Just remember," my wife told me as I ran the bath water to ease my aching legs after a long bike ride, "not too hot. We don’t want to jeopardize our chances."
I adjusted the temperature to lukewarm, which is no way to enjoy a bath, and got in. My wife had also told me not to wear Lycra bike shorts because they might constrict the blood flow to vital areas. She even wondered about whether I should keep bike-riding at all, since she claimed it had been linked to fertility problems in men.
Months to go until the date we’d agreed to start trying for a baby, and already I was ensnared in a list of do’s and don’t’s. My wife’s eyebrows rose when I had a second glass of wine, and she debated getting rid of all of the briefs in my dresser drawer in favor of looser, fertility-friendly boxer shorts.
Then there was all the outside advice. We’d gotten married in our mid-thirties, and people assumed we’d want to start a family right away. Now I was 35, my wife was 37, and everyone kept waiting to hear the news. Hearing nothing, they figured we’d been trying without success.
Friends and relatives suggested dietary changes, vitamins, and even sexual calisthenics. Stick to the missionary position, they advised. Make love during high fertility periods of the month (or was that months with no r in them?). And try not to think of the life-altering act that you’ll be engaged in, which before had been simple, mindless pleasure.
I got lectures on the efficacy of vitamin E and ginseng. "You should meet my herbalist," an Asian acquaintance told me, and I even took a trip to Chinatown purely to appease my curiosity. Eventually we decided to ignore all the advice and swore to uphold our sense of humor.
It didn’t help that while some of our friends popped out kids without the "trying" part ("It must have been that pitcher of margaritas!" giggled one), others were working far harder at it. We knew people who had tried and miscarried, and others who had invested heavily in artificial insemination methods. Costly procedures, a lot involving needles and endless follow-ups, ate away at their savings. One couple was having trouble because the husband had been treated for testicular cancer. Another woman had scarring from pelvic inflammatory disease. Many had no idea why things weren’t working. We already numbered several sets of in vitro twins among our acquaintances. One couple in New York, my age, was planning a trip to Russia to adopt. The paperwork, I’d heard, was a bureaucrat’s delight. Besides, my wife was a medical journalist. She collected data on sperm motility the way other women collect chicken recipes. No wonder she almost expected things to go wrong even before we started.
Now, just over two years since we’d gotten married, we decided it was time. At her yearly gynecologist’s checkup, my wife told her doctor that we were—finally—ready to give it a go. She expected a long list of advice from him and felt almost disappointed when all he said was, "Figure that at your age it’ll take an average of eight months to conceive. Try not to worry—and not to call me—until eight months go by and you still aren’t pregnant." That was it.