When a junior doctor instructs you to go into a room and masturbate while her colleagues attend to your drugged wife, you do it. This is the way of things for men at the fertility clinic. We are part of a procedure, a cog in a machine, an absurd means to a hopeful end.
Julia is high. She keeps telling me she wants to call our future child Felicitas, but I'm pretty sure that's just the name of the painkillers they've given her. Somehow she has gotten hold of a copy of Fertility For Dummies, which she is brandishing whilst asking for more biscuits in a loud voice that may or may not be disturbing the other couples. The music being piped into the room is, and I swear this is true, The Weather Girls’ 1992 hit It’s Raining Men.
I have issues with the motility of my sperm. A process called ICSI, in which sperm is injected into the egg, is supposed to mitigate it. If I produce a sperm sample, my wife and I will undergo our first round of treatment.
In Dutch, the translation for sample is monster. Our doctor is able to mix languages in the effortless way that Dutch people can, so she instructs me to leave my beautiful wife, who has begun to babble, and go and produce my monster.
I'm directed to a small room down the corridor. The doctor has given me a tiny beaker with my name on it, which makes me anxious. The idea of confessing to her that I missed the beaker and will have to try again in an hour is mortifying. You had one job, Adam.
On the wall outside the room is a red light, like the ON AIR beacon at a radio station. I enter the room, lock the door, and the red light turns on, advertising to anyone who walks past that I'm making a monster in here.
The lights inside the windowless room provide standard, fluorescent hospital illumination. Imagine the least romantic room you can and then scrub it down with disinfectant. There are no candles and soft lighting fixtures here, no incense sticks burning in the corner. The Best of Sade is not playing. The glossy red couch, presumably made from easy-to-wipe vinyl, is out of place, like a clown in an operating room.
There’s a mirror. I can't think what it is for, but I catch a glimpse of myself. I am the last person I want to see right now. With the benefit of hindsight, wearing a Nick Cave shirt that says BAD SEED on the front was inappropriate. Been there, got the t-shirt, I guess. I make a mental note not to look in that direction again and check my phone.
Messages. Mum, now is not the time.
In the corner is a large cupboard and on top, at head height, is a small TV. Inside the cabinet is a DVD player and two DVDs. The first has some generic title, Wild Girls. The second is called Lesbian Hospital 2, which doesn't even bear thinking about. On top of the DVDs is a small paper booklet written in Chinese. I'm not sure if this is an instruction manual for the TV or part of the collection of erotic material.
Next to the DVDs is a pristine stack of Playboy magazines. The Playboy cover model in the issue on top is called Mira. Pretty name for a child. I get out my phone and add it to the list of future baby names my wife and I keep in Evernote. I wait for it to sync to the cloud and turn my attention back to the magazine.
What am I supposed to be looking for? A woman who looks like my wife? A woman who looks nothing like my wife? Most of the articles appear to be about playing poker and the new Ford Mustang. Will Julia ask exactly which stimulus package I chose? Will the doctor?
God, being a man is so depressing.
Women are miracles of nature. In the other room, Julia is bravely preparing for something invasive and painful, something that won't even compare to the challenges she'll face over the months and years to come. And I'm in here, a licentious biped procrastinating over which erotic material is most suitable, a walking ape in search of a lockable room and a stack of magazines.
I look into the mirror, remind myself who I am. Focus, Adam. You have work to do.
Afterwards, I unlock the door, the red light goes out, and I take my warm little beaker to another room just down the corridor. I am buzzed in. The door's vacuum seals behind me like an airlock in Aliens.
Men are a means of production in this process. We're shuttled from the holding area to the pleasuredome to the airlock, just follow the arrows, lock the door, last one out please turn off the light. The doctors regularly forget my name, and they never address us both when we are discussing our options, just Julia. Her name heads up all the paperwork, her insurance company deals with all the bills.
Clutching my sample, I fill in a form and then ring a bell. After an agonising wait, during which I worry mostly about parking, a lab technician appears on the other side of the glass. She asks for something, in Dutch. I hold up the little pot and give a joking eye roll. She shakes her head and reaches for the intercom.
"No, not the monster. Your ID please."
I am delighted. A chance to prove my humanity. I open my passport and she checks it. She nods and indicates that the bureaucracy is complete. I slide my sample into an even smaller airlock and shut the door. It locks and the technician opens the door on the other side. She walks back to the laboratory and I press the silver button that lets me out.
When I walk back into the preparation room, Julia is dozing like a little drunk mouse. The doctors are nowhere to be seen. She looks very peaceful and I remember that I have played my part. I braved the red couch and the Chinese DVD player and the airlock for her. I wore the BAD SEED shirt and made her laugh. I got her more biscuits when she asked for them. I'm not sure any of these things will mean we'll create a little Felicitas or Mira this time, but it matters not. She looks up, sees me, and smiles. One glance and I'm a person again.
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