By Mike Heller
I was The Injector. That was my job. It was small, but it was mine.
We kept our supplies by our coffee maker in the kitchen, one daily ritual sitting beside another. There, in the same half-light each night, I’d eye my wife’s stomach, looking for the perfect spot to inject. I’d bend down with quiet focus, keeping the pen as level as possible before inserting it into my wife’s abdomen. Then I’d push the cocktail of Follistim and Menopur with my thumb as hard as humanly possible to ensure she got every last drop. And, finally, gingerly, I’d pull it back out.
That’s it. End of job.
It seems simple, but there was an art to it. And I became obsessed with getting it right. Somehow, I thought, if I executed this perfectly, it would make the difference. If I could make a clean injection, with no bleeding or bruising, the meds would work better than they normally do and she would get pregnant.
Kind people would call this “magical thinking.” Let’s just call it what it really is: insanity. I was trying to fix something I simply couldn’t fix.
In my defense, The injection was all I had, the one tiny piece of control that I could cling to cycle after cycle. It made me feel like I was actually doing something. As someone with more-than-mild control issues, that was huge for me. I’m at my best when I’m in the driver’s seat. When I’m in the passenger’s seat… not so great.
Unfortunately, especially if you’re a guy, the passenger seat is where you live for most of the infertility experience. And, wow, do you get taken for a ride. It’s like being strapped into a roller coaster, but the on/off switch and speed dial have been ripped off and smashed with baseball bats. Each cycle is the next loop-de-loop, and you’re always hoping that the next one is the last one. Worst of all, your person, the love of your life, isn’t even strapped into her seat, but instead, she’s loosely taped onto the side, barely hanging on for dear life. And no matter what you do or how hard you try, you can’t make it stop. Fun, right?!!
But here’s the thing about control – it’s overrated. The universe is fickle. It does what it wants. There’s no amount of paddling upstream or fighting or kicking or wailing that can change it. After countless loop-de-loops on the infertility scream-coaster, I learned that the only thing you can change is your perspective.
So I started to make a real effort to divide everything into two different categories: stuff I can’t control and stuff I can. I tried not to worry about the stuff I can’t control. Really tried. Still trying. To be clear, I am not great at it. The process involves a lot of whisper-yelling at myself in the mirror. The point is I made a conscious effort to pick and choose my spots where I could make a difference and let that fickle universe take care of the rest.
In the process, I realized that this role I was playing as The Injector was largely for me – an action that made me feel like I was useful. Truthfully, it didn’t matter if I did it or my wife did. The “productive” thing I was doing in that moment was actually much simpler: being there.
It’s hard to let go of the “fix” impulse. Being there can feel like nothing. But if you really focus on putting yourself in the present, it doesn’t have to. In the right moment, there is real magic in a joke, a hand-squeeze, or even just a smile. Sometimes, that’s all we really need to “do”.
Look, maybe one day the men could switch roles and be the ones to endure all the hormones and egg retrievals and the general nightmare surrounding infertility (and maybe one day my wife would stop asking to switch), but in the meantime, being a supportive cheerleader is really the best thing we, as guys, can do. Infertility is sort of a paradox in that you feel so alone going through it, but you also feel the intimacy of a partner to go through it with – a war buddy. Lean into that. And try to take your hands off the wheel.
My son is almost 3 years old now. I am so grateful that I learned this lesson about control before he was born, because trust me, that goes right out the window. He is a tiny tornado, a little lunatic, and “making plans” has become something I laugh quietly about as I stare out the window on a rainy day. That said, as long as he’s the one calling the shots, I couldn’t be happier to be sitting in the passenger seat. (Only metaphorically. His mom can teach him how to drive.)