From an early age I’d accepted that I would never have children. One of my first memories is of the kindly family doctor who explained how my chromosomes weren’t like more than 50% of people’s.
“This doesn’t make you less than the other kids,” she said. “It just makes you a boy.”
I still have the book she loaned me that day, You Can Probably Do It!, its richly-illustrated, well-thumbed pages chronicling the lives of great men who overcame their identity as a sexual minority and went on to achieve practically as much as a normal person.
The children’s classic has been a wellspring of consolation all my life, but no matter how old I grew I couldn’t seem to open it without the bitter realization that I’d never pass it on to a child from my own body. You see, for all their accomplishments, one thing conspicuously eluded all the book’s heroes, from Charles Martel to Miles Dyson: they’d never created a life, never felt it grow inside them.
Sometime in 2015, my wife half-jokingly suggested surrogacy. We dismissed the idea at first, daunted by the challenge of finding a willing and suitable vessel. But after a couple of weeks of incubation we ideated a crazy twist: what if my wife volunteered?
Cohabitation would certainly take care of the logistics of custody sharing. (I’ve always believed a child’s biological mother should play a part in its life, yet I didn’t fancy having to drop Junior off in a whole nother suburb whenever it was time for a diaper change.)
By sheer, dumb luck we were friends with a couple who’d used an intra-marital surrogacy arrangement, twice, with some success. They told us to ignore the naysayers and go for it. We’ll never be able to repay them for giving us that push.
To men who might be contemplating this reproductive strategy, I can’t recommend it too highly. The procedure itself—there are various and ancient names for it, but your doctor may have mentioned something called in tubulo fertilization—turns out to be much simpler than the Latin makes it sound, and virtually painless to boot.
To be sure, impregnating your wife probably isn’t how you’d spend your prime TV-viewing time if you could help it. The mechanics aren’t exactly dignified. On the other hand, the whole thing takes all of three minutes—less, once you know what you’re doing. Even a complete virgin like me, figuratively speaking—who’d never inseminated anyone, let alone a fellow quote-unquote ’virgin,’ in my life—managed to get in and out of there during the ads between Frasier and Maisel.
It’s not rocket science.
It’s not even cli… well, you know the joke.
Then it’s just a matter of going about your life for a year or so while you wait for your miracle ITF baby. As the delivery date approaches, you may even want to treat yourself to a holiday to avoid the more unseemly, obstetric end of proceedings. This isn’t the most fashionable thing to admit but I’ve always thought they were onto something, morally speaking, in the 19th century. They had a certain decorum, a sense of propriety that I think we’ve outgrown to our detriment. Did you know the English monarch used to get out of the capital city entirely for the parturition of a new Prince or Princess? Queen Victoria’s retreat of choice was Balmoral Castle, where she waited for a telegram bearing the blessed news from London: Your Majesty has a bouncing baby son or daughter.
Only in my case it was a text from Australia, and it didn’t dictate little Hunter’s gender (something we’d agreed to let zer or ze choose for zim- or zyself on zeir 18th birthday).
Reproduction isn’t for the financially faint of heart—it’s the definition of a long-term-long-shot investment. At the best of times, back when the sun didn’t set on the Dickensian Raj, you might have to wait ten or eleven years before your child started turning a profit. These days you’re lucky if they’ve paid for themselves by the time they’re 30.
I’ve already alluded to the money problems caused by my Klimakleptomanie, as Jung called it. But I’m afraid that was just the tip of an iceberg of impecunity. Unsurprisingly, Heartland and the George Marshall Institute wanted nothing to do with me after my Great Divorce from disbelief. The loss of those stipends devolved upon us the painful duty of moving out of Vaucluse and cutting the staff loose. I’m sure you know how a butler has a way of becoming part of the family, surname notwithstanding, so you can imagine how hard it was to let him go without so much as a mandatory severance package.
(Hunter, who’d imprinted on _______s like a gosling, was adorably heartbroken by his departure and subsequent lawsuit. On the plus side, the whole middle-name dilemma pretty much solved itself: world, meet Hunter Ryan Keyes.)
I needed to work.
The George Marshall Institution—no relation to my previous paymaster—was kind enough to toss me a few shifts a week as a psychiatric nurse, but the danger pay didn’t really do justice to a night on a ward of under-sedated Nefarious Intenters, Something Must Be Wrongers and other conspiratorial [sic] ideators.
In the pre-dawn hours of a morning like any other, the duress claxon of a colleague went off. When I eventually made it to the scene I had to peel a denialist inmate away from the remainder of a nurse he was orally brutalizing. I sometimes wish I’d responded sooner. But in my defence, a face-being-eaten alarm in an asylum is a bit like a car alarm in Redfern—one quickly learns to ignore it unless and until the 3- or 4-minute mark. Deep in shock, Sister Marisol kept lisping that she’d forgotten to double-check a handcuff while inoculating the patient. And they’re notoriously resentful of such procedures, which is understandable: having strawman arguments incanted at you in a ritualistic, pop-psych attempt to build “immunity” to denialism can be rather insulting. Still, I think we can all agree there’s such a thing as a proportionate response.
“I only took my eye off him for a second,” I assume the poor young Filipina was trying to sputter—but I urged her to save her breath because she looked like a late-’40s Francis Bacon. (It would ultimately take a year of reconstructive surgery to make her look like a late-’30s Picasso—a small triumph of technology and human indomitability, but a triumph all the same.) That’s when I noticed the most blood-freezing detail of the whole incident: according to the bleep-bloop machine, the skeptic’s pulse had never got above eighty-five, even when he was eating her teeth.
Screw this, I thought. I didn’t even lock the door behind me. Call me vain but I’m rather attached to my lower jaw, thanks.
Everyone knows jobs are for bums anyway. What I needed was a gig.
I needed to write.
To be continued when Part 1 continues in Part 2: Part 5.