I see that look, I see behind it as I know it all too well…..and I shed a tear. I am not just a man, I am human. I know. I am a father.