Our IVF Journey and Beating Luigi's Mansion
Going through the IVF process with my wife resulted in the most beautiful gift, and helped me finish a wonderful Nintendo game I never thought I'd beat.
“What’s the answer?”
It’s June 30, 2015 and my wife and I are at the hospital. Several hours earlier, she requested an epidural. Her water broke soon after, and we were minutes away from welcoming our son to the world... or so we thought.
Things got off to an interesting start when the little guy missed his expected due date, leading to induced labor; this is when the doctor schedules and then initiates labor instead of it happening naturally. Then during labor he got stuck in the birth canal. With precious time to spare, my wife’s doctor removed him with forceps.
“So what do you think the answer is?”
Doc wanted the answer to a question on the show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, which was playing on a TV in the background. Asking me this at the time seemed bizarre, but upon further reflection, it was his way of letting me know that everything would be all right, even though it didn’t seem that way at the time.
To this day I still don’t remember whether I answered the question. All I know is that shortly after being asked, and with the expert precision that comes from decades of delivering babies, the doctor brought our son into the world.
Unfortunately, the little guy wasn’t breathing. With zero hesitation, a nurse quickly inserted something into his mouth or nose. Thick yellow liquid came out, he cried, and we spent those precious moments in a euphoric and tear-drenched state.
My wife’s pregnancy lasted the full nine months, but our journey to become parents took more than three years. During which, we experienced sadness, frustration, and anger, but also intense joy.
This story chronicles the events that ultimately led to my son’s existence, and to a lesser extent, the two of us bonding over playing Luigi’s Mansion for the Nintendo GameCube, a game that I would not have beaten without him.
Before reaching that climactic moment when we toppled the game’s lead bad guy, King Boo, let’s rewind to 2001, when Nintendo released its (at the time) new video game system, the GameCube, in Japan.
GameCube launched in Japan on September 14, with a U.S. debut set for November 18. The console arrived more than a year after Sony’s PlayStation 2 and was met with both excitement and concern. On the positive side it was the newest system from Nintendo, the company that captured our collective imagination with such hits as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong. Additionally, GameCube was more powerful than the PS2, and gamers couldn’t wait to see what Nintendo had planned for the hardware; Nintendo helped fuel the hype with a tech demo titled Super Mario 128, which many believed to be a first look at the next Mario game.
On the other hand, and depending on who you spoke to at the time, the purple GameCube resembled a child’s lunchbox, complete with a handle to carry the expensive system around. Nintendo also faced intense competition from not only Sony but Microsoft, which released its own video game console, the Xbox, in November 2001, complete with one of the greatest games ever, the first-person shooter, Halo: Combat Evolved. While nowhere near as fierce as the epic 16-bit console war between Nintendo and Sega in the 90s, this new battle between three electronics giants forced consumers with limited resources to make tough decisions with their money.
I was in college at the time, buried in homework but also obsessed with video games. Freshman year 1997, for example, was spent huddled around a small CRT television with some buddies playing the wrestling game WCW vs NWO World Tour and the mind-blowing shooter GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64. Later years saw me sneaking around as Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid for the Sony PlayStation, and battling friends in the epic fighter, Soul Calibur, on the Sega Dreamcast. I somehow earned enough cash to buy the newest thing, even if it meant eating ramen in exchange for playing games like Parappa the Rapper, Samba de Amigo, and Turok 2; stores also had more lenient return policies 20 years ago.
Although there was a small stack of games to finish, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the GameCube, so shortly after the system came out in Japan, I spent more than $650 on the console and the three launch games: Super Monkey Ball, Wave Race: Blue Storm, and of course, Luigi’s Mansion.
It took a while to make the purchase because I agonized over the pros and cons of importing. This was during the early days of Internet e-commerce. If you wanted import video games there were only a handful of options to choose from. The U.S. based website that I ultimately bought the GameCube from was known for terrible customer service, but it was one of the few sites with import systems in stock and I was too hyped to wait until November, so I reluctantly handed over my bank info and prayed I wouldn’t regret the decision.
Side note… had I waited until November for the U.S. GameCube, that same bundle would have cost roughly $350 minus tax.
In addition to the purchase anxiety, the university mail room was closed on weekends and the package was due to arrive on Saturday. Miss the truck and I would have to wait until the following week. This was unacceptable for an impatient 20-something. It was either Saturday or the world would end.
What ensued that Saturday was a frantic race across campus in search of a FedEx truck, hoping to cover every possible entrance into the university while gulping down cold morning air. Fortunately I caught the truck as it was about to leave.
Despite the outrageous price that I paid for the GameCube, waving down that truck, seeing it stop, and then having the driver hand over the package is still one of the most exhilarating moments as a gamer. Mission accomplished! On top of that, I was the only person on campus to have the GameCube two months early.
With the package held tightly in both arms, I caught my breath and then hurried back to the dorm.
What a mind-blowing weekend it was! Each of the three launch games offered a unique experience. Sega’s Super Monkey Ball (where you literally roll around a monkey encased within a semi-transparent ball) was the biggest surprise because I didn’t know the game would be so addictive, while Nintendo’s Wave Race had the most realistic water effects I had ever seen in a video game; imagine today’s Sea of Thieves’ water physics but 18 years ago.
Luigi’s Mansion, however, was my favorite. To look at it now with the re-released Nintendo 3DS version, you might not think of it as the benchmark in console graphics, but Luigi’s Mansion on GameCube was a revelation in 2001. Everything about the visuals, from the superb candle light effects to the translucent ghosts looked incredible. Even Luigi’s animation and audio, with him calling out “Mario!?”, felt magical. It looked like an interactive Pixar movie.
There was some fan backlash over Luigi’s Mansion not being a traditional Mario game. After seeing the original Game Boy launch with Super Mario Land, the SNES debut alongside Super Mario World, and the N64 become synonymous with Super Mario 64 on launch day, some people expected the GameCube to continue the tradition with a new Mario platformer, but Nintendo took a different approach with a game starring Mario’s less popular brother in a Ghostbusters-inspired spin-off.
Additionally, and unlike some Mario games, Luigi’s Mansion moved at a much slower pace, with more of an emphasis on puzzle solving and exploration. Players had to uncover a ghost’s weakness and then vacuum it up with Luigi’s Poltergust 3000 device. You didn’t run through levels stomping Goombas and smashing bricks with Mario’s head. You methodically wandered the mansion, room by room, in some cases backtracking between floors to unlock new areas.
I appreciated Luigi’s Mansion for being different. Nintendo packed a lot of charm onto that tiny GameCube disc. The scenes where Luigi’s white-gloved hand twists a doorknob, or nervously inserts a key into a keyhole… all of these touches elevated the experience while showing off the GameCube’s horsepower.
Of course, the U.S. GameCube launch eventually happened and I was hooked on Star Wars Rogue Squadron 2: Rogue Leader. Then, as the GameCube lineup expanded, I moved on to Super Mario Sunshine, Animal Crossing, and Resident Evil 4. These games, and my obsession with craving the newest thing, prevented me from finishing Luigi’s Mansion. Soon enough, that import copy was sold for the U.S. edition, which was then cashed in to buy a game I don’t remember. It wasn’t until a few years later that I picked up the Player’s Choice (Nintendo’s best-selling brand at the time) version of Luigi’s Mansion for my collection, but it quickly became one of those “I’ll get around to finishing it someday” games.
Little did I know that someday would be 2019, and the road getting there was more difficult than I anticipated.
In 2014, exact date unknown, my wife and I were at our favorite restaurant. The conversation (as it often did at the time) shifted to having kids, which up to this point we struggled conceiving. This is where she broke the news that taking the next step to becoming parents would cost a sizable amount of money.
Every doctor said the same thing, that my wife and I would probably not have kids without attempting in vitro fertilization (IVF); the complicated IVF process results in a lab tech fertilizing a viable egg with sperm, and then transferring the fertilized embryo inside of someone. Not only is the process and the science behind it more complicated, there’s also no guarantee that it’ll result in a baby.
The news was tough to digest because it seemed like everyone around us had become parents. We didn’t know each couple’s unique situation, but from the outside, the perception was that the baby process was easy for everyone but us. I was happy for them, but also secretly bitter because I wanted what they had, and it became difficult to wipe away the disappointment from my face with each new announcement.
You must adhere to strict rules with every IVF cycle. Hormones and daily injections of medicine are the most grueling for the recipient. I took no pleasure inserting needles into my wife every day. She, conversely, endured the pain from those needles, and also the numbing sensation that occurred as a result of being injected in roughly the same areas repeatedly. You must also administer these injections at specific times of day. More than a few times we’d fall asleep on the couch watching a movie, only to wake up in a panic and race to the bathroom.
Speaking as the injector, administering the medication came with its own stress. After disinfecting the area, I held the needle like a dart, except I didn’t throw it. Instead I followed through to ensure that I pierced the target; please do not inject someone this way unless instructed by a doctor.
I was constantly afraid of missing, or having the needle fly out of my hand. When it came time to remove the needle, a droplet or two of medicine would sometimes come with it, which freaked me out even more.
None of this in my opinion was worse than being injected, but if you’re the injector and nervous, you’re not alone.
Additionally, the person having the baby goes through routine blood tests; they drew my blood once or twice, but that was a small sacrifice compared to what they did to my wife. The only comforting thing about all of this was the packed waiting room at the fertility doctor’s office. It was a reminder that despite our struggle, there were other couples going through similar experiences.
Correctly following these and other steps (and if everything works as intended) leads to a surgical procedure where doctors extract healthy eggs for fertilization. There’s no set number of eggs for everybody; it could be six or more, or it could be one. Having more than one means you have additional chances to conceive providing you have the means.
When the surgery is over, the lab tech matches the egg with a healthy sperm. Then, it’s showtime.
All of this preparation lead to an unforgettable appointment where my wife and I viewed a single fertilized egg on a monitor, ready for implantation. Despite the shared nervousness, it was this wonderfully surreal slow-motion glimpse at the miracle of life.
Moments later, the doctor successfully made the transfer and we went about our day, humbled and concerned. We just hoped that whatever was supposed to happen did, and we thought about it constantly. All we had was an upcoming appointment to find out if things worked or not. Dwelling on the “not” was impossible.
Thankfully the test came back positive. We were thrilled, but also aware that the road to becoming parents was now extended. There were no guarantees or insight into how the pregnancy would go. There could have been a miscarriage at any point, but with each passing month and milestone achieved, the dream of being mom and dad became more of a reality.
There were several ultrasounds along the way. Witnessing baby’s progression during those ultrasound appointments increased the anticipation, especially as the on-screen black-and-white blob formed a head, hands and fingers, feet and toes. Meanwhile, we passed the time the same way that other aspiring parents do. We assembled furniture and Fisher-Price toys. We set up our son’s nursery, and while not the easiest, we went about our lives with the projected due date circled in our minds.
Becoming parents took longer than we initially had hoped, years’ worth of doctor visits, medicine, surgeries (even I went under the knife), and stress. The moments afterward have been more incredible than I anticipated. Beating Luigi’s Mansion alongside my son is one of those many highlights.
Revisiting the Mansion
I always wanted to complete Luigi’s Mansion but grew distracted by new video game consoles and modern games. That changed the moment my son took an interest in Halloween. He loves the holiday but he’s still too young to play games like Resident Evil and Dead by Daylight. This is where Nintendo’s comical haunted house adventure gave us the chance to indulge in some spooky fun without the nightmares.
With that in mind, I went into the crawl space beneath the house and emerged with a U.S. purple GameCube and that Player’s Choice copy of the game. My son absorbed every detail of the Luigi’s Mansion box, turning it over to view the screenshots. He did the same thing with the instruction manual, awkwardly flipping through its pages and asking questions about the different characters. I was in gamer dad heaven!
Figuring out how to play Luigi’s Mansion on an HDTV was easier than expected because I purchased a GCHD adapter from a company called EON. The device lets you connect a model DOL-001 GameCube to a TV’s HDMI port and it’s a must buy for people who want to enjoy their favorite games without tracking down an old CRT television.
The GameCube has a cute start-up screen where a purple cube drops down and forms the system’s logo to equally adorable music. I’ve heard this jingle repeatedly over the years but this time felt different with my son nearby because we were embarking upon this shared adventure.
In those initial moments, he was hooked the moment he saw the game’s title screen and watched the intro, where a noticeably terrified Luigi wanders past some scary-looking trees and stumbles upon his new home. For me, and in 2019, I no longer thought Luigi’s Mansion resembled a modern-day Pixar film. The rough edges were obvious compared to newer games, but to my son it was magical. I like to think that he saw what I did years ago.
We beat Luigi’s Mansion over the course of five unforgettable months; I played the game while he sat beside me on the couch holding an unplugged controller on his lap. During that time we strategized how to outwit the different ghosts, particularly the Portrait Ghosts, the most difficult in the game. He took an immediate liking to the spooky infant with a bad temper, Chauncey, who literally takes the fight to Luigi in his baby crib. My son also became a fan of Mr. Luggs, the gluttonous ghost who shoves food into his face and then burps fire balls.
Additionally, scattered throughout the mansion are 50 Boo ghosts to find, and tracking them down was and still is an obsession; my son always asks how many are left. That, and he wants to vacuum up every dollar bill, gold coin, and jewel in the game; when he’s not busting ghosts, Luigi tracks down money hidden throughout the mansion.
Of course, there was much discussion about the final boss, King Boo, who possesses Mario’s arch nemesis, Bowser, and unleashes dangerous moves that include breathing fire, throwing bombs, and jumping into the air and then crushing Luigi. He was by far the most difficult enemy in the game, and I probably lost this fight ten times before figuring out the trick that makes the boss beatable in minutes.
The best part was seeing King Boo sucked into Luigi’s Poltergust 3000 and then experiencing nearly 20 years’ worth of emotion, capped off with hollering and plenty of fist bumps between the two of us.
This also led to Luigi Mania in our home. Yes, we still own that old copy of the game, but also two Luigi plush dolls, a Boo plush, and the Luigi’s Mansion sequel for 3DS (Dark Moon); he even took the Luigi’s Mansion GameCube manual to school for show-and-tell.
This also means that Luigi’s Mansion 3, coming out for the Nintendo Switch on October 31, is a big deal. He’s only seen short videos of the game, but my son is already a big fan of Gooigi, Luigi’s slimey alter ego, and of being able to slam ghosts around in order to weaken them. It’s sure to be a fun time. The original Luigi’s Mansion features one house with similar looking hallways, but Luigi’s Mansion 3 takes place in a hotel where each floor has a different theme. The fact that we can enjoy the game cooperatively (one player is Luigi, while the other is Gooigi) is a huge plus.
A Million Little Things
The most amazing thing about all of this are the events big and small that fell into place in order to make finishing Luigi’s Mansion a reality. On a much grander scale, my wife and I had to meet each other at a specific time, get married, choose to become parents no matter what, for the lab technician to fertilize one egg in particular, and for that fertilized egg to take hold and ultimately become our son; there are no doubt hundreds if not thousands (millions?) of much smaller events and decisions that played significant roles in where we are today. Had one of them not occurred, there’s a chance I would not have played Luigi’s Mansion again, or become a husband and father.
That said, I’m glad it was Luigi’s Mansion. It’s still wonderful 18 years later, and I’ll always appreciate the hours spent investigating every room and busting ghosts alongside my little dude.
With that in mind, thank you, Nintendo, for making such a fantastic game, and thank you, my wife, for your sacrifice and unrivaled determination.
Up next, Luigi’s Mansion 3 with my son… and daughter.