As calmly as I could, I shoved the 3-inch needle in my wife’s ass. This was her first time trying black tar heroin.
Whoops. Wrong story.
As calmly as I could, I shoved the 3-inch needle in my wife’s ass. This was our second round of fertility treatments. The first had not only failed to produce a baby but had also done no favors for our fertility clinic, since success rates were what brought in new customers. Getting pregnant in our age bracket, which apparently happened about 18 percent of the time, would’ve been exemplary. And good for their business.
Nancy and I were each in our 40s. We worked as freelance writers for television and print, had a nice house, time to exercise regularly and enjoyed our lives immensely, yet were frightened by the prospect of all our reproducing friends leaving us behind. We were swayed by their argument that we’d better try before it was too late. Otherwise, we’d regret our shortsighted decision for the rest of our empty days. We were informed that life held no purpose if we didn’t reproduce and, at minimum, replace ourselves on the planet. Oh, and, as someone told me, “we were selfish as educated people not to help dilute the uneducated masses.” I didn’t realize one of my friends was Karl Marx.
The two of us certainly had nurturing qualities. On our daily hikes all we’d do is stare at dogs. When we finally adopted Kenyon, a lean scrappy mass of unkempt mutt fur who looks like “The Tramp,” we often argued over who got to walk him. A few years later when we briefly moved to New York, I even bought a doggie björn (yes, it had a hole in the back for a tail so I knew it wasn’t meant for a baby) to hang this scruffy 26-pound canine around my neck -– not to look like Flavor Flav, with his oversize necklaces -- but so I could take him into the post office and Urban Outfitters without getting yelled at.
Nancy and I had what seemed like upward of a hundred cute nicknames for him including K-Mutt, Wiggly Worm, Scruffopolis, C.P.C.E. (Curbside Pizza Crust Eater), the Bearded Wonder, Sir Barks-a-Little, Growls McGee, Beetlepooch and Sock-Pawed Giraffy Legs. So it’s not like we weren’t besotted parents. It’s just that our little angel required a bordetella shot instead of an education and wouldn’t need any clothes that he’d then grow out of 15 minutes later. Except on Halloween when we put him in his lobster costume.
Finally, thanks to a parade of needles, cocktails of chemicals and enough dollars on our credit cards to earn two first-class tickets to Laos, we hit the mother lode. We were pregnant! This was exciting! Shortly after learning the news, I had lunch in downtown Los Angeles with one of my closest friends, Grant, whose wife was also carrying around a fetus the size of a Milk Dud (although technically Nancy’s was still closer to a Skittle). This was awesome! My son and his son, or my daughter and his daughter, or his son and my daughter, or my son and his daughter would grow up together and be besties and life would become even more incredible than it was right that second.
As an added perk, pregnancy not only meant being pregnant, but an end to all the hours we’d spent online looking at potential egg donors. Before we’d managed to get pregnant with Nancy’s own eggs, we’d been advised to cruise ones belonging to other women. We searched through hundreds and hundreds of photos and sales pitches of all these women donating eggs. Well, they weren’t exactly “donations.” Extortion would be a more accurate word. For $50,000 you got a college grad with blue eyes. For $100,000 you got a Harvard grad Mensa member with flawless skin and legs as long as a flamingo's.
For $75 you got a homeless chick with soot on her face and track marks in her triceps. You were privy to each of their occupations (lots of students and recent college grads), ethnic backgrounds, height, weight, hair color, and whether they played an instrument or a sport or spoke multiple languages. You were even given the stats on their menstrual cycles so you could have a summer baby and enjoy its birthday parties outside at the park instead of inside at that pizza parlor/strep throat warehouse with the really bad acoustics.
But now all of this was moot. My wife was carrying her own genetic baby in her belly. Our mission was accomplished, or at least underway. All of these pages could be removed from her bookmark bar.
A week or two later, we returned to the fertility clinic and saw the seven-week ultrasound of the creature that we had, in the common parlance, “produced.” Not that we exactly deserved that level of credit. If the Internet Movie Database had a page for human reproduction we would only be listed as co-producers. Whatever was in that needle was the executive producer. We stared at the grainy image of the fetus – which looked like a Rorschach test that someone had spilled coffee on -- that was half Nancy and half me. [Side note: The term "fetal position" is misleading, since any position it was in would be the fetal position – even if it was standing upright and dancing around.] Were we overjoyed? No. Were we joyed? Uh-uh. We were completely indifferent and detached. It all seemed so surreal, as if we were watching a video on YouTube. A video on YouTube for which we had paid many, many thousands of dollars that we never actually thought we’d have to watch.
What were we doing?
Like I said, when we hiked, all we ever did was look at dogs. We never even glanced at a stroller and if we did it was only because we thought some eccentric woman who liked to power walk had stuffed a Bassett Hound in it. Once we got Kenyon, we continued to ogle at canines with nary a look at a toddler. To be honest, I don’t mind the baby stage, because they haven’t developed any bad habits yet -– like talking. Or the 18 and over stage, because you no longer have to chauffeur them around. It was everything in between I could do without.
Besides, I knew that a baby would transform our dog from a virtual human -- who breaks left at the park to catch a ball when I yell “left” -- back into a dog. It would be next to impossible to dole out equal amounts of time, energy and attention to canine and tiny human alike. You know how it’s a rarity for guys to closely follow basketball and hockey, because there just isn’t enough time to be a huge fan of both? In my mind, it’s kind of the same with babies and pets. You have to make a choice.
What were we doing?
In addition to forcing us to neglect our dog, having a kid would translate to less time with Nancy and more time taking job after job we’d passionately despise. Since we work in the entertainment industry, this would means gigs like writing for “World’s Greatest Animal Farts,” “The People Who Are Bad at Singing Show,” and “People Who Drive Big Things on Slippery Roads.” All this not only to keep the kid from starving but also to cater to this mystical creature’s every whim – a creature who could easily grow up to hate us. As it was, we were both freelancers who loved what we did. We could be selective and write what we wanted to. With a baby, there would no longer be such a thing as turning down work. “‘World’s Greatest Animal Farts?’ Well, it’s a step up from my last job, ‘World’s Worst Animal Farts.’ Which cubicle do you want me to sit in until this job is over in six weeks and I have to look for the next one?”
What were we doing?
To make matters worse (or better, depending on the dysfunction level of your own childhood) neither of us had family within 2,800 miles. That meant that unlike 93 percent of our friends who were begging us to join their breeders club, we had no safety net for baby sitters.
What were we doing?
Maybe I was rushing into things. Even though I was closer to 50 than 40, the truth is a guy can always have a kid. Hell, Tony Randall had his first at 77! Saul Bellow had a daughter at 84! And I think I just saw Larry King in a KB Toys chasing around his toddler.
What were we doing?
Still, Nancy and I were (and still are) bombarded daily with Facebook photos of our friends’ kids, each achievement less remarkable than the next.
“Billy put ketchup on his spaghetti! Isn’t that adorable?”
No! Next question!
“My little Lauren waved at our neighbor today and said, ‘Go car bye-bye’!”
I hope Lauren’s grammar eventually improves cause it’s abominable right now.
“Max just won a trophy in basketball!”
Would that be for ninth place or 12th place?
There aren’t any truly honest Facebook updates to accompany your “adorable” kids.
Never do you see:
“Fucking Bobby drew all over the fucking television set? What the fuck! He’s seven! Little cunt!”
“Ian just ate all of the fish food and we need to have his stomach pumped.”
“Emily just stabbed Becky in the arm with her ballpoint pen and now we’re being sued by our second cousins!”
* * *
A week later it was all over. Nancy miscarried. The doctor said any further attempts would prove to be more than futile. It was over. Done. We would not pass our genes and DNA on to another human being. When we were old and decrepit, we would not have much younger people who were related to us turning our wheelchairs to face the window. We would have no “legacy.” Our last remaining chance at parenthood was gone.
“Oh my God, I am soooo relieved!” I said.
“Oh my God! I am too!” Nancy told me, seconds later.
"Is it wrong to have champagne?"
We lucked out. We never had to stare down our own creeping ambivalence. Nature made the choice for us. And this turn of events gave us a chance to see our situation for what it really was rather than for what other people wanted it to be. We were already old and destined to get older –- old enough to eventually be mistaken for our kid’s grandparents or just the wrinkled infertile couple that yelled at kids for dribbling a basketball in the street. And that’s to say nothing of all the statistics showing that at our ages, the chances of having unhealthy or autistic children skyrocket. But rationalizations aside, we just weren’t up for it. It never felt right.
You know what else never felt right? Living our lives backward so that, at the very end, we may or not be able to reap the rewards of something we didn’t really want to begin with. Putting all our eggs in the basket labeled “when we’re 80 we’d like a son or daughter to visit us and help stave off boredom and loneliness.” You know what else staves off boredom and loneliness? Having friends, which we have a ton of, and having hobbies, which we’re probably accumulating at a higher rate than many people with kids.
So now what?
Nancy and I loved each other, we loved our lives, we were soul mates. We understood that there was always a chance a child would make things even more perfect, but it’s a child, a human. If it’s not working out, you can’t exactly return it to Bed, Bath and Beyond and exchange it for an Omega J9000 Centrifugal Juicer.
Because here’s the thing: One parent on the fence about kids means think carefully about your decision. Two parents on the fence about kids means do not have them. In our case, we were on a fence whose white picket spikes were so far up our asses we were couldn’t have jumped to the other side without incurring some serious damage – and not just to ourselves.
But I did have one sliver of guilt. It had to do with my last name, with not passing it on to future generations. Except it really wasn’t much of a legacy. My father and his parents had three different last names between 1919 and 1954. Which, even for immigrants, seems like one name too many. When my father’s parents emigrated from Lvov, Poland, my grandfather’s last name was Dom (pronounced “Dam,” or “Damn” if you are a fifth grader and have just discovered the wonder of silent letters). Legend has it that when the ship was pulling into Ellis Island, the first thing my grandfather saw was a guy selling fruit. A “fruitman.” So he changed his last name to Fruchter, which roughly translates to guy selling fruit in Polish. Had the first thing my grandfather seen upon entering the United States been, say, the Hudson, then my father would’ve been Sammy Rivers.
Fortunately, I was spared from Fruchter through the sheer will and bargaining power of my mother. When my father proposed to her she said yes on one condition: the last name would need to be changed, or at minimum, tweaked. I have no idea exactly how they arrived at “Frazer,” but I’m guessing there may have been some Scrabble tiles involved. “Let’s just grab the F and the R from up front, the E and R from the end and gut the UCHT from the center.”
So the only Frazers that exist in our family are my father, my brother and me. Hence, my guilt over failing to be fruitful and multiply into a few more Frazers. I decided to call my 81-year-old dad and 57-year-old brother to see if the guilt was warranted.
Me: Dad, does it bother you that our last name won’t live on?
Me: C’mon! Really?
Dad: Somewhat. I don’t care about the last name but more that the spirituality of Judaism, the tradition of 5,774 years, will not carry on.
Me: So it’s totally a spiritual thing rather than having the name continue?
Dad: Correct. I don’t care about the composition of the individual letters.
Me: What if Nancy and I converted somebody? That would be almost the same as us having a child as far as you’re concerned, right?
Dad: Not exactly but possibly.
Me: Does it bother you that we might not have kids?
Dad: No. It’s beyond my control. One has to recognize the limits of one’s control. Which are actually slim. And having kids just makes everything more complicated. I would think that couples without children would find it easier to get along.
Then I talked to my brother, Mike, who’s seven years older than me and a stepfather, but not a father.
Me: Do you feel more pressure and guilt about not having had kids because I didn’t?
Mike: Sure, there’s regret on some level. But then again it wasn’t like it was seventh generation and it was ending here like some great legacy coming to an inglorious conclusion. I think the best legacy we can show to our last name is to try and be the best people we can and honor the sacrifices and the love that our parents gave us. If we’re doing that, a piece of us, whatever our names are, is doing some good and going forward.
My brother’s highly evolved attitude made me want to step it up, so I convinced Nancy to come and volunteer at Hollywood Arts, a local nonprofit that provided computers, a recording studio and free creative arts classes to homeless and underprivileged youth. This seemed like a good, community-minded thing to do. Plus, a tiny, tiny, tiny slice of a percentage of a fraction of our brains still thought we should have a kid. If we really enjoyed teaching for free and being around these teens, then maybe that would tell us we should adopt. Not one of these adolescents. I meant something closer to a ham-size one that couldn’t talk back to us yet.
As with anything, this work had highs and lows. Some kids would make creative breakthroughs on our watch, while others would ignore us and be standoffish and rude. And although most of the kids seemed to genuinely appreciate us, our time with them just made us want to be around kids even less than before we’d started. Which is saying something, given the fact that our tolerance and acceptance of youth was already pretty damn low.
But all the self-knowledge in the world doesn’t lessen the impact of a decision that, when it comes down to it, is the opposite of the decision the majority of people make. And I can see why they make it. Children give their parents’ lives a trajectory, they bring them joy, they give them the solace that – unless you’re a complete dick – your memory will continue when you’re gone. And actually, even if you are a complete dick, there’ll still be memories. Just not the fuzzy kind.
My friend Danny once said, “Having a kid is the greatest thing in the world and the worst thing in the world.” And Danny told me this when his daughter was 8. And he still felt shaky about his choice. I don’t want to risk having an unwanted child. I don’t want to take others down with my bad decision making. I don’t want to think about what I might have done with my life creatively.
There are two kinds of regrets. People who regret not doing something and others who regret doing. By opting out, maybe we’ve taken the easier path. Without children many say that there is a greater chance of spending the rest of one’s life without any big changes coming. And, if that should happen, I can live with that. I’ll happily trade in the onslaught of 1-year olds’ birthday parties for sitting at my desk writing all night or taking an art class on Monday afternoons. I’ll be glad to swap missing my “son’s” graduation for a quieter, healthier life. If there were a contract I could sign that would exchange a great marriage for a great kid the ink would already be dry.
So enjoy your Johnnys and Eliases and Trents and Alexes and Gennas and Avas. I’ll take responsibility for my own life and if it winds up sucking, I’ll have nobody to blame but myself. And Nancy. And Growls McGee for distracting me from my deadlines with the cuteness of his Sock-Pawed Giraffy Legs while he sits on my lap, licking my left forearm as I try to finish my novel and stare at the sunset because I can still turn my own chair to face the window.