Since 1976, the last pick of the NFL draft has been crowned “Mr Irrelevant,” a tongue-in-cheek jab at the last athlete chosen. There are around 9,000 collegiate football players and only 256 were drafted this year. This puts Mr Irrelevant in the top 3% of all collegiate football players and the top 0.2% of high school players. For however long it lasts, Mr Irrelevant gets to live a dream many of us gave up decades ago. I doubt many of these athletes have ever been chosen last.
Biologically Mr Irrelevant
Ten years ago I learned I was a different kind of Mr Irrelevant–I can’t have children. Biologically, I am irrelevant. After I die, there will be no trace that I ever existed in the human gene pool. Any strengths I have will die with me (along with all my weaknesses, so there is that). When the fertility doctors told me I was the sole reason we couldn’t conceive, I remember thinking that of all the millions of chemical reactions that sustain a human being, it’s a surprise more things don’t go wrong as we develop.
My dad is a wildlife biologist and I nearly completed a human biology degree (long story that involves a lot of memory loss). I have actually read On the Origin of Species twice. The human body is complex and I was just another victim of some chemical misdeed. It helped me feel better to imagine a child with all the things I dislike about myself and know they will end with me. Natural selection be damned.
A number of causes could be responsible. My dad is a Vietnam veteran exposed to Agent Orange. He was so concerned that after I was born he immediately looked me over for birth defects.
My mom is a downwinder from central Utah who later developed thyroid cancer.
Perhaps it was something less malicious like my love of hot tubs. Perhaps it’s just a glitch in my DNA. I figured modern medicine would fix it.
Working for Miracles
We received a grant from a miracle foundation to pay the $10,000 fee for one round of ICSI treatments, still giving only a 46% chance of a live birth.
We began a wild battery of medical tests and procedures. I represented the National Guard in the National All-star Rugby tournament and my wife got a call during one of the games. Dr. Matt Peterson at the University of Utah wanted some blood tests immediately. He found a lab in Orlando and scheduled the appointment for that day. I didn’t even have time to change after the game and showed up still sweaty in my rugby uniform. It’s the only time anyone ever asked for my autograph.
Still an active member of the National Guard, I got a call from the fertility clinic during breakfast on a drill weekend. I jokingly asked the doctor if they ever rested, I had never heard of a doctor working early on a weekend. He told me he didn’t need to rest much, because he loved what he did.
He then explained in detail that our chances of having a baby through in vitro fertilization were so close to zero that he wouldn’t recommend it, but the decision was ours.
I felt oppressive guilt that I had let my wife down. Her dream of being a mother vanished, all because of me. Like a drowning victim, I had pulled down an amazing woman, removing her from gene pool as well.
Calling to let her know is the most difficult call I’ve ever made. Ten years later I still avoid calling people on the phone and have anxiety when unknown numbers call. They have brought too much bad news.
Writing the letter to the foundation thanking them for offering hope, but asking they give the chance to another couple with a greater hope of conceiving ended any hope that we would have children.
I asked forgiveness from our unborn children. I prayed for them to go to loving, strong families of beautiful, strong people who could give them life. I hoped they would understand we hadn’t given up on them, but through no fault of our own we weren’t fit to be parents. I told them I love them, knowing we would never see them.
Today, the NFL will declare someone Mr Irrelevant.
Today, we celebrate Birthmothers’ Day with a mother who chose us to raise her baby and has become an inseparable part of our family. My wife is an amazing mother because of the love of another mother. Seeing the two women who love my son more than anyone else on earth makes me smile every time.
In the myriad interactions between nature and nurture that express genes, we will affect only his nurture. Genetically, I am still irrelevant.
Every day I am relevant to him, and that matters more than I ever imagined.