The doctor opens his file and reads the sperm count aloud with resounding indifference.
Across the room, the stunned non-father staggers into a void; the first scattered thoughts he is able to gather involve his rather rudimentary understanding of science and mathematics. He does not hold a medical degree, but he is quite certain that the number disclosed in the sperm count should consist of many more millions.
The doctor discreetly stifles a yawn and taps a syncopated rhythm with his pen. In reaction, the non-father feels the void replaced by a far more liberating sense of rage. He envisions punching the practitioner in the nose, imagines his superior stasis of nonchalance jolted suddenly into a stupefied bloody mess.
But the void soon returns to the non-father, sapping his vitality. He can manage only the most basic of gross motor skills. So while the doctor makes a perfunctory effort to address fertility options, the non-father pulls on his jacket and leaves the room.
Prior to this humbling experience, the non-father had cheerfully assumed the unquestionable virility of his loins. In his naiveté, he had the utmost confidence in his abilities to procreate, to spread his seed across the known free world (if fate willed it). Indeed, he took it for granted that he and his wife would effortlessly fill their home with children.
As it was, though, they had been married for a year, with only an old cat and a dying houseplant to share their living space. What had begun as blissfully enthusiastic sexual abandon had now become a progressively hopeless and pressured routine.
And so shortly after the non-father’s bare minimum sperm tally, there begins a long procession of equally unpleasant fertility treatments.
To start with, the non-father is treated to a varicocelectomy, an outpatient surgery involving the tying off of swollen veins surrounding the testicles?a procedure about as enjoyable as one might expect. Some weeks later, the non-parents begin artificial insemination, a process of which the only enjoyable aspect is evidenced in step one: the self-gratification of the non-father.
However, in order to increase the sperm count for the insemination, the urologist recommends that the non-father abstain from ejaculation for at least two to three days prior to the procedure?no easy task for the anxious young man.
Within three days, though, he is pleased to find himself pleasing himself on the cold, hard tiles of the bathroom floor. He kneels as if in some deviant form of prayer, aided visually by a one-dimensional, unfolded starlet with staples in her flat stomach. The crucial moment of release involves a complex mental calculation of ballistic trajectory; he aims the precious, potentially life-giving fluid from the attentive phallus into the ridiculously small diameter of the sample cup.
For the most part, he is successful in his targeting. Afterwards, the non-mother puts the sample in her bra, against the warmth of her breast, and they leave for the clinic.
Once there, the non-father shamefully passes his sample to the nurse at reception. She accepts it unreservedly, being one who is in the habit of holding warm cups of semen. The nurse leads them into the examination room, and before long the non-mother has her legs up in the stirrups, exposed and vulnerable. The doctor injects the ?washed? sample using a needle-less syringe (utilized in much the same fashion as a turkey baster), and then, finally, the procedure is over.
Within a few weeks, though, the non-mother menstruates, and the process begins all over again. In fact, this process continues for the better part of a year with the same results each time.
It is a miserable and uneventful year: the non-father begins to wonder if his wife would not be better off with someone in possession of far more efficient sperm; friends, family, and co-workers tease and pry, blissfully unaware of the non-parents? dilemma; and, worse yet, there is the constant barrage of happy and complete families that surround them.
The non-father watches these happy and complete families with their soft, pink, new babies, and he hates them for their happiness.
And even though he does manage to retain some semblance of faith in God, this precarious faith comes only out of desperation and self-interest. The act of prayer itself feels hollow, and most times he feels he is praying only to the bare walls.
Yet, in time, regardless of spiritual uncertainties, hope is rekindled in the hearts of the non-parents. Initially, they consider adoption, and begin to imagine themselves perfectly happy with a perfectly happy Chinese baby. But with one last-ditch attempt to assuage the narcissistic desire for their own biological offspring, they opt for in vitro fertilization?a very expensive long-shot, but one that must be taken if they do not want to spend the rest of their lives asking, ?What if??
So, once again, the non-mother is brave and committed in her task. For 10 days, fertility medications are injected into her thigh (administered by the non-father, whose only other duty in the entire process is to masturbate yet again).
When the medication has stimulated an adequate amount of ovarian follicles, the non-mother is then subjected to the excruciating process of egg retrieval. Afterward, the sperm is injected into the egg, and the resulting zygote is passed to a special growth medium in a petri dish. Once the zygote reaches a desired cell stage, it is then transferred to the uterus in hopes of a successful pregnancy.
There are many prayers that follow. And somehow, with this unlikely marriage of faith and science, the non-parents become new parents at last.
Weeks later, they arrive for their first ultrasound. The new mother is reclined amongst the machinery, her slight belly shiny with gel. The technician slides her wand across the recently occupied abdomen, and then smiles to herself; she turns the monitor toward the new parents and reveals a grainy black and white image of two little people dancing in the shadows of the new mother’s womb.
Two heartbeats are amplified from the speakers of the machine, filling the room with a divine, synchronized rhythm. For the rest of the day, the new parents can only beam at each other with an odd, wonderful combination of panic and joy. ?Oh my God!? they exclaim over and over again.
?Oh my God . . .?