Stuart Burkhalter’s new book shares one man’s struggle with the modern fertility process.
When he called this time around March 2012, I was finally looking to tell someone something—to talk to someone other than my wife—and thus, when he asked how things were going, I told him honestly.
You know, Newt, not so great.”
I work in an old, stone house on West End Avenue in Nashville. Apparently, in the eighteen hundreds, stately homes like this with multiple chimneys, drawing rooms, and dark wood covering all available surfaces, used to line this primary thoroughfare leading up from downtown and the Cumberland River west into the suburbs. Now our building is sandwiched between a Pizza Hut Express on one side and what was a Mrs. Winner’s, then a Church’s Chicken, then a shuttered Church’s Chicken, and now an AT&T Store on the other.
About twenty years ago, before my law firm moved in, an architecture firm bought the house, left the original structure essentially intact, and built an extension of office space on theback. The extension was cutting-edge and modern for its time: spiral staircases, exposed pipes, skylights, and an entire wall of windows facing west. My office is on the lowest floor, below street level, and my view out my office door through this window wall is an alley and, beyond that, the faded, beige-yellow brick of Pizza Hut. The pizza employees periodically drag out various cooking utensils and trays and spray them down with a hose in the alley. At other times, a crazy man may shuffle through. Despite the limits of this view, I tend to avoid shutting my office door if at all possible, because otherwise, I might feel like I’m buried underground with only piles of paper to keep me company. But, on this particular occasion, I got up and sealed myself in. I told Newt about our experience through the fertility process thus far, and in particular, the feeling of living in constant, all-consuming frustration—a frustration that had recently bottomed out, with a whimper, after a failed IVF transfer in Dallas. In the midst of my extended confession, he interrupted, “I don’t know if this is even an appropriate question at this point, but,I mean, do you even want to have a baby?”
I laughed and said that conversation—or at least, that particular topic—was half-heartedly raised (by me) and quickly dropped long, long ago. So long ago, in fact, that remembering back to the time where that was a concern of mine seemed about as removed from the present as a horse-drawn carriage might, clopping through the alley outside my office, while blue chimney smoke silently billowed overheard. Did I even want to have a baby? Prior to any and all trying and failing? Prior to the fertility treatments? I have no idea. Sure. Always thought I would. I probably thought it was t quite want to delve into just yet. I probably thought that having a life centered around baby showers and baby photos and love for babies was beneath me.
I probably thought babies and children, in general, were a bit more obnoxious than they were cute. But now, I didn’t care whether I “wanted to” then or not. What I did know was that I wanted, desperately wanted, and ached for whatever we were currently doing to be successful and complete and over. My wife, Julie, however, was different. She said then and she’d say confidently now without hesitation that she had always dreamed of being a mother. That it was always of primary importance. I had known this, of course, but I also knew that there were other factors to consider.
Julie ceased taking birth control pills one year before we started “trying.” I remember her doing that and telling me that she was doing so, but even then, I did not understand why. That would just be the first of many things that I did not fully intuit during this process. Instead, it was simply understood through the vibrant and brimming-with-information female grapevine that the birth control pill should be discontinued far before actually attempting a pregnancy. So, sure, that’s what we did.
At some point I heard the phrase “pulling the goalie” used as a metaphor for ceasing all birth control. But it was only after we were struggling, deep and confused along the fertility trail, that this phrase sprung up and seemed to me, like many other things at the time, highly inaccurate. I knew this particular metaphor was related to hockey, but in my mind, I always associated it with soccer. And so I thought pulling the goalie was like pulling the keeper and I was standing there waiting on an empty-net penalty kick, where probably ninety-six times out of a hundred I could manage to knock it in. Of course, I was mistaken. Instead, in the midst of our experience, it appeared to me that for this analogy to be remotely accurate I would need to be on ice, on skates for the first time since fifth grade, standing behind my own goal, maybe with a soggy mop instead of a stick.
And I wondered: Why did we even have birth control pills? Why had we been bothering with condoms every time we had face-melting sex if it was so difficult to have success when we were in there, with no restraints, letting loose to our hearts’ content? In short, if I had known it was going to be this hard, I would have approached this entire process far, far differently. We wouldn’t have waited this bloody long!
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