Authors: Heather A. Clark
HEATHER A. CLARK
For Brian, Avary, Jacob and Emerson
â you inspire me more than words
could ever describe.
The bright red kettle on our Viking stovetop whistled angrily, practically begging to be turned off. Yet, somehow, despite its obnoxious shrill, I was oblivious to its cries. Lost in thought, I could hear only what our doctors had told us earlier that afternoon.
“You okay, Nic?” My husband came up behind me, wrapping his familiar arms around my waist and giving me a big squeeze. He turned off the stove, silencing the room, and then sighed into my hair.
I turned to force a semi-smile at him, grateful to have such a consistently supportive husband. After thirteen years of being together, seven of them married, Eric and I were in full marital sync, many times anticipating the other's thoughts and words before they even happened.
“I'll be okay. Eventually, anyway. I just thought it would be different this time, you know?” I grabbed two mugs from our white cabinet and poured our tea â herbal for me, Earl Grey for him.
As I filled our mugs, boiling water sputtered out of the kettle, spilling on the counter and splashing my index finger. “Damn it!” I cried, instantly putting my finger in my mouth to try to stop the burn.
“Here, Nic. Put it under cold water.” Eric guided me to the sink and turned on the tap. The lukewarm water streaming from the faucet soon turned icy, numbing the pain.
“Feel better?” Eric asked me when I could no longer take the cold. He took a clean tea towel from the drawer to wrap my hand. “Why don't you go and sit down on the couch? I'll bring you your tea. And then I'll order us a pizza for dinner. I know neither of us feels like cooking. Pepperoni and green olives sound good to you?”
“Mmm-hmm . . . my favourite. Thanks. I'm suddenly really exhausted.” I rubbed my eyes, knowing I was smudging my mascara over my lids but too tired to care.
“And I'll pick up some mint chip ice cream on my way to get the pizza.” Eric searched my mascara-smudged eyes. I knew he was trying to find some way â
way â to make me feel better.
“Sure. Whatever you'd like.”
Eric picked up my hand to inspect the burn. “I'm no doctor, but I think you'll live.” He gave my hand a little kiss and gently pushed me towards the couch.
I sank into the cushions, relieved to find comfort after so many hours sitting on the hard waiting room chairs. Eric joined me. He handed me my tea, and took my feet in his lap to try to massage away the anxiety he knew I was feeling.
I closed my eyes, inhaling deeply, and murmured the words I had said so many times throughout our marriage. “Seriously . . . what would I do without you?”
“I really don't know,” Eric teased. “But you sure are lucky.”
And lucky was right; I had married into pure stability. A gentle giant, Eric was as kind as he was strong. Anyone who knew him instantly recognized his patience and trustworthiness. And as my sister Maggie always pointed out, the icing on top of our perfectly made wedding cake was how madly in love he was with
. I knew how lucky I was to have the husband I did. Everyone who knew us knew it.
Eric and I had met during our summer break between second- and third-year university, when we were both hired to be lifeguards at a local water park. I was a rookie and he was one of the king veterans who constantly picked on newbie guards interviewing for the coveted position of waterslide babysitter. As my final interview pool drill, I had been required to rescue Eric, my unconscious, non-breathing victim from the dead centre of the pool. Although Eric was six-foot-two with 220 pounds of solid muscle as distracting as it was heavy, I somehow managed to get him to the side of the pool and properly rescued. He lived. And our relationship was born.
Six years later I became Mrs. Eric Sedgwick. Except that I was technically still Nicole Fowler, or Nicky Fowler, to those who knew me best. We were married on a cliff at Keoneloa Bay in Kauai, above the Grand Hyatt Resort in Poipu, overlooking the rugged Hawaiian coastline. Alongside a gawky island teenager plucking out emotionally stirring native songs on his tiny ukulele, and the Hawaiian minister wearing a maile leaf lei, we were surrounded by only our immediate family and best friends as we said our I Do's.
Our clifftop wedding far behind us, I blinked back tears and turned to bury my head in Eric's chest. Although slightly less defined than it had been years before when we first met in the middle of a pool, his chest was still as strong. And it felt like home.
“You sure you're okay?” Eric asked me.
“I will be. I'm just frustrated. And sad. I really thought they would have good news for us. It's our turn.” I inhaled quickly and my breath caught in my throat.
After years of trying to get pregnant, our fertility doctor had confirmed that I wasn't. Again. It was my fifth negative pregnancy test at the clinic, only this time the devastating news came with an even bigger blow â Dr. Sansi, the fertility specialist who had gained our trust, respect and life savings throughout our need-a-baby expedition, felt that we should take a few months off. She thought the stress might be playing a critical factor in all of our monthly failures, and we only had one more shot at successfully becoming pregnant.
We first suspected something was wrong after I went off the pill and we threw caution to the wind. Although we weren't yet ready to officially “start trying,” we were close enough that we'd be okay if something happened. Yet nothing did â and it surprised us, given how energetic and frequent our love life was.
After eight months, panic started to set in, and our spontaneous love life turned into morning temperature checks and routine sex every other day. Afterwards, I would lie in our bed, my bum propped on pillows and my legs raised straight in the air, until I could no longer hold the pose. Yet we still only got minus signs every time I peed on one of those damn sticks.
The months turned into one year of no baby. Then eight more months while we waited on the baby factory list. Finally, we got in to see Dr. Sansi.
We were instantly thrown into testing. I was poked, jabbed and prodded by a funny-looking instrument wearing a condom (medically known as a transvaginal ultrasound, which I was conditioned not to say given Eric's weirdness to the term) and had my cycle monitored by endless rounds of blood tests.
Eric's role in the whole investigative process was much simpler. And as I can only imagine, a bit more fun. Yet his results gave us the devastating answer we didn't want to hear: he had been diagnosed with the condition of azoospermia and, despite its cartoonlike name, there was nothing funny about it.
Eric had a zero sperm count. Zero. Zilch. Zip. Notta one sperm, healthy or even damaged, which meant there was nothing for me to get pregnant
If we wanted to have children, we needed to consider a sperm donor, which really wasn't an option for us given my belief that only half-looped men would actually donate their sperm to the masses â and who would want a guy like that to be the father of your child?
Without going with a sperm donor, adoption was our only other option.
Needless to say, we were both emotionally destroyed. I cried for three days straight, and it was the first time Eric had actually joined me in my constantly recurring sob sessions.
On the third day, we got a call from Dr. Sansi's office asking us to come in to speak with her. When we arrived, red-eyed and puffy-faced from so many days of crying, Dr. Sansi told us there was one last thing we could explore. “It comes with
,” she said. “But it could be an option for you.”
Eric begged the doctor to continue. Dr. Sansi nodded and then explained that while it was probable Eric's sperm was being counted at zero because there just wasn't any there, there could be a microscopic chance of some being tucked far, far inside. If it was there, the numbers would be so teeny tiny, and the sperm so immature, that they couldn't be passed through Eric's passageway while making love to me.
The only way to know for sure was to do a microsurgical epididymal sperm aspiration, which, as the name suggests, basically meant cutting into my poor husband's family jewels to see if the doctor could find a microscopic pocket of sperm. Dr. Sansi again stressed there were surgery risks, but assured us that our findings didn't need to be big; after all, we only needed a few.
Immediately we told Dr. Sansi that, yes, of course we wanted to proceed. We were desperate. We would try anything. Do anything. Dr. Sansi put us on yet another waiting list, and we watched the clock tick by for four months until we got in to see one of the few male fertility surgeons in the country who could perform the testicular micro-biopsy procedure.
The first surgery turned up nothing. So, for the second surgery, we decided to take a bigger piece of the pot, with even larger hopes of striking gold. And it was then that we hit the sperm jackpot.
Dr. Sansi personally called us at home as soon as she found out the results from the specialist, and was talking a mile a minute as she delivered the good news. The sperm guru, as Eric and I had nicknamed him, had successfully located the teeniest, tiniest amount of sperm, but it was enough to successfully fertilize some of my eggs in vitro. And that was all we needed.
I could practically hear Dr. Sansi grinning through the phone. After indirectly experiencing all of the pain we had gone through, she felt nearly as invested in our family-building success as we did.
With no more time to burn, Eric was soon giving me the injections required to arouse my ovaries into producing multiple eggs, and I was once again turned into a human pincushion with blood tests every day. But the cramping, hormonal mood swings and wicked headaches were all worth it when we learned that the doctors had been able to successfully remove twenty-four of my eggs. And it was even better news to find out that eleven of the twenty-four eggs had not only been fertilized, but seven had made it into the wonderful world of blastocysts (otherwise known to the non-medical players as the embryo stage that has been proven to increase a woman's chance of getting knocked up).
We had seven chances at pregnancy.
Seven shots at creating a bambino all our own.
Needless to say, we were ecstatic â and so relieved to know our prayers had been answered.
At our fresh embryo transfer, Dr. Sansi felt that it would be best to insert the three strongest embryos. Although a typical transfer maxes out at two, knowing there wasn't an abundant reserve of sperm that we could keep digging into, we agreed that it was best to increase our odds.
The seven embryos were rated, and we learned that four of them were Grade 1 (translation: the best). We thanked our lucky stars for having the top embryos you could get â secretly thinking this must mean a rocket scientist child was in our future â and I spread my legs in the treatment room next to the embryology laboratory, wishing I could ease the discomfort by keeping them crossed just like I was doing with my fingers and toes.
And then the waiting game continued â until Dr. Sansi phoned us two weeks later with more bad news. None of the three rocket scientist embryos had implanted.
I wasn't pregnant.
With nothing else to do, we catapulted ourselves into the next round, a frozen embryo transfer. Two were thawed and thankfully both survived. Dr. Sansi transferred two embryos â a Grade 1 and a Grade 2. Once again I spread my legs and crossed every other body part that would oblige.
But our trip to the fertility centre earlier that afternoon proved our turn had, once again, passed us by. Which meant we only had one more shot. And our last kick at the can came with two embryos that had been graded like they were remedial school kids.
Yet those were our final â and only â hope.
Something hot and bright was hurting my eyes, and my somewhat pleasant dream was suddenly altered. My sister Maggie, looking like a version of her grown self with the exception of newly styled hair, was throwing fluorescent sand at me from an oversized pink beach bucket. Except we were in my bedroom, and I was confused about where she had found the sand. When I realized having an entire beach thrown in my eyes actually wasn't hurting, I tried to open them a bit wider, and recognized it was actually the sun streaming through our California shutters that was bright and burning.
“Morning, hon,” Eric gently whispered into my ear, propelling my wakefulness into a higher gear. He handed me a venti non-fat latte, sans caffeine â I had been off the good stuff since we had stepped up our baby-making attempts. He sat beside me on our king-sized bed and pulled at my arm to help me sit up.
“What time is it?” I asked, rubbing my eyes. “I feel like I slept forever.”
“Well, lazybones, since it's just after ten o'clock you pretty much did,” Eric teased, sipping at his own latte before crawling in beside me and opening the Saturday morning paper on his side of the bed. Without asking, he handed me “Homes & Gardens,” my favourite section to read on Saturday mornings.
“And, since you're now so rested, I've got a romantic, surprise night lined up,” Eric continued, not glancing up from his paper. “All you need to know is that you have to be ready to go by seven o'clock. You don't have to be overly dressy but, if I know you, you'll probably want to wear something nice. Maybe the black dress you just got?”
“Hmm . . . intrigued . . . ,” I responded, trying to muster up a sliver of positive energy for the secret plans that otherwise would have made me genuinely excited. I knew that neither of us could shake the devastating news we had learned the week prior, regardless of what we did that night, but if Eric was going to try to mask it, then, damn it, so was I. “Any hints? Clues? Come on, Eric, don't leave me in the dark all day. I'll go mad.”
“I guess that's too bad. Just think . . . the payoff will be that much better after knowing nothing at all.” Eric continued to read the sports section, not giving in to my attempts to draw out a confession.
“One clue! Just one.” I climbed over the sheets until I was directly on top of him and he couldn't shake my stare.
“You drive a hard bargain, Ms. Fowler. No wonder your Grade 3 students don't have a chance at getting away with anything in your classroom!” Eric laughed, his blue eyes shining, but still lined with pain. “Okay, here's your clue. We're headed to one of the richest countries in Africa without really going there.”
“Seriously? Seriously. That's my clue? You promised me a good one.” I got off Eric's lap and picked up my section of the paper, pretending to ignore him.
“Okay, okay, I see how this is going to go. Fine, sucky pants, I'll give you one final clue. Tonight, we'll still be in the city but feel like we're in
The clue didn't help me â and I wondered if he was bluffing.
But that night, true to his word, we both got dressed up for a night on the town and stepped into a tiny piece of Morocco â which, by no coincidence, had been one of my favourite places we had travelled to since we had been married.
Eric had made reservations at Babouch, a Moroccan restaurant that had recently opened to rave reviews. It was impossible to get in without reservations made weeks ahead of time, and I didn't ask any questions about what strings Eric had to pull to make it happen. As a partner at one of the city's top law firms, Eric often had celebrity-like access to the best restaurants and shows â a perk we had both enjoyed for many years.
Sitting in our own private dining room, made from walls of red and gold velvet draped from oversized beams, Eric requested that the maÃ®tre d' draw back the doors so we could watch the belly dancer show. Munching on olives and b'stilla, Eric and I watched a group of dancers shake their way through the restaurant. Some of the dancers were veiled, creating a feeling of majestic secrecy for any onlooker. Others used Moroccan finger cymbals, which I remembered being called
â one of the many pieces of slightly useless knowledge that I had picked up on our trip.
Halfway through the dance, three of the belly dancers encouraged diners to join them. Those who had enjoyed too much Moroccan wine seemed to be the first to eagerly step up, and I couldn't help but smile to watch them have so much fun.
“This was a lovely idea.” I smiled at my husband who looked exceptionally hot in a dark blue Hugo Boss suit paired with a crisp, white shirt and no tie. It made his blue eyes seem even more intense and looking into them was making me feel warm all over. “Thank you for thinking of it.” I picked up my own glass of wine and toasted my husband for being so thoughtful. It was the first glass I'd had in months; despite my great love for all things vino, I'd stopped drinking when we had started our treatments. As one who never shied away from a glass or two of wine, or even a bottle or two on some occasions, it took some effort on my part, but I had wanted to be fully committed to the process. That night was the exception; after all, we would be taking a few months off before trying again.
“I'm glad we came too, Nic. We need it. It's been such a rough couple of years for us and I know how badly it hurts.” Eric reached over the table to take my hand. “Tonight we will have fun. And soon we'll start again. We can't give up now. As long as we've got a shot, we still have a chance at becoming parents. We have to remember that.”
“I'll toast to that,” I replied, clinking his wineglass once again.
“There's one other thing.” Eric wiped his hands free from hummus on his thick linen napkin and reached into his pocket. “I want you to have this.”
He removed a black velvet box from his pocket and handed it to me to open. Blushing in both anticipation and slight intoxication, I gently lifted the lid to find a small cross lined in flawless diamonds. It was attached to one of the prettiest, most delicate white gold necklaces I had ever seen.
“Eric, it's stunning.
beautiful. Thank you.” My eyes welled up with tears. I couldn't take my eyes off the necklace â or the diamonds twinkling in the candlelight.
“I thought you deserved a real treat, Nicky. I was having lunch in Yorkville last week and walked by a little jewellery store. I saw the cross in the window, and I instantly wanted you to have it.” Eric looked down at the chicken Marrakesh he was eating and cleared his throat. “I thought you could wear it as our sign of hope. We
be parents, Nic. I know it. I feel it with every part of me, and I want you to believe it too.”
Listening to his words, an array of emotions took over: gratitude and adoration for the husband who loved and understood me in a way I didn't even think was possible. Sorrow for the guilt I knew Eric had carried with him since he learned about the source of our problems. And absolute heartbreak for what we were going through as a couple.
We would be wonderful parents. We deserved the chance to prove it. To have a baby of our own. Yet, for a reason neither of us could imagine, we had been dealt the shittiest of hands in the game of fertility.
I scooted around the table to join him, handed him the box and lifted my hair. “Will you put it on me, please? It's
beautiful. I never want to take it off.” I turned my back to Eric to make it easier for him to put it on me. Expertly, he worked the clasp. I turned back to face him, kissing him slowly and fervently in an effort to show my gratitude and hint at what was to come.
When we parted, the waiter approached, indicating it was time for dessert. “May I bring you something? A brulÃ©e royale perhaps?”
I shook my head no, but Eric had a different idea. “I've definitely got room for dessert. The molten oasis, please. Two spoons.” Eric winked at the waiter, knowing my obsessive love of chocolate.
When it arrived, I forgot about being full and dove in. Once we had scraped up every bit of the silky chocolate, I took a sip of my tea and touched the cross necklace around my neck. For the first time in a very long while I felt happy. Well . . . almost happy. But it was as close as I was going to get.
Eric and I agreed to take the advice Dr. Sansi had given us; we would take a few months off before trying our last round of frozen embryos. We both needed a break, emotionally and physically, and my frame of mind needed to be in the right place for the in vitro to work.
Given my need for happy hormones, I extended my search for some serious serotonin. After reading too many articles online about how to become pregnant, I became obsessed with the softer side of fertility. And by softer, I mean downright loony. Sure, I did the typical stuff, such as Bikram yoga and a weekly massage, but I was also infatuated with alternative methods that some mothers swore helped them get pregnant.
I tracked down the top fertility hypnotherapist that I could find and drove an hour each way for my sessions. Billy the Fertility Guy, as he was called in the business, was about a hundred years old and vowed his sessions would help reduce my stress and increase a sense of control in my life. I met with him once a week for in-person sessions and meditated on a daily basis by listening to the
he gave me.
When I wasn't working with Billy or listening to his
, I strove to become “harmoniously balanced” through the help of reiki. In my first session, I met with my reiki master to become reawakened through an initiation process called attunement. Apparently â and I must admit that I never fully came out of my skepticism shell with all of the new-age gibberish â a reiki master would open up my path so that more life force energy could flow through my body. Before beginning, I read that I might have a mystical occurrence, and would experience visions, colours or body sensations. In truth, I really felt nothing at all except a very deep relaxation.
When I told this to Bib, my reiki master, he responded by saying that this was normal for some, and that the deep relaxation I felt had released blockages within my physical, mental and emotional bodies.
“Nicky-san, the releases I gave you have allowed the natural flow of energy through your body, releasing toxins and waste products,” Bib said, shaking his head after picking up on my disbelief. “You may now receive, hold and store more energy in your body so that you can accelerate your positive vibrations. Have faith, my dear Nicky. Have faith.”
Despite Bib's committed belief in reiki, I remained doubtful â yet optimistically hopeful. So I moved on to a reiki drum healing ceremony after Bib promised it would help.
“I will bring you a profoundly uplifting experience through the combination of reiki energy and the ancient, sacred energy of the drumbeat,” Bib said, preparing the room as I looked on. “The combined vibrations of the energies will reach into every cell and layer of your body to create a harmonic resonance in which healing can occur on a deeper level.”
During my drum healings with Bib, I lay fully clothed on a low treatment table. He used a shamanic drum to produce specific rhythms over my body, sometimes drumming close to me and other times farther away.
I did my best not to laugh, and Bib would fervently shush me, telling me to close my eyes and get lost in the beat of the drum. I have to admit, somewhere into each healing session, I fell into a deep trance. Then again, I could have been just sleeping.
And then, despite Maggie's constant chatter telling me I had officially entered into the world of crazy, something happened while I was venturing down my loony-tunes path that must have worked. Because on a bright and sunny morning a few months later, after our final round of in vitro, I found out I was pregnant.