Somewhere along the way, it dawned on me that there will be absolutely no zen-ning this out. All of the wisdom, all of the stuff I’m reading, all the message boards I’m on, all the conversations with our doctors – I mean every thing – tells us to just relax. Rome wasn’t built in a day; babies can’t be made when you’re stressed. Except, I ask you, what can possibly be more stressful than this has been? Sometimes, when I let my pitifully thin veneer of cool-calm-collected slip, and I am fully in touch with how monumental the stakes are every single time we go to the doctor now (or every single time my body twinges or sneezes or coughs), how high the highs may be, how low the lows have been and will be, I am overcome with the sheer terror and stress of it all. Relax? Respectfully, is everyone fucking kidding me?
Yesterday afternoon, as I was working very hard during my fifth acupuncture session to just relax, I realized that this antithetic pressure to relax, be calm during a process that is inherently stressful is one of the many myths that make this incredibly taxing journey even harder and longer that it already is. And like many of those other myths, this is one that expects the near impossible of people – of women, mostly, as it is our bodies that are under observation and that require intervention –who are already going through near impossible things. It also tells women that the thing you want most and are trying so hard for cannot happen until you just calm down: therefore when it doesn’t happen, it’s your fault! So, nope: I’m not buying all that ‘just relax, and it’ll happen’ stuff.
All incredulity and barely contained resentment aside, one of the only ways I can feel better, calmer and less stressed in this process is by busting those alienating myths one lived day of this experience at a time. The first myth I busted was the myth that my husband and I are statistical anomalies. I had always assumed that most people got pregnant the regular way and that assisted reproductive technology is – as it is framed – an intervention designed for those rare people for whom regular will not cut it. Whilst this is true, it has not been my experience that this is always the case. After I published my first piece on this process, I got a series of truly moving responses from women I’ve known for years – some good friends, others acquaintances – going through variations of the same things. And although I was initially hesitant about putting the story out there, and am not especially interested in some of the pitying, mildly condescending responses I’ve received, I am glad that it opened up this other reality, this reality where we’re less alone than I’d imagined. Trying to make a baby in this way can give you a distorted sense of your own pathology: because it involves constant doctor’s visits, lots of medication, endless watching and scanning and testing, it’s easy to start to feel like you’re sick, and like your experience is somehow outside what is considered the norm. Hearing from women who are going through it, and those who’ve been through it and are on the other side – children or not – with their souls intact helps me feel I am not sick or diseased. Our story is not ours alone, and we are not all that rare after all. We are one couple out of many who are searching in the same way we are, and we are all treading well-worn paths, regardless of what the stats claim.
When we first started this process, I downloaded two ‘period tracking’ apps. These are apps on your phone into which you enter various data, including the dates of your periods, your basal body temperature, your PMS symptoms, and so on, and they help you understand the ebbs and flows of your monthly cycles. I was a skeptic initially. Firstly, there’s only so much tracking of all these things a person can do before the obsessiveness kicks in and it becomes more of a hindrance than a help. Secondly, I realize that at least one of the apps I use was invented by a man, and for all of their talk about how they genuinely want to help women understand their bodies, they are running a business and that brings with it all the usual bluster. I’m five months into my digital tracking and I’m almost a believer. I maintain a healthy amount of skepticism, but I also maintain that I’ve learnt more about my body in five months of using these apps than I have in seven years of gynaecologists’ and doctors’ visits. And I’ve learnt about just how much I didn’t know, and was leaving up to the medical establishment. Look, I’m not anti-medicine. In fact, our reproductive specialist is one of the kindest, most wonderful doctors and I am already eternally grateful for the quality of care we’re receiving. But there is something to be said about how empowering it is to understand my body, and listen to it beyond the usual check for good health and signs of life. As my doctor told me, no one knows my body better than me. And so, with the help of these tracking apps, I’ve let go of the myth of medicine as the final word on my body.
During the third or fourth acupuncture session (I hear it – I get many of my epiphanies this way so there is definitely something to this acupuncture business) I forced myself to breath evenly and instead of trying to eliminate all thoughts from my mind, focus my thoughts on the reason I was there in the first place. I lay there breathing deeply, imagining the beginning of our child’s life, the first cries and the late nights. I imagined first school days, graduations, more anxious late nights, driving lessons, weddings, and grandchildren. The world of life that awaits this kid and that this kid will bring into our lives. I tried to take my mind off the sperm and the egg and the blastocyst-zygote-embryo and whatever journey it will take to get to that world. Trying to get pregnant has a way of turning the focus inward to the planned pregnancy and removing focus from the ends that the pregnancy serves. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still committed to conceiving and carrying our child. But we are more committed to the child than we are to the how of the child comes into our lives. It’s a long journey, I think, from this realization to making the decision to adopt. But it does loosen the vice grip that is this focus on my body and what it can and cannot do.
So, I am trying to relax after all. But not by breathing deeply, and yoga-ing my muscles to oblivion. I’m doing it by ignoring all the impositions on this very corporeal, personal-political process. Which has ultimately taught me far more than all the ‘relax, it’ll happen’ wisdom in the world ever will.