‘No, really. Are you sure? I mean, are you worried about it?’
‘Are you worried about it?’ he says. ‘That’s more to the point.’
‘Oh god yes,’ I say. ‘Of course I am. I’ve been worried about it all day.’
This conversation has become very much academic because we have now reached the sliding doors of the doctor’s surgery. We enter in silence, and I check myself in using the new touch-screen.
‘Impressive,’ I say.
‘Hm,’ says Herbert.
There’s no-one else in the waiting room except a mother with a toddler, who is screaming and clutching her left ear. We both wait in silence. I fix my gaze on the dot matrix screen, as it endlessly circulates a request to ensure the surgery has an up-to-date phone number on record.
Eventually there is a bleep and my name appears on the screen.
‘You’d better go first,’ says H. ‘She’s not expecting me to walk in.’
I knock, state the blooming obvious that I’ve brought Herbert with me, and we sit down. Herbert’s chair is pressed against the back wall, and he doesn’t move it.
‘The last time I came to see you, I was applying for an egg freeze and share,’ I say, handing her the letter from the clinic. ‘Well, I’ve just been turned down.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry. Did they say why?’
‘Sort of. But I don’t understand any of it. I was hoping you could interpret.’
My GP frowns at the covering letter, and then at the columns of figures that accompany it. ‘I’m afraid this is a bit beyond my level of expertise,’ she says at last.
‘Well,’ I say, ‘in a way that’s a relief, because we were feeling a bit stupid for not understanding it.’
There’s a pause, while I gather up my courage. ‘In any case,’ I say, ‘we’ve decided not to wait any longer. We’ve decided we’d like to start infertility treatment please.’
There’s a brief flurry of activity from my GP as she begins to scroll through my notes. ‘Remind me of where we’ve got to?’ she says.
‘I have anovulatory cycles.’
‘Aha, yes, found it. Hm. Yes. You’re right, you’re unlikely to manage it on your own. We’ve tested your hormone levels before, and…’ another squint at the notes ‘…well, we’ve not really found anything at all, have we?’
She looks up. ‘Right! Good. First steps are with you,’ she says, looking at Herbert.
‘Oh,’ says H.
‘Because we already know about your wife, don’t we?’
We leave with a plastic tub and the instruction to call the pathology lab at the local hospital.
‘Excellent,’ I say to H. ‘For once the ball’s in your court.’
‘Hm,’ says H.
‘I always feel sorry for men giving sperm samples. I mean, it can’t be easy bringing yourself to orgasm in an NHS toilet cubicle.’
‘That won’t be a problem,’ says H, ‘if I’m not allowed to ejaculate for 4 days beforehand. God knows how I’m supposed to achieve that.’
‘I’m sure you’ll manage.’
‘And I thought you got a special little room to do it in, not a toilet cubicle.’
‘I’d heard you got special NHS-issue porn.’
‘Ugh,’ says H, ‘I don’t think I could bear to use that.’
‘I dunno, it could add a little extra frisson.’
‘I’d have to work on that in advance, I think.’
For our own entirely separate reasons, we’re both in need of a drink. For my part, I feel like we’ve just witnessed the bravest thing I ever did, taking the first, shaky step towards having a child.
I’ve always had so many fears and objections until now, but getting the news that I couldn’t freeze my eggs took me to pieces in a way I never expected. All those concerns suddenly felt like a surface layer imposed on a deeper urge. I was afraid of what having children might do to my life, but that didn’t silence the part of me that still wanted them.
And, at thirty-three-and-three-quarters, with a whole raft of existing fertility issues, I realised I couldn’t afford to wait any longer. In an ideal world, I’d still leave it for another few years, but that risked losing what little chance I had in the first place.
‘Do you know what Betty,’ said Herbert as I sobbed a wet patch onto his shoulder, ‘It’s time. Let’s not put it off any longer. It only makes it worse for you.’
Brave words for H, who openly admits he would never have children if I didn’t want them. And now, nursing a pint of bitter in the pub, his courage is wearing thin already.
‘You’re not saying much,’ I say.
‘Seriously. Talk back.’
‘There’s nothing to say. Not everything requires a response.’
‘But this does. It’s important. Tell me how you feel about it.’
H takes a breath. ‘Okay,’ he says, ‘I’m terrified. Alright?’