What I Wrote
Warning–this post contains “infertility experience related’ references that may not be comfortable for general reading audiences. At this point in the book, I was experiencing sudden onset stress induced impotence–hence the preoccupation you will read about with whether I am achieving any sensation in my southern exposure.
We walk into the dimly lit office. I am surprised by the spacious square footage, more family pictures, orange-beige faux painted walls, and am impressed again by the absence of any exploded photos of defective brains compliments of pharmaceutical companies advertising their psychotropic drugs.
A smallish woman with dark-rimmed glasses and blond-brown hair greets us with a warm but firm handshake.
“Hello. I’m Dr. Bergen. Why don’t you both sit down and let’s get started.”
The cream-colored leather chairs emit unpleasant sounds as Lisa and I slide into them.
“So tell me why you’re here today?”
I look at Lisa. This was her idea. No way am I talking first. And no way am I telling her that my dick is still not feeling hard. Not that it should be right now—wouldn’t be appropriate. But I’m still wondering about it. But I won’t say anything to her about it.
Within seconds, Lisa is crying and grabbing up handfuls of Kleenex as she unabashedly describes the failed attempts with Dr. Mel and how desperate she is to have a baby.
Her lip quivers, her chest heaves, and her mouth curves down in the most awful expression of sadness I’ve ever seen on her face. I hate seeing her cry. I hate being in this room opening up all our personal trials to some stranger. I have tried to comfort Lisa. Tried to convince her that everything will work out fine for us. But my words hold no weight. Maybe Dr. Bergen has the words or tools to help Lisa find some peace.
“You want to talk about that?” Dr. Bergen says, breaking my trance.
I glance down to see if I have wood. Nothing. Shit! Did she see that?
I follow her eyes to my tapping foot and realize that it has been bouncing in the air the whole time, keeping rhythm with some nervous internal drumbeat banging in my head since we entered the room. She doesn’t know about my erection obsession. Or does she?
“No, well. I guess I’m a little nervous.”
Here it comes, the psychobabble questions about my childhood, my relationship with my mother, my past lives.
“You want to tell me why you crossed your arms?”
I didn’t even realize I had after the first question about my tapping foot. So I uncross them.
“I guess…well, this whole infertility thing has really got me stressing out. And Lisa and I aren’t really talking about it. I see Lisa getting so upset and telling you all this, and I just don’t feel comfortable.”
There you go. I feel Lisa’s eyes on me, and I’m praying to God she’s not going to launch into how worthless I’ve been in the sack lately. I’m not ready to open all this up to a stranger who is obsessed with whether I’m crossing my arms or tapping my foot…which…shit…I’m doing again. I stop both actions, set my hands on each armrest, and shift both feet to the ground.
Dr. Bergen smiles as she glances at my forced sitting position. I know she’ll be writing a novel about how screwed up I am as soon as we leave this room. She pauses for a moment, and in the silence of that moment, I realize how loud my heart is beating in my chest. My own breath sounds like a life support machine connected to a thousand-watt amplifier, yet Lisa and Dr. Bergen don’t seem to notice it.
“Denny, what are you thankful for?”
Okay. This is definitely some psych test, and if the answer is wrong she’s going to medicate me or bring out the Shirley MacLaine past-life crap. I’d better come up with something good.
“Well. I’m thankful for having good health, and some financial security, and the love of a woman like Lisa.”
She smiles and turns to Lisa. Was my answer right? What is she up to?
Lisa pretty much parrots the same thing back that I said, still trying to control the sobs from her initial outburst.
“What about the chair you’re sitting in?”
I peer over at Lisa like some high school loser trying to get the right answer out of the smart kid in the class where the pop quiz clock is about to buzz.
“Is it comfortable?”
I pause. Though I’m not a big fan of leather, yes, it is comfortable.
I start to cross my arms, but stop myself and try to recover with something resembling a nose scratch.
Dr. Bergen turns to Lisa.
“What about those shoes. Those look really comfortable. Are you thankful for those shoes?”
Lisa’s nostrils flare. She’s wondering what the hell the point is too.
“Yes. I am thankful for these shoes.”
“I want the two of you to start focusing on the things you are thankful for at least every couple of hours. At least five things. And not big things like life, love, and financial security. Or having a baby.”
Dr. Bergen looks at Lisa as she finishes the word baby, and I catch a flash of anger in Lisa’s eyes.
“Think about the small things. You had a delicious sandwich for lunch. Be thankful for it. The sky is blue outside and the birds are chirping. Be thankful for it.”
We leave the session with small rubber bands wrapped around our fingers to remind us of the things we are thankful for as often as possible during the day.
“I’m thankful for the comfortable leather seats in this Toyota Camry,” I joke as I slide into the car.
Lisa laughs, and her eyes actually have a happy twinkle in them.
For an hour, we talk about how we’re thankful for the Quizno’s sandwiches we are about to eat, the beautiful sixty-two-degree January day we are enjoying outside with sunshine all around, and the comfortable shoes we have on our feet. I grasp Lisa’s hand as we leave the restaurant and head home.
As we get into the car, I realize I have not thought about my penis for nearly two hours. Maybe Dr. Bergen knows what she is doing.
Why I Wrote It
I was completely close minded about the value of psychotherapy until this meeting.
I always believed people who went to psychologists were weak minded personalities who couldn’t handle their own problems without some third party to hold their hand. Or that the only people that really need their help were one step away from being admitted to a One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest style mental hospital.
Looking back now, I can’t imagine that we could have made our journey without the help of Dr. Bergen, and later, without the help of the Harvard Mind Body Clinic and Ali Domar’s relaxation program. She was a friend, a confidante and having gone through infertility herself and ultimately having children, an inspiration to us both.
Infertility is one of the most emotionally complex adjustment disruptions a couple can go through.
There is the grief over a failed cycle or miscarriage that conflicts with society’s ignorance over how to appropriately respond to that type of loss. The sudden invasion of privacy as doctors regulate your sex life and the magic of love making is replaced by the assembly line machine of medical baby making. The feeling of loneliness and inadequacy a woman feels when she is unable to fill her womb with a baby month after month, and the feelings of loneliness and inadequacy a man feels when he realizes there is little he can do to fill a woman’s desire to have a baby once infertility is diagnosed.
Our minds need a break, and Dr. Bergen taught us how to gain our perspective amid the storm, so that our brains and spirits had time to refresh and rejuvenate. Words Lisa and I couldn’t always say to each other in the heat of the infertility battle, were easy to say when an infertility counselor was there to listen to us.
Dr. Bergen made tapes that talked about a silver white light, relaxing every part of your body and giving you the okay to not micromanage your life for just a little while. That silver white light guided Lisa and I through a lot of very difficult times.
We found ways to be grateful for little things, and were reminded of why fell in love and got married.
That helped us stay connected to the reasons why we wanted to have a baby in the first place.