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What to expect when she’s not expecting

A man who’s lived through it has advice for men whose wives can’t get pregnant
Julia McKinnell
What to expect when she's not expecting
Andrew Tolson; Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Lauren Cattermole

For six years, L.A. comedy writer Mark Sedaka and his wife, Samantha, tried to have a baby. ” ‘Unexplained infertility’ is all we were ever told,” he writes in What He Can Expect When She’s Not Expecting: How to Support Your Wife, Save Your Marriage and Conquer Infertility. “More often than not,” he explains,”we poor schlubs are left to fend for ourselves—not quite sure when to chime in, when to keep quiet, when to take action, and when to lay low.”

As for what to expect first, he warns men about “a little thing called procreation sex. In other words, the planned mandatory acts of copulation that will be required as your wife charts her monthly cycle.” Expect all spontaneity to disappear from your sex life, he writes. “You’re pretty much going to know a day in advance that you will be having sex tomorrow. Not might be. Will be. It’s gonna sound pretty much like when she asks you to take out the garbage for the umpteenth time.” All you can do, he tells men, is to calmly explain to her that “you don’t mind being told when you’re going to have sex as much as you mind being told 30 times.”

Ask her not to lie about it, either, he writes: “Now that you’ve made her self-conscious about the whole procreation sex thing, she’ll probably avoid the subject altogether and opt instead for the old, ‘I’m so horny tonight’ routine. Do they think we’re that dumb?”

On the social front, he tells men: “Your job description must also now include running interference every once in a while. I wouldn’t go so far as to tell your friends to ‘shut the hell up’ whenever they ask your wife how it’s going, but a quiet aside after the fact would certainly go a long way to making her feel more comfortable and secure.”

Expect, too, that your wife won’t enjoy the company of other children. “It’s just too painful,” he writes. “I even made the difficult choice not to invite one of my wife’s best buddies to her 35th birthday party because his wife was six months pregnant at the time. Sorry, Gary,” he writes.

Then there are the hCG shots. “Never heard of it? Oh, you will, my friend. A word of warning about the hCG shot: because of the crucial timing, your wife will be insane with taking the shot exactly 35 hours before her scheduled egg retrieval [for in vitro fertilization]. She will mention it incessantly, she will set about three alarm clocks, she will make sure all the flashlights in the house are working in case there’s a blackout. Just go with it, guys. Smile, nod and think about baseball.”

Sedaka warns that most fertility drugs are not administered orally. “And get this? You are going to be expected to give the shots. I’d love to tell you that after a while I became more comfortable with it, but I can’t. If anything, it only became more unpleasant as her skin started to harden and scar from all the days of abuse. I’d also love to tell you that I became consistently better at it, but I can’t tell you that, either. In fact, on the very last shot, I hit my wife’s sciatic nerve and left her limping for about three weeks. Maybe that’s because I never looked. Never. I would pick a spot, make a mental image, close my eyes, and go.”

To explain the importance of the embryologist during in vitro fertilization, Sedaka writes: “Imagine him as the general manager of a professional football team. In this case, he’ll start with the defence—also known as eggs. Out of 20 or so recruits, a few will be cut immediately. Too mature, not mature enough, lacking a chromosome or two, you know the drill. Now it’s time to call up all those offensive sperm cells who have been waiting patiently on the bench. In a sort of ‘open tryout’ the whole lot of them will take to the field, also known as a petri dish, and enter into a fierce skirmish with the defensive eggs. Most will be eliminated early on, but a few lucky players will rise to the occasion. If the number of sperm cells proves inadequate, however, then open tryouts are cancelled and one single sperm cell will be chosen as an early draft pick.”

On Jan. 29, 2003, Sedaka and his wife became parents of twin daughters through a gestational surrogate. “In all, six years, three states, five doctors and $250,000. Yikes!”