The less-than-immaculate conception

Soon after we learned Hilary was pregnant, I started a ‘pregnancy journal’ to record the events leading up to the profoundly life-changing event that is parenthood. I’ve not been very good at keeping the journal–because, really, not a lot has happened to *me*, the male of the pair. I’m mostly just a spectator, or better, a stage tech trying to make things go as smoothly as possible for the actress on stage, in the midst of what feels like a completely improvised production. But I did have a role back when we decided to have a kid, and for a while it seemed like I wasn’t playing my part. This is a version of my first entry in my pregnancy journal, describing that early role. A warning to the sensitive: If you are automatically offended by even the tasteful mention of a certain bodily fluid vital for making babies, you might want to skip this post.

Pregnancy Journal
Sunday, August 5, 2007
No, I’m not pregnant. But my wife is. Funny story: Because my wife and I had been trying to conceive for several months with no success, I set up an appointment to have a semen analysis. Getting the appointment was not a small thing. I called the student health clinic, my primary care providers, and they said flat out “we don’t do that kind of thing,” like I was asking for a prostitute or something. So I called the hospital’s urology clinic. The hospital has advisers to help potential patients make appointments. You wouldn’t think–or at least I didn’t think–that an adviser would be necessary for something as simple as making an appointment. But welcome to the American Healthcare system(tm)! The adviser answers your call, and then stays on the line with you while she (in my case it was a she) connects you to the various departments necessary to schedule an appointment.

Our first stop was the urology clinic. The person who answered the phone there seemed kind of angry that we’d disturbed her. She asked some rather curt questions about my insurance and, probably rolling her eyes a lot, said that I couldn’t make an appointment without permission from the billing department, because I was not referred to the clinic by another doctor and my insurance would probably not cover the test. Okay, fine–the adviser got her name, and then asked her to transfer us to billing. Then she explained everything to the billing person when they answered the phone. Billing said we didn’t need permission–she had never heard of that. But I would have to pay for everything myself. It wasn’t that much–something like $300 for seeing the doctor, plus $50 for the semen analysis. Great. So we were transferred back to the urology clinic, and the adviser patiently re-explained everything to the person who answered the phone. This person also seemed a little angry at having to take a phone call, but said that despite the fact that billing had explained the costs to me, and that I had no problem paying for everything on the spot, the urologists simply did not take “self-pay” patients.

The adviser and I shared a exasperated laugh together at this point, and that combined with my calm responses to the urology person’s questions seemed to convince her that my adviser and I were not going to be intimidated by a lot of misinformation and bluster. So she calmed down and tried to think of some strategy to get me (or at least my semen) seen at the urology clinic. She said that I needed to get from my Student Health doctor an order for the test, and then bring that in along with my ‘specimen’ on a Thursday morning (which is when they do testing, I guess). Okay. We scheduled an appointment for July 12, she said she’d send me the ‘protocol’ in the mail, and hung up.

Then I called Student Health and made an appointment for the next week, and at the appointment explained everything to the doctor there. She agreed to order the semen analysis, but she had to go talk to other people in the office to figure out the best way to do this. She settled on a shotgun approach, and gave me a referral, an order for the test, and a prescription for the test. Hopefully one of those will work, she said.

The urology clinic woman had told me to bring with me to the clinic my ‘specimen,’ collected that morning in a sterile and sealed cup, an order from my doctor, and $53 to pay for the test. The clinic would just do the test–I wasn’t going to be able to consult a urologist. But the test results would be given to me and my Student Health doctor.

I had to find a container for my specimen. The ‘protocol’ I received in the mail said it didn’t have to be sterile, it just had to be clean and dry. So I could use just a regular jar if I wanted. But in our kitchen there were only pint-sized plastic yogurt containers, which I thought intimidatingly large. Another option was to empty out a jam jar and use that, but I couldn’t bring myself to carry my specimen in jar labeled ‘Smuckers.’ The clinic receptionist had mentioned that I could pick up a container at the clinic, or I could buy one from a drugstore. The drugstore was closer to my house, so I went there and browsed around for a specimen container. I couldn’t find one, however, and couldn’t overcome my embarrassment to ask the people at the pharmacy if they sold them. If I asked and they just said, ‘sure’ and handed me one, fine. But I feared the response “Sure. What kind of specimen?” or “What size?” “Oh, just something I can masturbate into,” I thought of replying, thinking I would seem nonchalant and jocular. But it was no use–I just couldn’t do it. So it was off to the urology clinic the next morning to pick up my container. They gave it to me no questions asked, in a brown paper bag.

The next problem was how to get to the clinic w/ my specimen. The instructions said I had an hour or so, which meant that I could have just walked from my house, carrying my little brown bag. But the specimen had to be kept warm–not really a problem, one might think, in Philadelphia in the summer, but the protocol recommended keeping the jar under your arm or between your legs (if you’re driving). I didn’t want to walk while holding a jar of semen in my armpit, so I got Hilary to drive me.

Then came the big day. I would never have guessed that masturbation could have been made so little fun, but even sex had become more a chore than a pleasure once it had to be done according to the ovulation schedule. I will spare readers the terrible details and just say that I got the job done on schedule, collecting what I imagined was a pitifully small amount of viscous fluid in the little jar, and then setting off w/ Hilary for the clinic. There was a brief wait once there, during which time I noticed a couple other guys sitting rather nervously with their little brown bags. But soon my name was called and I was met beyond the clinic’s double doors by a male technician in dark blue scrubs. He asked me what I wanted the test for–vasectomy or fertility? I told him, and handed him my jar. He looked at it with what I imagined was a quickly-muted sort of disdain, and asked ‘what time did you catch this?’ As if I had chased it around the bathroom, or waited patiently, jar in hand, for it to descend from a tremendous altitude. As I answered I couldn’t help looking at the other jars on his black plastic tray. Some seemed to be empty; others seemed to have a mixture of curdled milk and blood in them. Yick.

Anyway. After I had turned in my specimen, I checked out with the receptionist at the front desk, who told me someone from the clinic would call me in the next week. I left with a huge sense of relief that it was all over. What the results were mattered less to me than the fact that I wouldn’t have to do it again. Hopefully not, anyway.

A week later I still hadn’t heard from the clinic. They have a message system for getting back your test results. You call a number at the clinic and leave a message telling them your name, what sort of test you had, when you had it, and what phone number they can reach you at. (Imagine me at work, speaking low, and than defiantly loud, into the phone: ‘semEN ANALYSIS’.) As a patient referred to the clinic for just a test, I had not been assigned to any of the urologists, and so it was not really surprising that no one had gotten back to me in the ‘one business day’ the recorded message promised. So I contacted the doctor that had seen me at Student Health and made an appointment to see her again, so that she could tell me what the results were.

A couple days after I did that, though, Hilary said she thought she might be pregnant, and a home pregnancy test agreed she was. The next day the urology clinic finally called me back and gave the news that my specimen had not been abnormal. Great–confirmation from two independent sources. I canceled my appointment at Student Health.

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