Summer - Part 1
Updated: Jan 22, 2022
"...somewhere in my heart I'm always dancing with you in the summer rain..."
- Belinda Carlisle. 1989.
It was a smoking hot July afternoon as we pulled away from the campground parking lot at Gallagher Lake in the Okanagan region of British Columbia. We had been enjoying a long weekend reunion with Darcy’s father's family. His step brothers and their kids, aunts and uncles and lots of cousins with whom Darcy had many fond memories of but, in the way of a busy guy, didn’t stay in touch with regularly. One particular cousin had a gaggle of gorgeous kids and the tiniest one was a cherubic little girl with long blond curls and gorgeous blue eyes. Miller was an only child at that point – he wasn’t quite two yet – but to look at her, she could have been his sister. I couldn’t take my eyes off her all weekend.
Up until that day we had not entertained the idea of a sibling for Miller. IVF (that stands for ‘In-Vitro Fertilization’ for any lucky folks who are unfamiliar with fertility challenges) had taken a small toll on us emotionally, cost a not-so-small fortune and we weren’t young parents. I had just turned 39 and Darcy was about to turn 41. We felt youthful but the experience of parenting had been different for us than most. Miller’s birth had been traumatic for all three of us. Born with a surprise brain injury, there had been a lot of interventions in the first 20 months of his life. Physio therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, checklists of milestones to be met and random prognoses. We stayed focussed on letting him develop at his own pace and he was a bright, smart and engaging little boy, but neither of us were feeling confident about adding another child to the mix. We never even talked about it. It was an understanding. We had enough on our plate. Miller deserved our full devotion. It would take too long. Cost too much. There were no guarantees.
As we rolled down our windows and waved goodbye at the extended family seeing us off at the campsite, I could see Darcy focused on that little angelic blonde third-cousin of his. She was adorable with a magical smile and we had enjoyed her sassy confidence all weekend. As we said our final farewells this little gal, I think her name might have been Christana, called out “Bye bye uncle Darcy!” in her tiny voice. He grinned as he turned the steering wheel and the dust rose up behind our car. With the small crowd of family disappearing in the rear view mirror, he stared at the road ahead and in his quiet, casual way he uttered “kind of makes you feel like having another one, doesn’t it?”
I don’t know exactly what happened for him in that moment, but I know what happened for me. A feeling of elation that I did not even know I was suppressing rose up in my body. My heart expanded three sizes, like the Grinch on Christmas, and my throat opened up as my truth poured out. “Really? Are you serious?” I asked, trying not to get too excited in case he didn’t really mean it. Trying to keep my enthusiasm in check, lest I be disappointed. But my husband didn’t say a lot of things he didn’t mean and so by the time we rolled into Vancouver we had discussed our plan and he called the fertility specialists the next morning. We were going to do this. I had no idea how much I had even wanted a second babe until we deemed it an option.
Someone else's two children representing MY new fantasy. Siblings.
Without getting too deep into the gory details of our fertility journey, I can share that Darcy hosted the physical challenge that held us back from easily conceiving. He had something called varicoceles and this common condition simply meant that the veins in the testicles were bigger than average and, as a result, it made for a warmer than ideal environment for healthy sperm. In other words, he made the sperm just fine…but then he cooked them.
I can tell you that, even if he was alive today, he would not mind my telling you about the dilemma with his ‘hot balls’ as we affectionately called them! One of the coolest things about Darcy (NOT his balls, apparently!) was that he never measured his worth or masculinity based on his physical inability to easily produce children. Unlike a lot of men, he didn’t make the fact that he had male-factor infertility MEAN something about him. It was just his body. Not his character or manliness. This absence of dramatic feelings about the situation allowed us to proceed through our fertility journey with a LOT less unnecessary stress and confusing emotions. He was a problem solver and there was a problem with his body that he felt no shame about. The end. These are the kind of circumstances that assured me that I married the right man. He did not create drama and I was always so impressed with his sense of self-worth.
In our original attempts to have a baby, it was suggested to us that he was a good candidate for a simple operation that could help with the varicoceles. Unfortunately, childhood trauma was still very present in Darcy’s body. He was badly burned as a toddler by a hot cup of coffee that he grabbed from a window sill and he had spent many months in hospital to protect the burns as they healed. Separation from his mom and his adoptive father had caused him to spend his whole life in deep fear of all things medical. He would almost faint at the sight of blood and having to get a needle for any reason required him to lie down, look away, hold my hand. He avoided all that at any cost. No injury was enough for him to seek medical attention, ever, and over the years I have watched him silently suffer through cracked ribs, a broken foot, a deep axe-cut in the finger that needed stitches. The sight of a band-aid made his stomach turn! He was NOT going to have that surgery, so we chose IVF instead and we got lucky with Miller on our first round. We only had achieved one viable embryo that time, (not a favorable result after all the injections and painful extraction of eggs!) but it had turned into our beautiful son! Surely we would have the same incredible luck if we tried again! So we got on with it.
This time we had an even better amount of viable embryos to work with. THREE whole embryos! When the doctor suggested that our best odds would be achieved by putting all three of them in my uterus at once – after all, I was considered “geriatric” in the fertility field at 39 years old – Darcy almost fainted. He was imagining triplets and becoming trapped in a lifetime of making low budget children’s movies to keep food on the table, so we agreed on two embryos in the womb and one in the freezer. None of them took.
(The only thing we got out of that experience was the “birth” of my first short film, titled “Playing God”. An amateur documentary-style depiction of our IVF experience which I love and will be fun to show the kids when they are older and want to know how babies are made!)
"That's a great question, kiddo! I was really relying on your Dad to field this one but since he's not here, after I finish making this salad, I'll show you a short film that will explain ALL that you need to know about baby making!" LOL.
I guess somewhere along the line, after watching me go through the agony of IVF twice, and seeing me persevere through Miller’s birth without the aid of pain medication, Darcy decided he could handle a simple, highly medicated day-procedure that might increase our chances of conception. I was proud of him and excited when he booked the operation and proceeded with it. I would never have asked him to. I remember waiting in the reception area for him to recover from the anaesthetic before heading home and the urologist who had performed the surgery – a young handsome guy, well known for his success in this area…the testicle area – came out giggling and said “Oh yeah. You were never gonna get a baby out of those balls! He was running way too hot! Give yourselves a few months and then get tested to see if the sperm count has improved. It is highly likely that you’ll still need IVF support to make this happen. Good luck!” And with that, I collected my brave husband as he was wheeled out to me with a proud grin and a massive ice pack on his crotch.
A few months later it was determined with our specialists that we could try a few rounds of artificial insemination (IUI). Something Darcy and I affectionately referred to as the “turkey baster method”. It is easy and affordable. The ‘mom’ takes some drugs to boost the number of eggs she drops during ovulation and, when the time is right, the ‘dad’ goes into the “fun room” (with videos, magazines and sanitary plastic coverings on the remote!) and generates a “sample” that goes through a spinning process to clear away all the slow-moving or unhealthy sperm and all the good ones get ‘delivered’ by way of the baster…and then you cross your legs, stand on your head and hope for the best.
As I waited for the nurse to arrive with the sperm, my feet in the stirrups, I stared at the expensive marble ceiling tiles that we were funding and wondered if the operation had improved Darcy’s “output” of swimmers by much. In the past, we usually only had about 100,000 viable sperm to work with – an average fertile male usually produces 50 million in one shot! So you can see the odds had never been in our favor.
A few moments later the nurse breezed in with the paperwork and she announced glibly that we had “9 to work with today”. I was overjoyed!! I asked her to confirm this great progress. “Nine hundred thousand sperm?! That is incredible!” To which she replied “No dear. Nine million.” My eyes almost popped out of my head as I told her about our original count and she looked at me slyly. “Well. Allow me to go make a quick copy of this paperwork for your husband to frame,” she said. Adorable.
More swimmers! Yay!
Sadly despite more healthy ammunition and all the right technology, we tried the turkey baster three or four times and it never worked. I was well into my fortieth year and I was okay if that ship had sailed. Knowing we had tried our best was what mattered. We had Miller who was a complete miracle. In my heart I knew that we get the babies we are meant to have. I knew Miller chose us, against all odds, and he was already my greatest teacher. If another baby was meant for us, she would choose us. I had FAITH in that. So we took a little break from fertility treatments to relax and re-evaluate and decided we would try two more rounds of IUI, one more round of IVF, if needed, and then if no new baby wanted to join us we would just let it be.
I was excited and hopeful as I waited for my period to arrive. Day one of my cycle was when I would get to take my first fertility tablet and then monitor ovulation for my next hot date with the turkey baster! I had stopped keeping track of dates because that sort of obsession is exhausting so I just figured I had my calculations all wrong when my period was late. A few days went by and I honestly gave it no thought because I knew my body was disrupted by the medicines of the past, stress, etc. Anything can throw your hormones off. After about a week, though, I was at the grocery store pharmacy with Miller and I casually decided to grab a pregnancy test, just to have on hand for later in the month. I literally bought the cheapest, generic test – I didn’t even go for the two-pack. I was not pregnant. If anything, I felt this delay in my cycle may be early menopause. Stranger things had happened. I was 40 now and anything was possible.
That afternoon though, for some reason, I decided to pee on that stick. I didn’t choose the optimal time (first pee of the morning is always more accurate as it has a denser quantity of the pregnancy hormone present) and I had already consumed at least 6 diluting glasses of water and two big coffees that day but that test result was immediate and unmistakeable. Within seconds it showed a positive result. I honestly couldn’t believe it. When I said anything was possible, I didn’t think that THIS was possible. We hadn’t been to the doctor for help in over two months. The surgeon told me this was never going to happen without assistance! Could they have missed something? I backtracked on the calendar and reviewed my past appointments and drug prescriptions. No. There was no mistake here. If I was truly pregnant then we had actually conceived in the fun and affordable way! I texted Darcy a picture of the test and the next day it was confirmed by the fertility docs, much to our collective delight and amazement. I was six weeks pregnant.
A new baby had chosen us….
To Be Continued.