Not long after getting married the notion of little feet pitter-pattering across our kitchen floor ignited my wife’s maternal instincts. I was more ambivalent. Still it seemed like the grown up thing to do; so we tried to commemorate our love with children. We commemorated our brains out, but no little feet. After spending most of my life trying to avoid pregnancy, it never occurred to me that getting pregnant wouldn’t be automatic. A zygote always seemed a slip away. During one of my wife’s semi-regular trips to the gyno, the doctor suggested fertility testing.
I’m nothing if not a gentleman, so I offered to be tested first. It’s strange that isn’t standard procedure. The process for testing females is invasive; but for men you’re just a single “YEEE-HAAAA” away from fertility clarity. Since we were at the hospital already all we had to do was go to the top floor, where the fertility clinic is located.
I know I volunteered, but I was hesitant until I saw the clinic. I’d imagined a very antiseptic setting: white walls; fluorescent lighting; an ammonia-scented cell with nothing in it, but an oft-used steel cup, hard backed chair, and some 1970’s porn. Not at all. The fertility clinic had none of the hospital’s asceticism. Tasteful music was piped throughout the clinic. The floors were carpeted, and not in leftover shag, but fine carpeting in a tasteful shade. The walls were elegantly painted and trimmed in oak. The nurse’s station was an oak enclave. Straight past the nurse’s station, the waiting room featured giant floor-to-ceiling windows offering a panorama of Taipei. Off to the side stood a series of oak doors leading to stylishly appointed rooms sharing the same view. Presumably these were the masturbatoriums. There was no one on the ward except the two nurses at the station. It was all so refined and comfortable. I couldn’t help but feel it’d be an honor to crank one out at such a fine establishment.
The nurses explained, in soothing tones, the procedure for producing a viable sample. It all sounded fun. I was disappointed I couldn’t just take one of the masturbation suites and avail myself of the panoramic view. “Oh yeah, Taipei. You want it there? You take it there!” I needed to wait a week to build up as many viable sperm as possible.
During that week I was to abstain from ejaculating, tobacco, booze, and underwear that prevented the boys from a-danglin’ and a-janglin’. The instructions were nicely written out in Chinese. My wife and nurses enjoyed a nice little chat, in Chinese, about my testicles and their productive powers. My Chinese is not great. A clinical discussion of spermatozoa health, gametogenesis, and hormonal influences on sperm yield was be a bit beyond my ken. Of course, everyone thought I’d picked up every nuance. I thought I had too. I love my optimism. Turns out I did not understand and spent the whole week breaking every rule in my Chinese sperm pamphlet. I continued to drink, smoke cigars, and wear my favorite sparkly spandex g-string. Apparently the only instruction I’d understood was to control the emissions.
I’m not going to insult your intelligence by saying the week flew past. It didn’t. Turns out I’m not a fan of abstinence. I tried to divert my attention from the gonadal discomfort through the healing power of hobbies. By the end of the week I was ready to carve a complete model of the HMS Victory with my bare teeth.
Finally Saturday arrived, the one week anniversary of my self-denial. I practically danced to the bathroom to get my date out of the medicine cabinet. It was a clear plastic bottle, about the dimensions of a small Dixie cup, with a red screw on top. Sexy thy name is 60ml. Specimen Bottle.
Things didn’t go as well as expected. Turns out making sweet love to a hard plastic cup is not conducive to sample production. When it came time to…let’s keep it highbrow here and speak euphemistically…spurt the curd, there were technical issues. It was necessary to get all my product into the cup. My member—though only moderately above-average—was too girthy to create an effective seal with the specimen cup. I couldn’t imagine how else to capture the sample. Holding the cup a couple inches away from my juddering and sputtering body hoping to catch the proverbial silver bullet seemed fraught with potential mishaps. Too much spillage and the process would need to be restarted from the beginning. No. I needed to jam my member into the cup, or at least hard against the cup’s mouth. I did not want another week of celibacy. The specimen bottle manufacturer had given scant consideration to the self-evident need for smooth edges. Each time La Petite Mort [classy, n’est pas?] approached and I got the cup into position my manhood would shrink from the discomfort, losing all interest in sample production.
Penises are damn inconsiderate.
After several failed attempts, I broke another of the hospital’s rules, specifically the prohibition on lubricants. Rules be damned. I can’t have The Man getting between me and my genitalia. I carefully applied some lube, contamination or not, if I didn’t get it done there’d be no test. The lube facilitated a firmer and less painful cup-to-penis interface. Finally success.
Having produced the sample at home I was on the clock to get my boys to the hospital, to be counted, before they committed mass suicide. I made sure the specimen bottle was securely fastened and threw on a pair of cargo shorts and t-shirt. I placed the cup in my cargo shorts, grabbed my bicycle and headed to the hospital, about a ten minute ride away. It was an uneventful trip. My cup o’ posterity and I arrived at the hospital intact. I’m a bit phobic of hospitals, but I felt comfortable. I knew that waiting for me on the top floor was a quiet sanctuary with charming nurses ready to discreetly take receipt of my seed. I took the elevator up and opened the oak doors fully expecting the oasis I’d last visited a week earlier.
Where once empty hallways faintly echoed with classical music; now stood women everywhere. The corridors roared with their idle chatter. There must have been two hundred women in the fertility clinic. They were standing in the passageways, sitting in the waiting room, and crowding around the nurse’s station. Many couldn’t even find a piece of wall to lean against. It was chick-a-palooza.
When I walked in every estrogen-infused eye turned on me. As a foreigner, you can’t do anything in Taiwan without becoming the center of attention. I’ve learned to live with it, but on this day it was tougher than usual. Each woman’s stare seemed to gauge The quality of my seminal fluid from an analysis of my gait. It was brutal. They looked at me with cold, hisogynistic, lizard eyes that blame me for all the faulty sperm that had led them there. They projected their partner’s impotency onto me. Finding my virility wanting, they shot me through with their withering stares. I only had to walk ten paces to the nurse’s station, the longest ten steps of my life. I was a red-faced, self-conscious, mess by the time I slunk into line behind a thirty-something Taiwanese man. Slowly the women lost interest in me and I tried to find an innocuous female-free place to rest my eyes.
The whole experience was more challenging to my masculinity than anticipated. I wasn’t sure how much I wanted a child. At first, part of me hoped the doctor would find a cup of dead sperm, then my wife and I could move on. We wouldn’t have to constantly plan our lives around the possibility of pregnancy: we’ll spend the summer in France, unless we’re pregnant; we’ll stay in the same house unless we get pregnant; etc. An awful lot of our plans had become contingent on our reproductive organ’s. It was oppressive. Infertility didn’t sound so bad. We were happy, content in our marriage, and had a lot of fun and interesting things in our lives. However, as I moved through the fertility testing process, I began fearing I was shooting blanks. I don’t know why. Call it animal instinct, but by the time that I arrived at the fertility clinic—sperm in hand—I didn’t want to find out my guys were too lazy to get off the sofa and inseminate an egg.
That trepidation was in my heart as I approached the nurse’s station to drop off my cup. I focused on the guy in front of me, as you do, to try to get the procedure down before my turn. As he walked up, the nurse found his patient information on the computer, printed a numbered specimen tag, and placed it on the relevant form. Afterwards, she pulled out a clear plastic Ziploc bag and held it open with both hands, discreetly out of view. The guy dropped his specimen bottle in the bag. The nurse (logically) never touched the bottle, but quickly sealed the bag and put it in a collection box under her desk. It was all very circumspect and professional.
I didn’t really mean to look at the guy’s specimen, but…well…how could you not? There was the tiniest dot of white in the cup. It seemed more parakeet than human. I don’t mean to belittle the guy. He might have had a medical condition, we were in a hospital after all. I merely bring it up to provide context for what happened next.
I don’t mean to sound braggadocious, but if we take porn stars—my only frame of reference—as average, then I am an above average emitter. Despite some spillage during production and packaging, I had a cup with a few millimeters of liquid Darren in the bottom. After producing the sample, I had carefully wrapped the outside of the cup with a medical form I’d been given and held it in place with a rubber band. Modesty. When my turn came, I dutifully pulled the specimen bottle from my cargo short’s side pocket and dropped it into the waiting Ziploc bag. When the nurse saw the paper, she insisted that I take back the cup and unwrap it before returning it to the bag. I did as she asked. Unbeknownst to me, during my journey to the hospital the cup’s contents had been agitated by my pedaling causing my essence to…well…foam up. The cup I dropped into the Ziploc bag appeared to be about three-quarters full of semen. It looked like I’d been collecting bull semen.
As the nurse was going through her routine of quickly and discreetly zipping the bag and whisking it under her desk she caught a glimpse of my sample. Her mouth dropped and her eyes grew wide as she abandoned all pretense of being a disinterested professional. She thrust my sample up above her head, holding it to the light for a non-too-professional stare. Remember I had an audience of around two hundred Taiwanese women. To their credit, up until this point, they’d been pretending not to pay attention to me. That was over. It was as though the nurse were raising the Holy Grail up to the light. The chalice—my chalice—seemed to become suffused in a preternatural radiance as the fluorescent light hit the seminal fluid. Every eye turned as one and gazed upon the cup with the rapture of early Christian supplicants seeing a piece of the true cross. I could almost hear the women joining together in a telepathic chorus, “Oh my God, its foreigner goo! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Halle-luuuuu-jah!” It was like a Monty Python skit come to life. The nurse recovered her professionalism after what seemed an interminable time and dropped the bag under her desk. I gave my adoring fans a red-faced combination nod/half bow and got the hell out of there.
A week later the printout of my results came back and confirmed what I’ve always known. I’m thoroughly average, all the way down to the cellular mitosis level. Sperm count = average. Motility = average. Viability = average. But, handwritten on the report’s back was; Volume = impressive. God, I love nurses.