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Hot Desk Extract: Proud to be part of the process

As part of the Wheeler Centre’s Hot Desk Fellowship program, Jack Nicholls worked on a magic-realist memoir of their life. This extract is a light-hearted account of undergoing the IVF process from the perspective of the less important part of the process.

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There are many ways to have children. Kidnapping, adoption, sex or storks. None of these had worked for me and Jodie, so we had turned instead to that age old remedy: the wise woman.

The wise woman in this case was IVF specialist Dr Lynn Burmeister. A midwife friend recommended Dr Burmeister to us as “the best in the biz,” and some Googling revealed more. Dr Burmeister had been the star doctor at the Monash fertility clinic from 2002 to 2017, she left to open her own private Melbourne clinic, No 1 Fertility, in 2018. She called it, for reasons that would become clear, the Pink Palace.

This dry biography undersells the camp majesty of Dr Lynn Burmeister. She is a stiletto-wearing entrepreneur with her own lipstick brand. She is Frankenstein in fuchsia, Prometheus in pink. And she really does get results.

So Jodie and I went for it. We were pretty anxious. It seemed that the first rule of In Vitro Fertilisation is that you do not talk about In Vitro Fertilisation, but I would have loved to have some inside gossip about what we were getting ourselves into. So this is how it went for us.



I was not prepared for my entry into Dr Burmeister’s sanctum. It is almost impossible to convey the degree of feminine kitsch she has surrounded herself with. It is an assault on the senses.

A life-size cardboard cut-out of George Clooney met us in the waiting room. Beside him a pink table was littered with fake gems and princess crowns, Chanel art books and candles in the shapes of naked female torsos. A framed photo of Audrey Hepburn popped pink bubblegum at us, while a heart-shaped mirror assured me that You are the loveliest of them all.

When we were finally ushered into her office, Dr Lynn was all business. Her long pink nails clacked across her keyboard as she checked our reports. Jodie had suffered five miscarriages, but there was nothing the doctor could see that would make IVF obviously a problem. Though Jodie had a few more natural killer cells than Lynn would like.

“Natural Killer cells?” I repeated blankly. “Is that a made-up thing?”

“No,” said Dr Lynn, a trifle coldly.

Lynn went on to explain that my semen was ‘slow and malformed’, but didn’t seem to view this as a problem. “Since you got Jodie pregnant five times.”

“The first time was nothing to do with me,” I said.

Awkward silence, as Lynn tried to gauge whether an affair had been had.

The doctor ran us through the system. IVF stands for In Vitro Fertilisation; in vitro being Latin for  ‘within the glass’. The procedure, which has been practiced with increasing frequency since 1978, consists of harvesting eggs and sperm, injecting the sperm into the egg, then scooping up the fertilised egg and replacing it in the womb. Any excess embryos can be stored in a freezer in case the first implant didn’t take, or for growing future babies down the line.

The first step in IVF is stimulating the ovaries to produce more eggs than the usual one per cycle. Dr Lynn said Jodie would need to inject hormones into her belly, and suggested that I could do it. “Often the partners find it helps them feel Part of the Process.”

As we left, Jodie took my hand. “No offence, but I’d rather not have you come at me with sharp objects,” she said. “You can be Part of the Process in other ways.”

For the next two weeks, Jodie had to stab herself in the belly like a despairing samurai twice every night. The hormone injections led Jodie down a path of emotional storms where she wept at Pitch Perfect 2 and lost days to melancholy. Not for the last time, I felt helpless. This wasn’t helped by my general sense of being surplus to requirements at No 1 Fertility. They communicated with us through patient portals, but while Jodie’s was kept updated with all the latest technical information, mine remained an empty wasteland of Files Not Found.

My own Part in the Process finally took place on the same day as Jodie’s egg harvesting. While Jodie was sedated at the Palace, I was pointed to a green-walled closet with an ambiguously lockable door. The room was empty aside from a leather recliner draped with a plastic sheet indicating where I should nestle my buttocks. Beside it was an IPad for my delectation. When I turned it on, it flashed up the latest news about Russian troop movements in Ukraine, which was not the ideal aid to ejaculation.

I was acutely aware that next door, Jodie was being prepped for surgery. If I couldn’t get sexy in the next half hour, the procedure would fail. Our hopes, nay, our entire line of descent unto the hundredth generation, depended on it.

A helpful piece of (laminated) paper had been stuck by the chair. Some men find it difficult to produce a sample in this environment, it read. If you are having any problems, pick up the phone and one of our friendly andrologists will give you all the support you need.

Did I pick up that phone or not? Reader, I shall spare you the details, but I produced my sample. Indications that this was a sometimes messy business came from the form I then had to fill out.

I caught all of the sample in the container provided 

I missed the beginning of the sample

I missed the end of the sample

“And you are Jack Nicholls?” asked the nurse when I reported my success. “And you are Jack Nicholls?” asked the orderly who took the sample from me. They really didn’t want to mess this part of the procedure up.

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