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Maybe Baby: An Infertile Love Storyby Matthew Miller
A romantic, comedic, and heart-wrenching memoir from a want-to-be-dad turned syndicated blogger
Constance got her period for the tenth month in a row, and I stood in the bathroom having never felt like less of a man in my entire life. 'I think it's time,' I said. 'We should buy an over-the-counter sperm test so I can know it's my fault/strong>
A romantic, comedic, and heart-wrenching memoir from a want-to-be-dad turned syndicated blogger
Constance got her period for the tenth month in a row, and I stood in the bathroom having never felt like less of a man in my entire life. 'I think it's time,' I said. 'We should buy an over-the-counter sperm test so I can know it's my fault already.' One trip to the pharmacy, two home-fertility tests, and four days later, I officially had a low sperm count, and our inability to conceive finally attached itself to the word we had avoided uttering in ten months of unsuccessful sex. We were infertile, and it was, indeed, my fault.'
. . . And so Miller and his wife join the ranks of the 6.1 Americans who have issues with infertility.
One of a man's most prized prerogatives is the ability to produce a child. But what happens when that ability is challenged? Twenty-nine-year-old Matthew M.F. Miller came across that dilemma when he and his wife Constance's plans to have a child were thwarted by fertility problems. Miller's solution was not to mope, but to reach out to other 6.1 million couples in America who encounter the same situation. Maybe Baby is a romantic comedy--a book about love, inappropriate moments at the urologist's office, reproductive clinics, survival, and (hopefully one day) triumph--all through the eyes of a man. It is about the intense love and connection that adheres to any flavor of family unit, biological or otherwise.Maybe Baby is a book that offers women comfort and insight on what their partners are thinking and going through, while encouraging men who are experiencing infertility--whether it is their medical problem or their wives'--with humor, honesty, and practicality.
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Read an Excerpt
Welcome to Planet Infertility:
Six Million Strong . . . and Growing
We live in a world of circles; a world of hereditary life cycles, seasons, and orbits; of culs-de-sac and lint-covered Butter Rum Lifesavers circa who-knows-when rescued from the pocket of an overcoat you thought you'd donated to the Salvation Army years ago. Like everything cyclical, what once reeked of cliché becomes new again upon finding yourself right back where you started, and that coat you should have tossed out is now at the pinnacle of style. Even the aged Lifesavers, albeit inexplicably white in color, are still capable of saving your life at the most inopportune of garlic-breath moments.
Never is this circle more pronounced than in the reproductive arena. It's a racetrack upon which the dreams, genes, and genitalia of two people unite to create a next generation hybrid who will carry on the physical traits and legacies of said people once the curtain has closed on their limited earthbound engagements. Circles give everyone and everything a chance to renew what otherwise would simply cease to exist.
My name is Matthew Miller, I'm twenty-nine years old, and I am an infertile man. My sperm counts fluctuate by tens of millions of swimmers, and for whatever reason, they never seem to be available in bulk when it matters most. And like every other 'infertile' who has come before me and every 'infertile' who will battle hence, I live life on a straight line.
My wife, Constance, and I have been trying to conceive our first child for more than two years. During that time, we have moved from simple intercourse to semen analyses, from Clomid to insemination, from simple procreation science to the artifice of in vitro fertilization without so much as a layover. We always told ourselves that we wouldn't be the people who'd take it this far—that if, for some reason, we couldn't get pregnant we'd adopt—but once you consent to living life on a straight line there is nowhere to get off until you arrive at the end.
Every month, every fresh cycle, and every new treatment feels like it could finally terminate the constant view of rocky terrain ahead, of the never-ending mountain that kicks your ass day after day. Infertility treatment is a carrot-on-a-stick with tight brown curls and a paisley onesie that tempts you to run harder and faster while always dangling the coveted two-line pregnancy test just out of reach. Constance and I keep chugging along with the expectation that one day we will open our eyes to an effortless downhill track, a clear view of the sun, and nothing but momentum and forgiveness at our backs. So far, the only things at my back are a few more errant hairs in need of waxing.
I continue to get older, more tired, and more hopeful that, if there's not a child ahead, at least there's a relaxing day spa employing the world's strongest masseuse buried somewhere in this impenetrable cliff. So far, no such luck.
As Iowa's Little Hawkeye Math Champion in eighth grade, it was my responsibility to spread the numerical gospel that the shortest path between any two points is a straight line. Today, sixteen years removed from my coronation, I'm afraid if that basic principle holds true, then I don't know what my destination is. Unless my life turns, there will be nothing for me to leave behind in this world other than my work and the love I've given to my family. Like any challenge, however, it has made me the man I am today—a loving husband, a struggling writer, and proud brother, son, and uncle—and I like being me. Perhaps a straight line won't be the fastest way to get to our baby, but I believe we will get there regardless because I can't help but imagine what I would be, what I could be, once my line is allowed to bend into a circle.
This book is about our struggle with infertility, but more than that, it's about the love, laughter, and hope that two people in love share when they trust and respect each other enough to replicate. It's the story of two normal people in love trying to overcome one more challenge in a world chockfull of challenges.
And unlike our reproductive efforts, it's just that simple.
First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage, Then Comes . . .
Meth Houses, Red Delicious Apples,
and Infertile People
Inside the peeling, mustard-yellow house of my youth, there remained an outside possibility that our firstborn child would be conceived in my childhood bedroom, on my parents' hand-me-down bed, twenty-nine years following my creation under the same modest roof on the same lumpy mattress. I was not born in my hometown of Peru, Iowa, because there is no hospital to serve its one hundred and twenty residents born to farming, building, and low-paying desk jobs. I was not born in nearby Winterset, birthplace of John Wayne and The Bridges of Madison County, home of my eventual high school, because the only hospital in our area code was not stocked or staffed with sufficient baby-fetching apparatus.
Even in utero I was destined for the city, and Des Moines was my parents' only viable metropolis without crossing state lines. During a pre-Christmas snowstorm, my pregnant mom sat passenger while my father drove forty-five minutes to Methodist Hospital where she gave birth to a nearly ten-pound bald monster child who would go on to become a nearly five-hundred-pound monster child by the age of sixteen before settling into life as a slim, healthy, bald twenty- nine-year-old writer.
My children will never know small-town life, will never know what it's like to live where cows and graves outnumber the citizens of their hometown. They will never know my Peru childhood, the hours eating in front of the television, without a library or shopping mall within twenty miles, the endless filling of my mouth with junk foods and leftovers to fill the unstructured hours that ticked by completely unnoticed.
But after seventeen months of unsuccessfully trying to conceive, I would have given anything to give my children a future, to give Hugo or Iris life, even in a place where I found none.
It was Thanksgiving night, my belly full of Midwest-style salads that always contained Jell-O but never a vegetable, and I lay on my back dabbing the sweat off my forehead with a pair of hastily discarded boxer shorts. Plowing the itchy foam blanket into a wall between Constance and me in order to deflect the heat of her sleep-induced steam, I sat up in bed and reached for my red-framed Dolce & Gabbana glasses on the bedside table. It must have been eighty degrees in the airless room, and I needed to clear the dollhouse and princess vanity from the end of the bed in order to gain access to the grate, close the vents, and diffuse the heat generated from our active bodies and the overactive furnace. Dad was a furnace and air man, and the one thousand square feet we called home shifted between extremes of heat and cold, depending on the season, was proof of his mastery of the ductile arts.
Situated in the northwest corner of the house, my old bedroom, located on the opposite side of the world when compared to our minimalist Chicago bedroom, was always the warmest in the winter and the coldest in the summer of any of the house's five rooms. Before I took up residence, my sisters had shared those bright yellow walls for sixteen years, arguing over the division of territory and where it was appropriate for the Bon Jovi posters to end and the Ozzy Osborne posters to begin.
Once Angie got married and April moved to Des Moines to share an apartment with her boyfriend in a house otherwise occupied by Bosnian refugees—a living arrangement that had my mother praying for her safety at the top of each hour—the coveted den of inequity was mine.
As a right of property passage, we all must have learned to pull the grate out of the floor and manually push the vents closed one by one after sex to avoid postcoital heat exhaustion. Peru (pronounced 'pee-roo') is a formulaic small town with gutted buildings and a post office that's open only twelve hours each week. One stop sign stands in the center of town, positioned less than ten yards from my old bedroom window. It is less a traffic mandate for the tractors and Ford trucks that choose to ignore its presence than it is a warning to residents.
My old window has remained uncovered since the day I folded and packed my Philadelphia Eagles blanket that had served as a makeshift curtain across the single-pane window. It had hung from a row of red thumbtacks bolted to the fluorescent wall. The blanket since has become a favorite chew toy of our dogs, Hazel and Marcy, back in Chicago, and its threadbare fibers would no longer block much of the harsh street lamp that was burning through the west-facing glass.
Diagonally across the street from Peru's stop sign resides the town's solitary monument—mahogany-stained two-by-fours nailed together in the shape of an oversize water well. A flowerbed stands in place of a brick water shaft. No liquid can be retrieved, not from the fake monument and not from the barren silt-and-limestone creek across the road.
A four-inch, red-painted apple is branded into the top slats, followed by the ash-stained announcement:
Welcome to Peru, Iowa
Home of the Red Delicious Apple
Peru's crowning achievement, the stump of the first red delicious apple tree, is located somewhere outside of town and battles for position with a fencepost at the top of a ditch. Its memorial, however, resides on the front lawn of the former site of the town's most notorious meth house, which burned to the ground in 2004. Mom says the flames that night made our house glow and that she felt like a lightning bug trapped in a jar full of burning leaves.
As I stood in the center of the window in a room with no clock, I could tell it was somewhere around eleven o'clock, more due to the muffled snippets of Leno than the position of the moon. Dad had always had been a Letterman guy until he visited Constance and me when we lived in Los Angeles and attended a Tonight Show taping. Since then, his allegiances to late-night television had been forever altered.
My thighs were burning from having sex on a worn-out mattress, a relic that hadn't offered support since the summer the Iran Contra Scandal preempted All My Children. I raised my left foot into my right hand behind me and stretched, imagining that I was gearing up for a ten-mile run, alternating back and forth until the compact knots in my calves loosened, leaving behind only a mild sting.
Constance wouldn't be ovulating for another five days, but having intercourse at this point was a safeguard and a sanity check. One more go for good measure.
One more go in the land of fertile farms and teenagers.
Most families I knew had at least one child that got pregnant in high school or at least before marriage, and mine was no exception. April got pregnant about a year after graduating and immediately became my hero for not getting married for another ten months following my niece's birth. April was controversial and cool and, in my eyes, lived at the apex of all things edgy.
As a kid I was afraid of sex. I was a revoltingly obese, 476 pounds at the peak of my high-school days, and in order to avoid the humiliation of disrobing in front of a perfect young woman and the possibility of unwanted fat descendants, I shunned full-on sex—all forms that required removal of undergarments and T-shirts—until I was no longer fat. Weight wasn't the only deterrent; it took only two knocked-up classmates to ruin it for Winterset Senior High's Class of 1997. When the girls got pregnant, I held, with religious fervor, a belief that I would end up a teenage father the first time I had sex. Which is why it probably seemed to Constance that my constant advances and arousals were an attempt to make up for bygone juvenilia. Especially on that day, in my childhood bedroom, where prior to loving her, I had never engaged in full-on sex.
My arousal on Thanksgiving Day was of culinary lineage. The stuffing had been a monumental disappointment, a watery, crunchy imposter, and disappointing food always made sex more urgent for me. I am a pleasure addict—food, sex, music—and if one avenue disappoints, it only serves to increase my needs and expectations for the others. Our sex had remained passionate five years into marriage, even now that it had a mission and a purpose that failed us time after time. Lousy stuffing only made the kisses warmer, gave the innocent nibbles on fragrant skin a bit more bite.
We were finally, after years of safety and prevention, having sex for the sake of sex's ultimate utility. Little had changed, however, except for the sixteen days over the course of sixteen months that began with bleeding and ended with disappointment.
Sex only seemed different now, in my mind, while standing in front of the window.
As if reading Braille I couldn't decipher, I rubbed my fingers across the scattershot holes where tacks once affixed Andre Agassi, Tori Amos, Monica Seles, and Michael Stipe to my walls. Holes that now were the only decorations left. Void of a frame, the mattress was pushed into the corner. Above it, three rows of shelves my dad had carved, sanded, and stained to house my music collection now housed every Disney movie and Shirley Temple videotape in existence. At the foot of the bed and to the left of the non-existent headboard were graveyards of abused, misfit toys my five nieces and nephews had long since discarded in favor of more age-appropriate, technologically savvy fare.
Sex never made sense in this room back when it was just for recreation, a shared wall with my parents' bedroom—an insufficient buffer for something so cliché. But the more we departed from the textbook definition of reproduction, the more this mishmash of past and present was as logical of a place as any to make our future Miller. Perhaps a manhandled Hulk Hogan and a butchered-until-butch Strawberry Shortcake would be the good luck tokens we needed.
'Maybe we should get drunk before we do it tonight,' I'd said earlier that day as I ran my fingers through Constance's brown curls in the basement of the Peru United Methodist Church. Once Grandma J's house could no longer accommodate the expanding generations of our family, we'd moved all familial celebrations to the dank underbelly of the town's only house of worship, which always smelled like sweaty sneakers and balsa wood. 'I mean, it's worked so well for so long for so many young people in this neck of the woods. Why not us?'
'Hey, you never know,' Constance had said, driving her stuffing around a paper plate with a plastic fork until it was no longer touching any of her other lunch items. 'Nothing like cheap vodka to start your baby out on the right foot.' We both laughed, and I lowered my mouth to meet the skin on the back of her neck, above the first notch of her spine, with a kiss that I knew would make my intentions clear.
But now, as I continued to stare into the rural night, sex was no longer on my mind. Three inches of snow were stacked like a load of whites on top of the discarded washer and dryer sitting in the bed of Dad's freight trailer parked in the side yard. My eyes darted back and forth between the stop sign, the broken-down laundry apparatus, and the red delicious apple sign as I listened to the deepening breaths of Constance's sleep mixed with occasional outbursts from Leno's studio audience.
I surveyed the visual buffet before me—stop sign, trailer, red delicious apple, burned bits of the meth house—and I tried to turn it all into something more than the nothing it always represented. Something that could make sense out of why we couldn't conceive and why everyone around us could.
I wanted to take the meth ashes, the traffic warnings, and the truth of a sterile town and turn them into something that would make me feel like a father.
Someone should clear away the debris from the meth house, I thought. It's been three years.
©2008. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Maybe Baby by Matthew F. Miller. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street , Deerfield Beach , FL 33442.
Meet the Author
Matthew M.F. Miller is a syndicated blogger whose work has been published in more than 400 newspapers in the United States and Canada, including the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and the Baltimore Sun. He holds a master's degree in professional writing from the University of Southern California, and was a member of the University of Iowa Undergraduate Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry Writer's Workshops. Visit Miller's blog at maybebaby.ctwfeatures.com.
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