The Back Page

MY FATHERHOOD DREAMS

MICHAEL SNIDER February 10 2003
The Back Page

MY FATHERHOOD DREAMS

MICHAEL SNIDER February 10 2003

MY FATHERHOOD DREAMS

We want a child more than anything. So my wife and I try, and hope, and wait.

The Back Page

MICHAEL SNIDER

I ALWAYS FIGURED I’d be a father by the time I was 30. I know I’d be a good one, too. Growing up, I always preferred to hang out with the kids—regardless if it was my younger cousin or a squad of neighbourhood children. I still do, actually. (OK, probably because I’m still a bit of a kid myself.) But I’m two years past that 30-year mark now and not a dad—though certainly not by choice. It turns out my wife Tammy and I are victims of some cruel trick of nature, because despite wanting nothing greater out of life than children to raise, there’s been no drug, technique or sage advice that has brought us any closer to our goal.

Well, so far, at least. We still hold out hope, but we get more anxious with every month that ticks by. I’ve discovered that being unable to conceive a child is the most depressing thing a couple can face.

We started trying soon after we were married in 1999. A year later, after switching to boxer shorts, trying new techniques and (at least pretending) to “just let things happen,” we spoke to our family doctor, who referred us to another doctor who referred us to another doctor. In some ways, it would be easier if they found something that medically disqualified us from having kids. Then, we could just get on with adoption rather than go through more frustration. But no: we’re part of that 20 per cent of couples whose infertility is unexplained.

We started with a prescription for a drug called Clomiphene. It tricks the brain into thinking the ovaries are slacking off. After a year, we moved to Gonal-F, which I would inject into the tissue around Tammy’s stomach. (That was fun: a spot of blood popped up once and I nearly passed out.) Gonal-F is supposed to stimulate egg production and carried a 25-per-cent chance of multiple pregnancies. We joked that we would publish a request for names for our 16 children.

But no luck. It’s always the same: the anticipation builds up during the final two weeks of the cycle, and we’re carefully pessimistic—if it doesn’t work again, we won’t

have too far to fall. Like most couples, we handle disappointment differently. My wife needs comfort, attention and talk. I withdraw, stave off bouts of blinding fury, and want desperately to fix it.

Once, after another negative test, we rented a tearjerker about a father dying of cancer who tries to reconnect with his son by building a house together. Hey, good choice: already emotionally zapped, we watched the film with rivers of tears streaming down our faces and ended up doubled over on our green leather couch laughing at the absurdity of it all. One thing about experiencing disappointment is it gets a little easier each time to handle. We’ve learned that the trick is to stick together, and if laughing at each other blubbering over a movie helps, then so be it. That’s what we’ll do.

But even with our troubles, I never question our resolve to have kids, mostly because of our niece, Madeline. When my little brother walked out of the hospital room with her, he wore a smile radiating with wonder. She’s almost three now, beautiful and very smart. Every once in a while, she’ll

spend the day with us and run circles through the house while we play “scare me”: kitchen, dining room, living room... BOO! Kitchen, dining room, living room... BOO! She has this way of all of a sudden saying or doing something that fills me with this alien flush of happiness that I'm sure fathers experience all the time. Just little things like, one afternoon, we were eating Jello and I was doing something to make her laugh. In the midst of an infectious giggle she sputtered, “Uuuncle Miiike." That’s all it takes. Another time, while I was absorbed in a World Series game, Maddie suddenly appeared at my chair and handed me a huge birthday card marked with bright crayons. My control was exemplary: I fought off a flash of red heat to my face and gave her a big hug.

I used to keep a diary in my teenage years, when keeping a diary seemed like such a necessary part of understanding life and understanding who you are. Sometimes, I’d catch myself writing to my as yet unborn child and imagine that one day this unnamed, yet somehow tangible figure would be moving boxes in the basement and come across the pages I had written. I’d picture him or her reading about dad and taking lessons from his experiences. I think about the lessons my father taught me—hold the door for people behind you, respect your mother, don’t try and pull the curve ball, take it to right field—and want to pass them on.

My worst fear is of finding myself old and grey one day with no memory of holding my child for the first time, of watching gamewinning home runs, meeting first boyfriends, crying at weddings. Will I consider my life unfulfilled, maybe even wasted? What fond memories will I have to look back on? My dedicated years of work, the oak entertainment centre I built, the time I barbequed that steak perfectly? Just not the same thing.

I kissed my wife good night about an hour and a half after celebrating the arrival of the New Year. We talked about our hopes for 2003. She admitted she almost started crying at about five minutes to midnight, when the thought struck her that, a year from now, nothing may have changed. We hugged each other and promised—once again—that we’d try and think about it in a positive way. I turned out the light and lay beside her, and thought, for the millionth time, how much I want to be a dad. 171

Michael Snider is a Maclean's Researcher-Reporter