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Sperm Delivery: LA-Style

You don't appreciate how easily sperm travels through a vagina until you try to drive it across Los Angeles the morning of the Oscars.

A little over eight years ago, I had one 3-year-old boy and, despite what I would have said before I had him, was desperate to have another child. I have an addict's mind: As soon as I had him, I knew I had to have another. Not to compare children to potato chips or anything.

My husband and I had basically been trying to have another baby as soon as the equipment was back in order. Eighteen months later, I was pregnant again and thrilled. Oddly, I didn't feel sick at all. I remember taking a Bikram yoga class (something I find nauseating even when I'm not pregnant) and feeling just fine. That should have been a clue. The first time I got pregnant, I was so sick I ended up in the ER. Eleven weeks into this one, after seeing a heartbeat just two weeks before, I miscarried.

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I was devastated.

Thus began our dance with infertility doctors. They called my issue "secondary infertility," because I'd had a successful pregnancy but couldn't get my body to do it a second time. We started some low impact fertility boosters, the first of which was intrauterine insemination, or IUI. They wait until you are ovulating and inject the sperm into your body with a plastic device that's apparently more efficient than the one God made. We were told there was only one day a month that IUI might possibly (but probably would not) work.

Which is how I ended up driving westbound in rush-hour traffic with a cup of warm sperm in a brown paper bag.

My husband Tod was working at the time and couldn't go with me to my Beverly Hills gynecologist. The doctor told me the little swimmers had to be there an hour before for "prepping." It was 7:54 a.m. when I pulled out of our driveway on the east side of LA. It was later than I intended. But if there's one thing I'd learned in the previous few months, it's that you don't rush a man with a specimen cup in his hand.

We are in completely different movies. I'm all action-adventure; she's clearly Bergman.

In all my personal drama, I'd forgotten that it was Oscar week, where the streets of Hollywood mostly go on lockdown for the awards. Half a mile of Hollywood Blvd. gets blocked for the construction of a "celebrity bridge," so nominees can cross the street without soiling their gowns. It's also very effective at creating gridlock for a 20-mile radius around the Kodak Theatre. Sitting in the middle of this mess, with somewhere I urgently needed to be, I started to hyperventilate.

I called Tod, very near tears.

"You're smart," he said. "You just need to figure out how to circumvent the traffic."

"I'm smart?" I screamed, already in a rage. Traffic does a number on my sanity even when I'm not anchoring a bag of sperm between my legs. "Smart is having your babies at a normal age and not waiting until you've done every other thing with your life twice and then waking up and saying, 'Gee, maybe I should have some babies.'"

I clicked the phone off, inched past the El Capitan Theater, where they were playing "Dumbo," of course. I called my husband back.

"Now I'm landlocked in front of the Rock 'n' Roll Ralphs. It's 8:40, Tod, this is not good."

"Can you take a deep breath, honey?"

I don't hang up on him. I closed my eyes and did it. I exhaled. When I opened my eyes in the distance, I saw one of those yellow, illuminated traffic signs flashing ahead "ROAD CLOSED FOR EVENT." A 30-foot V-shaped hedge was being installed for the Vanity Fair party. I made a sharp left and headed south, but Melrose Ave. was no better. I looked at the clock. "It's 8:52 a.m.," I reported to Tod, still on the phone. I started crying.

"I didn't make the Oscars part of my infertility protocol!" I sobbed. "It's not going to work. It's hopeless." I hung up again.

Hit with an infusion of rage against the Oscar machine, at 9:01 a.m. I flipped the steering wheel hard and tore down a side street. A dead end. I then made a very angry three-point turn.

The phone rang.

"None of these fucking roads go anywhere!" I screamed into it. This was before kids, so I could talk like that with impunity. Or so I thought.

"OK," the female voice said. My agent.

"Sorry," I said. "I'm working on a character who is totally out of control."

"Can you be at Bundy and Olympic in an hour in something that looks like a chicken suit? Just suggest it, you know, maybe a yellow shirt and don't comb your hair."

"You're smart," he said. "You just need to figure out how to circumvent the traffic."

"No. I can't. I can't be a chicken in an hour," I snapped, "I'm going to be on a metal table with my legs spread."

"Is that the character talking?"

9:08 a.m.

I finally got near enough to the office to see it. I felt like Dorothy approaching the Emerald City. Until I saw flashing lights above me and heard helicopters. There was a "police action" right outside my doctor's building.

I parked away from the chaos, sprinted through the police line directly into the lab where a nurse was standing, casually stirring sugar into her coffee. "He gave it to me an hour and 15 minutes ago. Am I too late?" I said, panting. I hung my defeated head and handed her the paper bag.

Out of the corner of downturned eyes, I watched as the nurse calmly put down her stirrer, took the bag from me, placed her coffee on the counter and retrieved a small sperm-sorting appliance out of an overhead cabinet.

"You're not too late," she said, plugging in the machine. "This will take about an hour."

We are in completely different movies. I'm all action-adventure; she's clearly Bergman.

The nurse had instructed me to lie on the table for 20 minutes. My eyes wandered and landed on a People magazine on a chair, and I remembered about Oscar day.

"But it took me over an hour to get it here. It's OK?" I asked, avoiding eye contact so she couldn't see the crazy in my eyes.

"Huh? Oh, we just tell people that."

I went in the room where the insemination was going to happen, took off my clothes and put on the paper skirt. I pulled two candles I had bought at Whole Foods out of my bag. They were labeled "Welcome New Life." I set them on a counter next to a tube of K-Y jelly. Then I lit them, turned off the lights and hopped up on the examining table. In candlelight, with shadows dancing in the crevices of the cottage cheese ceiling, the room looked almost pretty.

"What's going on here?" Dr. Lin asked, entering after a quick knock.

"I thought I'd give the room a little atmosphere, you know, better energy," I said.

"Huh," he said, "that's a first."

It was his day off, and he was dressed like a J. Crew model. Looking at him from between my legs, in dim light, with his hooded sweatshirt, for a minute I felt like I was back in my college dorm.

As another reminder of my undergraduate years, he left as soon as he was done. The nurse had instructed me to lie on the table for 20 minutes. My eyes wandered and landed on a People magazine on a chair, and I remembered about Oscar day.

Going home would be easier.

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Epilogue: I did not get pregnant that day. A year later, I found a fertility doctor who specialized in "over 40" pregnancy and who helped me have my second boy. I am not exaggerating when I write here that there isn't a day that goes by when I don't look at him and think, "I can't believe you made it here."

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