“A woman watches her body uneasily, as though it were an unreliable ally in the battle for love”
I’ve been trying to figure out when to write about this. After all the treatments and poking and prodding is done, and the losses have been endured, and we have what we want – our healthy pregnancy, our young family taking shape inside of me. That would work best for me, really.
But after the first official test came back negative (after the 7 or 8 unofficial negative tests taken at home), and I woke up to my period, it dawned on me that this, like all other things in life, is something that I will need to cope with by imposing narrative as we go. I have no idea how long it’ll take, or where the journey will take us, but I do know, from my first taste of the aching disappointment that is par for the course (but that no one really talks about), that I will lose my mind if I don’t write this out. So here we go.
I’ll begin at the beginning. At the end of last year, just before the new one dawned, my husband and I went away for a few days to soak up some sun, grab a moment of silence after what was (yet another) loud and difficult year. And somewhere in there, we decided to have a baby. This wasn’t really a spur of the moment decision. We both want kids, we’ve talked about it since before we knew we wanted kids with each other. But somewhere in the middle of that loud year, we went from being merely broody, to actively imagining our little family, the values we want to instil in the tiniest members of that family, what we want to put out in the world through our kids, the lessons we want to impart, and how we want to do this. So, on vacation, over red wine, as we saw 2013 out, we said it out loud, so the Universe could take note and make the necessary arrangements: we’re going to have a baby.
We knew it was never going to be as straightforward as all that for us. Faithful readers (that is, my and his mother – hi moms) will remember that my husband is a quadriplegic. This means that we will need to turn to assisted reproductive technologies (ART) even though there might not be anything ‘wrong’ with us in the conventional ways. So, we were always prepared for a long haul. The first few steps were surprisingly (deceptively) quick. My husband’s semen analysis (SA – you’re gonna have to keep up, this baby-making world is chock full of acronyms) revealed above-average super sperm, just waiting to get at those eggs. An extremely arduous painful hysterosalpingogram (HSG) test – which involved a doctor threading a catheter into my uterus and pumping it full of dye – revealed not quite super, but fully functional fallopian tubes. We both had blood tests and were deemed clear of any major infectious stumbling blocks. I even turned out to be immune to German measles, something I was fully shocked to learn.
Armed with these clean, clear tests results, the road ahead seemed relatively easy. Our doctor declared us a surprisingly “boring couple”. So, with my period (which came like clockwork after a 28-day cycle – boring) we began the wait for the march towards ovulation. Which is precisely when things got decidedly less boring. The first scan was the first episode in not-boring-absolutely-worth-writing-about. Firstly, it was transvaginal. I feel like an idiot for not knowing that beforehand but there you go. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a problem, except, I am the sort of person who passes out during pap smears. I just have a ridiculously low pain threshold for anything unusual going on in that region. So by all means, let’s stick a giant wand right up to my ovaries. It hurt like hell. To top it all off we discovered during the first scan (oh yes, there were like three – fun) that 1. I have a lazy ovary – I won’t name names but it’s the right one – and 2. I have tiny little cysts collecting in my left ovary. Basically, I have a mild case of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS – you with me?). This means that my hormones are slightly out of whack, with my body producing more male hormones that it needs to. This explains several things (hello, facial hair) including my periods: for as long as I can remember, they have been intensely painful and emotionally draining affairs. A few years ago, tired of the three-week crying jags punctuated by blind rages, I went to my GP who blindly prescribed a low-dose pill. A year or so after that, I began clotting, the mood swings came back, and I went to my gynaecologist, who is, ironically, a specialist in PCOS. The irony is that, when I saw her, I had been on the pill for a year and her full battery of tests wasn’t able to pick up my PCOS because it was – technically – under control. So she sent me off with a prescription for a different pill, which I, of course, came off when we got back from our vacation, causing my symptoms to rear their ugly head once more. It was quite a shock to discover this in our doctor’s office, in the week in which I thought we’d be making our baby.
Regardless, we forged ahead. I am fortunate enough to have a mild variation of PCOS, which means that whilst I am fairly unbalanced, this does not affect my ovulation. I’ve managed to ovulate each of the three months that I’ve been off the pill, and, though it was incredibly late, I managed to do it again this time. The day before ovulation, we went off to the doctor for what we hoped would be a life changing procedure. The actual procedure itself was not traumatic. I mean, there was more fun catheterization, but it only lasted a few minutes. And because this is our first try, I am young, and am ovulating by myself, lazy ovary and PCOS notwithstanding, I wasn’t on any drugs. And because my ovaries – I mean, ovary – took it’s time with the egg production, we missed the 36-hour mark and I didn’t need to take the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) shot you would normally take 36 hours before artificial insemination to ensure that your egg would emerge at just the right moment.
What is agonizing is the wait. Those in the know call it the two-week wait. This is the period between when you’re hoping dreaming praying fertilization occurred and when your zygote implants and becomes an embryo that releases sweet, sweet hCG into your bloodstream and your pee, allowing you to see a positive test result. During this period, I was reminded of that Leonard Cohen quote: “A woman watches her body uneasily, as though it were an unreliable ally in the battle for love”. You will tensely observe any temperature changes, rejoicing at soaring temperatures, despairing at the slightest drop that indicates that maybe your period will come after all. You will hold your breath at the slightest suggestion of nausea, praying for morning sickness. You will watch closely for any bloating or distension that may be a sign of life. You will curse your boobs, which remain resolutely un-tender, un-sore. Realistically, the science says it’s impossible to feel pregnant this early. It takes anything from 7 to 12 days for a fertilized egg (called a blastocyst) to make its way down to the uterus, dividing all the while. Once there, it implants in the uterine wall, and may begin producing enough hCG to be detectable in tests. The key word here being may. In-between taking my temperature, and observing my belly, I endlessly Googled the chances that all the negative home pregnancy tests I was taking were wrong. Chances are, some pregnancy tests can tell you accurately from about day 12 whether or not you’re pregnant. But chances also exist that you have a shy baby, who produces hCG that can’t be detected in your pee, or that you have a late baby, who implants slightly later, and takes a while to start churning out that good hCG stuff. We held to these chances like life rafts. But the proof is in the blood test. And my blood offered no proof for us.
It felt silly and weak to cry as much as I did. There are women on the message boards I frequent who’ve been at this for years. Women who are not ovulating, women who’ve been disappointed time and time again, by their bodies, by surrogates, and donors. And here I was, fresh out the gate, sobbing into my husband’s chest.
Now that the new month’s blood has come, and we are shakily preparing ourselves for another try, I am clearer and kinder about my tears. I mourn the baby that wasn’t, of course. But I also mourn my body, given over as it has been to the constant watching, the poking and the prodding. I mourn the sense of physical sureness I’ve always taken for granted: I get a cold once a year and wicked allergies, but other than that, my body has always felt sure, strong, and okay, letting me live out my life mostly in my head, without giving me too much grief about what I eat, how little I exercise. And now, when I am asking of it something fundamental, something more than anything I’ve ever asked before, I feel it is letting me down. And I am letting it down. All of my watching, my waiting, my endless picking apart of every twinge, every twitch, disregards and disrespects a lifetime of good health, granted to me no matter the quality of care I took with my body. Last night, over dinner, I broke down, trying to convince my husband to commit to an in vitro (IVF) cycle if our second insemination doesn’t work. Through tears, I told him that it wasn’t about the baby, I know we will have our baby. But I’m scared of what will remain. When the dust rustled up by the procedures and the tests and the tears has settled, and I am knocked up, again pushing my body, asking of it bigger and more challenging things, what will remain of my relationship with it?