The other night I had dinner with an old lesbian friend. (She is both an old lesbian, and an old friend : ) And she said to me “did you know that Dr. Peter died last week?” No, I didn’t know. I guess this is what happens when you give up your newspaper subscription in favor of on-line news. I don’t see obituaries anymore.
So please indulge me as I tell you about Peter, a man who had more impact on my life than any other, with the exception of my father.
Back when Martha and I were first together she told me that she wanted children. I was still in my totally dazed, black hole mode and I really didn't care one way or the other. But wanting to please I said “okay”. As the story unfolded, Martha did not want to have the children herself. Mostly because, as a cop, she knew she would have to come off the road if she was pregnant and she loved her work. So I said, “okay I’ll do it.”
That was 24 years ago and options for lesbians wanting children were still very limited - especially if you wanted an unknown donor, which we did. But we did a lot of asking around and finally found a fertility clinic we were told might consider us. And that is how we found Peter.
On our very first visit to his hospital clinic the waiting room was filled with heterosexual couples, all looking both sad and hopeful at the same time. People stared, not sure what to make of us. But Peter greeted us warmly. We explained our situation and Peter said that we would be the first lesbian couple he had as clients, and he was excited about it. But he also explained that:
1. Because infertility was not the issue, our medical insurance would not pay for the procedures. Which were expensive. Very expensive.
2. Because it was expensive, he recommended a full medical work-up to insure the possibility of pregnancy. No sense in throwing away thousands of dollars if there were other medical issues.
3. Because he had never done this with a lesbian couple, he wanted us to go through a psychological evaluation first. We thought this was a little odd, but our eyes were on the target, and we would have to jump through their hoops.
We went to a psychologist of their choosing and I remember being asked questions like “what will you do when your child is teased about having two mothers” and “how will you handle child care.” We apparently passed our evaluation with flying colors and were accepted into the program. Step one - check.
Step two was my medical work-up. Blood work and a physical were first. I found out my thyroid levels were very low and went on meds to correct that. Then I had an internal exam. I remember that being difficult for me at the time and Martha had come with me to hold my hand. Then I got a call that I needed to come back for some dye test. And then I got called back one last time. Just Peter and I, a consultation in his office. He sat next to me and very calmly and compassionately told me that I had a lot of internal damage and that the likelihood of my being able to get pregnant, or to hold onto a pregnancy, would be very unlikely. He never asked what had happened to me. I never told him. My only strong memory is of him, holding my hand, and sharing the silence as my eyes just welled up and the tears rolled. We sat there like that for a very long time. “Would you like me to explain this to Martha, or do you want to?” I don’t even remember my answer. I only remember not wanting him to let go. And he didn't.
Anyway, the story does have a happy ending. Martha stepped up to the plate and turns out she was extremely fertile. It took two tries to get pregnant with Beanie, only one try for Peachie. Through the whole process Peter was our biggest cheerleader. But he was also sensitive to my mixed emotions - happy that Martha was pregnant, sad that I never could be, and saddled with all the triggers that went with that. For every ultrasound, for every office visit, he was always by my side. Understanding that pain.
He came to the hospital after the birth of both our babies and seemed as proud as any father would be. We stayed friends for a number of years and socialized occasionally but then slowly faded to just exchanging Christmas cards. A number of years back he started his own private practice and he would see him on TV commercials. It always brought smiles to our faces.
Oh, and I should add that after our first daughter was born we went back for a second pregnancy. I told him that I thought it was unfair that we had had to go through psychologist testing, as no straight prospective parents had to. He apologized and agreed to drop that requirement. (He also dropped the requirement that a woman had to have a partner) We became the best advertisement for his clinic and he became to the go-to doctor for lesbians in our area wanting anonymous donor insemination.
So, having dinner with my old lesbian friend, it came as quite a shock to hear that he had died. He was only 56 years old. I would not have my beautiful daughters if not for him. My friend would not have her amazing son.
Later I looked up his obituary and then read the comments people had left. Dozens of people thanking him for his dedication, coming into the office on weekends because “fertile time” was on Sunday. People thanking him for his compassion when every last bit of hope and science had been tried and there was not going to be a pregnancy. And then thanking him for staying with them through the adoption process. People thanking him for his humor because, honestly, it is an awkward progress to go through. He made it magical and delightful and fun. But mostly it was people thanking him because, without him, they would not have their children.
It must have been an amazing life - to help people achieve their dreams, to know you were responsible for all these beautiful babies that would not have been otherwise. As his obituary says “His legacy can be measured by the thousands of babies conceived through his medical practice.”
So I am feeling a little sad. The world lost an amazing and compassionate man. In an odd way we feel he was the father of our children. There is a new hole in my heart but his smile and compassionate touch will always be remembered. And, because of him, the world has received thousands of beautiful babies - one article said over 5,000! What a legacy indeed. Thank you Peter for making our dreams come true.