My semen was required at the clinic at 7:35 a.m. I had an appointment.
I gave my wife, Lisa, a kiss on the cheek and disappeared into our bathroom, carrying an impossibly crinkly paper bag. I opened it and removed the sample container, twisting the lid to break the seal. I checked the clock on my phone: 7:20.
Lisa and I had been trying to have a baby for almost three years. We’d started having sex with intent just after we got back from our honeymoon. At first, everything was very exciting: no more condoms, no more birth control pills. Lisa would send me text messages at work to entice me to get home as soon as possible—they made me blush at my desk.
But months went by with no luck. Routine set in. We were like Sam and Ralph, the old Looney Tunes coyote and sheepdog: Evening, ma’am. How are things? Business tonight? Sometimes Lisa would roll over just as I was falling asleep and remind me that tonight was a work night. More often, I would remind Lisa. Often we’d agree to skip it and try harder the next night.
At parties, we listened to how other couples planned their pregnancies to coincide with summer vacations and slow periods at the office. C’mon, we thought. Can it really be that easy? We’d read somewhere that, out of 100 couples trying to conceive naturally, 20 will become pregnant in the first month, 70 will conceive within six months and 85 will have it happen within a year. We fell in the last 15 percent. How does this happen to teenagers by accident, we wondered, like all the time—sometimes the first time? We felt duped. We’d been having unprotected sex up to five times a week for hundreds of weeks with no luck. We were exhausted—truly exhausted—with having sex.
It was Lisa’s doctor who suggested that we seek help. She sent us to an OB/GYN, who prescribed a drug called Clomid to Lisa to encourage ovulation. When that didn’t work, she directed us to a fertility clinic, which happened to be a seven-minute drive from our house.
That last bit of math was relevant as I looked at the time on the phone: 7:25. The container was still empty. I couldn’t fathom how big it was. It must’ve held three-quarters of a cup. How much sperm do other men produce? There was no time for thoughts like these.
I got the job done quickly, screwed the cap on the jar and tucked the sample under my arm. I hopped in the car, trying not to shake it. I didn’t know what would happen if you shook it. The stern woman at the clinic had warned me to keep it warm but hadn’t said anything about shaking it. She suggested that I could produce my sample at the clinic if that was easier, but I told her that we only lived seven minutes away. Two turns: a left and a right. Nothing could be fresher, I assured her. I was determined to not let her down—nor Lisa for that matter—on this end of the deal. After all, Lisa had the hard part; all I had to do was masturbate in a cup. I pressed my foot on the gas pedal, careful to take the corners slow.
At the clinic, panic set in. There was a guy ahead of me. I waited in the lobby among the hopeful women, my sample digging into my rib. The time was 7:45. How long does this stuff last?
“Mr. Fielding, you can go in.”
Inside the tiny room there was what looked like a drive-through window and a little silver service bell, which I hesitated to ding. I took a moment to produce the sample from under my arm and gingerly put it back in the crinkly paper bag that I had stuffed into my parka pocket. I told myself to be cool.
When the technician appeared, she was younger than I expected and decidedly more female (somehow I had assumed I’d be handing my semen to an elderly male pharmacist, like you’d see on TV). Avoiding eye contact, I handed her the bag and my release form and turned to bolt.
“You forgot to write your name on the sample.”
Dammit. I blushed. She handed the sample back to me and, with a ballpoint pen, I awkwardly scrawled my name and health card number around the curve of the label. It felt reassuringly warm.
We met with the doctor again to go over the results. My sperm count was high—good swimmers, too. I felt proud but also sad to be off the hook. We had a long discussion about options and a short one about finances. Lisa and I left without making an appointment to return to the clinic the following week. Instead, we sat in the car and cried.
A few weeks later, Lisa sent me a text message as I was riding the train home. It was a photo of a pregnancy test: positive. We had conceived—naturally.