It’s June 15th 2018, and we have an appointment with the UZ Gent reproductive team.
We make it on time and sign in. It’s a warm day, and Jo eats her lunch while sitting on a wall just outside the hospital while I twitchily play with my phone. I hate hospitals. Every fibre in my body is screaming that I don’t want to be here.
This is an audition, I tell myself. The hospital has to convince us that we want to do this, not the other way around.
It’s not true, of course. They can deny us treatment for any number of reasons. If they don’t like us. If we don’t look right. If we’re not healthy, or thin, or rich enough.
The reproductive health department is on the first floor, in a smaller, almost intimate ward, or as far as that’s possible in a huge hospital such as this one.
We sit down in a waiting area, and talk about stupid things, silly things, anything because I want Jo to keep my mind occupied.
The gynaecologist calls us in almost-on-time, and we take a seat in her bright white office to go over a huge questionnaire I had to fill out the week before. Which medication did my mother take when she was pregnant with me? Which relatives have had problems conceiving? Any miscarriages in the last three generations?
The only question we stumble over is Jo’s height and weight, as we’re planning for me to be the one whose body is this going to happen to, so neither of us expected that to be an issue. She has to take out her phone to convert inches into centimetres, and we try to laugh it off.
They can deny us treatment. If they think we aren’t proper parenting material, they can say no.
I have to undress right there in the office, which I hadn’t fully expected. I’m instructed to lie down on the examination chair with my legs wide open, and there’s the familiar dildo-like contraption with a dollop of lube on top. It’s not my first time having that done, but it’s still uncomfortable as hell.
It hurts when the gynaecologist vigorously turns it inside of me to see my uterus and assorted bits, and Jo is looking decidedly pale watching me. I know she is way more scared of these things than I am, so I keep on joking and smiling through it. It’s fine. It hurts. It’s fine.
After more discussion, the doctor seems pleased with my general chances. As we walk out, she wishes us a happy pregnancy. So did we pass? Are we good enough yet?
Back to the waiting room we go.
There is a large glass box filled with birth cards left there at the fertility department. Evidence of hundreds of babies being born, all stacked up. I imagine us sending them a card as well a year or so from now. Much love, Nele and Jo.
We wait longer for the therapist. Still, it doesn’t seem like anyone is overly busy around here. These people have time for us, and it’s nice, but it also scares me. I am afraid they’ll see through us somehow and know that deep down, we’re not perfect. Not good enough.
We spend more than 1.5 hours in the therapist’s office, parrying questions left and right. Have you thought this through? Have you always wanted children? Will your child have a male presence in their life?
I’m constantly thinking about whether we’ll be accepted. Do we laugh enough? Seem relaxed enough? The therapist looks positive either way, so that’s good, that’s…
We can’t breathe yet. She explains that if we want to go ahead, the nurses, gynaecologists, and the therapists will discuss our case in a team meeting, and only if they all agree we are suitable we can start treatment.
She takes out a bunch of paperwork next.
In Belgium, we will have to do at least six rounds of insemination in the hospital (IUI), whether we want to or not.
Using donor sperm is only legal if it’s entirely anonymous. There is an option for semi-anonymous in case the law ever changes, but we can’t choose anything about it. They’ll pick a donor for us, and we will know nothing about him. Even if we pick something as minor as hair colour they can’t guarantee that they’ll give it to us.
You don’t have a say in this.
Eventually we leave and wander towards the tram, feeling overwhelmed and more than drained.
We go to McDonald’s and morosely eat fries while I feel a tension headache rattle through my head. Not surprising, considering we just sat through a total of FOUR HOURS of information and interrogation and examination.
I have to admit they were far friendlier than I had expected. They really did seem to care, and it feels as if we would have been accepted for treatment if we wanted to be.
But – and maybe this is selfish of me – I don’t want to be made to feel like we should be oh-so-grateful that we’re even allowed to try for a child at all. I don’t enjoy the idea of having to ask permission, when any random straight person can just go have a drunken one-night stand. Why do we need to be scrutinised? Why do we need to show that we’re worth it?
More importantly, I want to know at least something of the man whose child I will carry. I don’t want to have to hope that they’ll give us someone decent, I want to be the one to make that choice.
And I want to decide which treatments I will subject myself to and when.
I want agency in this. All of it.
Is that so strange?