Shadows

Posted 4 weeks, 6 days ago.

Content Warning: Pregnancy, Infertility, Depression

Download Audio Version (4.88MB)

I love a good secret. More to the point, I love a good surprise. Seeing the excitement and joy that people feel when you give them good news? The best.

So normally, when I tell a story, it’ll have twists and turns, and I’ll very specifically withhold information in an attempt to make that reveal even more satisfying. I can’t help myself. I’m actually doing it right now, even as I intend to jump right to the point of this post.

Melissa and I… are having a baby.

Melissa and Jelly, quietly laying in each others arms, alongside a positive pregnancy test. Their cat, Turbo, is asleep beside them.

Melissa and I have never had trouble throwing ourselves into new situations.

In 2013, only a few months after we got married—and even less time after we got settled into our house—we started having serious discussions about having kids. They didn’t last very long however, and I’m honestly not sure if we even made it through one. As was our status quo by this point, we threw ourselves into the situation. We’d have a baby! How exciting!

It got less exciting as weeks became months, and the months became years. It became a topic I didn’t really want to talk about anymore… anytime it came up, I would watch Melissa die a little on the inside. She would share her worries that something was wrong with her. She was adamant. I tried to console her, to calm her fears. It could just as easily be me.

I don’t think she ever actually believed me, but I sure did.

It wasn’t until a few months after we’d made the decision to try for a baby that I truly considered how a few words could have immense weight. Until you’re on the receiving end of it, you may never really be aware that an innocuous question can cut like a knife, given the right circumstances.

Back when I was single, people would tell me that I was going to make a great dad. Now it was “when are you planning on having children?”, as if the enormous hole opening up in my chest was invisible to the naked eye.

Maybe it was, but I could certainly feel it eating away at me. Eventually it would devour me, and the only thing left would somehow be my shadow.

As time lumbered forward, we started to actively avoid these social situations. I left my church because everyone I knew there was going into the life stage where they were married and having kids… or they were still single. There was no middle ground; no one I could relate to any more.

I was stuck between life stages.

So I just quietly stopped attending. We stopped visiting people who had kids. Melissa and I fell through the cracks, and I didn’t really mind. We were alone, but at least we weren’t surrounded by people becoming parents, lucking into the thing we wanted like it wasn’t even that hard.

Amongst all of this, we had one failed attempt to seek help that went miserably. It hit a little too close to home, was just a little too invasive, and it set us back a couple of years.

Our second try took us to a local fertility specialist who wanted to try helping us manage the timing of everything. Track all the numbers, get the timing right, and then once she gave the green light, try for a few days in a row.

It was not as fun as it might sound.

We had some tests done. Melissa got poked and prodded. I masturbated into a tiny jar, and then drove it across town to be delivered like a pizza. The results weren’t good, so we did it all again. I was told that if I hadn’t heard from the specialist, everything was fine.

The notice that everything wasn’t fine was a form letter that was attached to an email as a PDF. Unsurprisingly, it went straight to my spam, and if Melissa hadn’t been on the ball, I may never have seen it.

I absolutely lost my shit.

Our only option left at this point was in-vitro fertilisation, more commonly known by its acronym: IVF. I was “sub-fertile”, as our specialist jokingly put it, which wasn’t ideal. Melissa had her own issues, one of which was an ovary that wasn’t keen on being a team player. We were trying to add two and two together to get five.

Here’s the kicker. IVF is so incredibly expensive. We were looking at $12,000 to give it a shot, and with the odds of a successful round being around 50/50, it’s like betting it all on black. If we lost, we probably wouldn’t ever be able to try again.

We started looking for alternate options, and the one we were incredibly blessed to find was Primary IVF, a fertility clinic entirely based around the concept of bulk-billing IVF treatments. If a treatment can be covered by Medicare, it’s billed directly to Medicare. This brought the cost down to around $1,300, with the major downside being that we’d be making routine trips to Sydney for treatment.

Melissa and I have never had trouble throwing ourselves into new situations.

It takes a lot of effort to make IVF work. Melissa was giving herself injections every night, and having blood tests and ultrasounds every few days. She’d go for them in the morning, and then we’d wait until the afternoon to hear if things were progressing well.

Then suddenly we had to be in Sydney for the egg retrieval. We made a big deal out it. We stayed in the city overnight, and I got Hot and Spicy at George Street KFC for lunch (because it’s the best). Then Melissa got knocked out for day surgery, and I got sent off to a little room with a cup. Afterwards, I sat with Melissa while she recovered, and we headed home.

It’s a lot of work, and it’s hard, but we were excited again. When we got the call to tell us that we had four embryos, we couldn’t believe it. It was so many! All the extras went to the freezer, and Melissa travelled back to Sydney for the transfer. The waiting began.

The first round failed. After we got the call to tell us the extras didn’t survive the freezing process, we were broken. For a brief moment, we’d gotten our hope back, but now only our shadows remained.

It was a few months later that we were finally able to face it again. Both from an emotional standpoint, as well as a financial one. We sat with our specialist, and went over everything that had gone wrong. We made a new plan, with new medications for Melissa, and the process started again.

This new round resulted in a biochemical pregnancy, which is a fancy way of saying that it didn’t work, but it seemed like it did for the briefest of moments. It didn’t really surprise us that much. We hadn’t made a big deal out of this round. We reduced our time in Sydney to just day trips, and we caught the train so I wouldn’t even need to drive all the way into the city. I’d still gotten Hot and Spicy for lunch, because it’s still the best.

A few embryos made it to the freezer this time. It might sound like it should’ve been exciting, but I don’t know if we ever really felt it. We talked about it like it was a positive thing, but it was just numbers. We had enough that we could try again without the stress of the egg retrieval. This is good. We’re on track to achieve our deliverables. Go team!

Once her system had gotten back to its baseline, Melissa started on her third round of medications to prepare for another transfer. She went to Sydney by herself, while I stayed home and worked.

A couple of weeks later, Melissa handed me a pregnancy test she’d taken. I tried to show excitement. I wanted to be excited. Most of all, I wanted Melissa to have her hope back. The test was proven right when Melissa had a blood test a few days later, and I think it started to actually feel real for her.

It was when we had a scan at 7 weeks—so Primary IVF could verify that everything was on track—that my brain started to accept things. My heart was still empty, but at least I could approach this like a project now. I started making lists of all the household stuff I needed to do to prepare for this new addition to our family.

As 2018 drew to a close, I started to organise the Lessons Learned in 2018 episode of Independence, and it hit me how truly crappy the year had been for Melissa and I. It was so incredibly hard to list highlights for a year that had been the capper on a long period of personal grief. It all felt hollow, because for so long… I had felt nothing.

Moving into 2019, I decided to start a new project. There had been so many little things to bring me joy in my darkest moments, to make me laugh even though I felt empty, and to be a friend when I felt alone. So I began working on My Favourite Things, and I decided that I would use it as an opportunity to thank the creators of these things, because even though many of them have no idea who I am, I don’t think I could’ve gotten through it all without them.

Let’s be honest. I love a good surprise. Seeing the excitement and joy that people feel when you create an illustration of them? The best.

Finally, after five years of heartache and despair, my hope is returning. I think 2019 might actually turn out to be a good year. I might be able to look back at this one and give a list of highlights.

At the very least, I’ll have a list of so many amazing things I’m truly grateful for.

And guess what?!

Melissa and I are having a baby!

An ultrasound image showing our baby.