In high school you are told getting felt-up in a movie theater will get you pregnant. When you’re 33, getting felt-up in a movie theater is a distant memory and getting pregnant can take a lot more effort. Noah and I started officially “trying” in January 2011. It was then that we learned:
- Having sex a ZILLION times may NOT make a baby.
- MANY people are LYING when they say they got pregnant on the first try.
- You have ZERO control over the situation.
In the beginning of our journey I was open about it, joking with co-workers about doing it all the time. But as each month went by with the same result—no result-- I became more reserved, more embarrassed and essentially more alone.
By April we started calculating my ovulation cycles online and using ovulation test strips. We had been doing it EVERY DAY so we thought the chances of it all working HAD to be like, 99%, even though I know chances in healthy couples are only about 25% each month.
Pregnancy was on my mind all the time. I stopped drinking coffee, eating sushi, and candy with artificial coloring. I started taking foul smelling vitamins and eating more foods with omega-3. I was hyper-conscious of everything I consumed; it’s hard not to be consumed with this when you are consumed by what you consume because you think that one bite of un-pasteurized cheese may result in a baby with one eye and two penises, or worse, a miscarriage. (I’m not totally sure if a two-penis Cyclops is actually better than a miscarriage).
I am a practicing psychotherapist who knows you should never become obsessed. Having said that, I became obsessed.
But obsession would have no bearing on when that magical seed would finally wed its hopeful egg. (It’s like pushing the elevator button repeatedly in the hopes that the car will come sooner.) In fact, I read that stress may actually prevent pregnancy. Maybe it’s the womb’s way of protecting an unborn life from having to marinate in cortisol and listen to the external vibrations of an anxious woman keeping her husband up at night, asking questions like, “What if it has two penises?” The hardest part of all of this is relaxing and letting go. Trying to excite your spouse while wearing striped pajama bottoms and a ratty T-shirt runs a close second.
It’s all so disappointing. When you get your period you have no choice but to get through the week the same way you have since you were twelve, minus the gigantic pads, and get back on the horse (and by horse I mean husband). I started doing more “research” and collected all kinds of information. I read about positions to try, products to insert into your vagina to “help semen pool against the cervix after ejaculation” (ew!) and special lubricant to help the “swimmers” glide to their final destination. I found products that test your pee, your spit and your temperature and learned that for $249 you can buy a fertility monitor that looks like an iPod, and will track your most fertile days. I had no idea this was such an industry! There are all kinds of fertility teas, supplements, and dream catchers that come with free shipping and a “packet of good luck baby dust.” Noah and I both had all these expectations initially, and just assumed things would work as we wanted. Want. Hope. Plan.
By May, Noah had completely dumped all soy products, switched to loose fitting boxers, and evicted his cell phone from its cozy pocket-home. These suggestions were all recommendations to keep his sperm “robust.” Meanwhile, I was on a strict diet of trying to “chill-the-hell-out.” I started to feel really defective and depressed. All my creative efforts were focused on how to keep sperm in my vagina at exactly the right moment in time and space.
The next month, as I was lying in bed thinking of what body parts I wanted Junior Mint to inherit (his father’s nose, his mother’s feet), we got the text that little Butterbean was born to our neighbor. I was overjoyed with happiness for them but also sad. I remembered the day she had told me she was pregnant and had said, “You guys should get pregnant too so we could have babies together!” I had no idea her baby would be born while my baby was still a figment of my imagination.
All the babies being born at our condo made the situation worse. More people have babies than front door mats. I thought drinking the water around here would be enough to knock me up, but I guess not. Being surrounded by babies and being constantly asked when we were going to have a baby wasn’t helping. When did it become okay for strangers or the guy who lives on the third floor to ask about my sex life and fertility? When asked about when we were going to have a baby, I said we liked our life the way it was, and in doing so, I suddenly understood why people lie about this stuff. It was somehow shameful. Like there was something wrong with us. Like my husband’s virility and my womanhood were in question.
By June I started seriously wondering if something was wrong. I worried if Noah’s little soldiers were being pulled downstream towards the exit screaming, “No, not yet! We don’t want this! We like going to rock shows and movies!” Or if they were just like him-- moving slowly, cruising along my Fallopian tubes, stopping for a burger and a drink, forgetting their critical assignment. Or maybe they were indecisive, similar to me at times. “Should we go over there? I don’t know. It looks kinda dark and scary.”
The following month I assumed that for the majority of the 48 hours when I would be ovulating, Noah would be working out of town. I hear this issue of timing is especially challenging for flight attendants, astronauts and people locked in mental institutions, but it’s an issue for regular working folks too. One’s ovulation schedule doesn’t always match up with one’s work schedule.
Although it’s normal to be trying for a year, after about six months my mental health felt far from normal and I made an appointment with a gynecologist, an acupuncturist, a therapist, and my primary care physician. By Month Six the only thing I had to show for my efforts was a urinary tract infection--the peeing razors and Red Hots kind of UTI. I got through the weekend drinking cranberry juice and trying to laugh at the irony of my life. Once my pee stopped feeling like acid rain, I could almost crack a smile.
On Monday morning I went to the gynecologist. I sat on the table wearing only the paper-thin gown, open-side up, listening to the doctor tell me about all the things that could possibly be going wrong: my hormones could be off, there could be “blockage,” I may not always ovulate, there could be a thyroid problem, I might have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Noah’s sperm may be slow, my egg quality may be poor. Though I know she said it was normal that it was taking this long, all I could hear were the words “infertility write-up.”
We ended up getting a handful of the preliminary tests and everything was apparently fine. It was a relief, on one hand, but even more frustrating on the other. If everything looked fine, what was going on?
And then my period was late. I tested, but no second line.
My period was late another day. I felt like I hadn’t peed regularly in a toilet in months. The sacred morning- pee is only made in the special little cup and all over my wrist. I peed through almost all of my early pregnancy tests.
When I didn’t get it the morning of the next day either I started thinking this may be it!
But by the afternoon my body informed me otherwise. Yet again.
That night I spent some time with my upstairs neighbors holding their new baby. She cooed and snorted and fell asleep in my arms and it felt so good yet so far away. I wasn’t sad, I was happy holding this other baby and started thinking I might be okay with adopting, if it came down to that.
Noah and I stayed up and discussed it. We figured if we didn’t succeed in the small construction job in my uterus, we could forego the small construction job in our house, and use the money saved to pay for a baby. We talked about what country we would want to adopt from, and jokingly came up with culturally inappropriate names. Nevertheless, we still wanted our own.
And then I learned the acronym TTC, Trying To Conceive, and snooped on a message board full of totally crazed women.
And then two women at work announced that they were both three months pregnant.
And my therapist continued to listen to me cry and validated this biological urge to procreate.
And my acupuncturist put needles in my feet and gave me some herbs called, “warm menses.”
And we did it again when we were supposed to.
And I got my period.
And I bought a book called, “Taking Charge of Your Fertility,” by Toni Weschler, and I read about cervical mucus, and basal body temperature, and started charting and self-diagnosing. If things worked out when we started all this madness I would be giving birth sometime this month.
And then I experienced “fertility envy” when one of my closest girlfriends told me she was pregnant. The combination of bitterness, jealousy, and guilt mixed with the desire to be happy for her was overwhelming. “It just happened!” She exclaimed. I wanted to punch her in the face and I hated myself for it.
My sister is a doctor in Northern California, and she told me to stop reading garbage online, but she didn’t have any solutions for me either. She’d been listening to my complaints and my theories about what may be wrong and she simply said, “Sometimes it just takes time.”
And then I started seeing a different but more expensive acupuncture doctor. She felt my pulse and said she detected “anxiety pulse” and thought most of my problem with getting pregnant was probably in my head. NO KIDDING! Ya think? She talked about being on birth control for so long and how stress is a key factor and said she sees so much more infertility cases now because women are trying to get pregnant much later in their life. Then she said, “Your body is good. Your head, not so good. Too busy. When you have extra time, stop folding pants. Listen to music. Talk out loud—talk to God. Relax.” Talk to God and stop folding my pants. This is what’s going to get me pregnant.
We’d been trying for eleven months when Noah had to go to South Africa for work. I knew if I got my period before he left we’d officially be labeled “infertile” by definition of trying to conceive for a year with no luck. For women over 35, that “diagnosis” comes after only six months.
According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2002, 2.1 million married women between ages 15-44 were labeled infertile. In 2011 that number was 6.1 million. The reason for this increase may be emotional, psychological, biological, environmental—or all of the above.
On the day Noah was set to leave for his trip, I got my period a few days early. The feeling of heartbreak and disappointment continued to be unbearable and being hopeful started to feel humiliating and pathetic.
My hormones were fine. Noah’s swimmers were fine. So what’s wrong? Everyone kept telling me to “relax,” but how?
I called my parents, crying hysterically again. My mom echoed the acupuncturist while my dad made some strange analogy about beetles in his pine trees out back.
“Why do our pine trees have beetles but the neighbor’s pines just next door don’t? That’s nature. Can’t explain it but it’s going to cost me a fortune.” Sure, Dad. That’s nature. But all the logic in the world doesn’t help. The only thing that makes it feel better is to cry it out, and by Month Eleven, even that was getting old.
On Month Twelve, Noah witnessed his first pelvic exam. We went to see a new OBGYN to “discuss our options.” Our first option was a drug called Clomid, which does something to stimulate ovulation. The doctor showed us his little pictures of ovaries and the yellow spongy popcorn flower corpus luteum the ovary becomes and we sat there confused until he told me to put on a paper gown so he could do a pelvic exam. Confusion led way to horror when I realized Noah was about to watch this guy stick his hand up my privates.
A nurse came in and there we were, listening to the doctor identify that I did indeed have a uterus and tubes in the right place. Noah was squished into the corner of the room as if he were trying to will himself to magically disappear. Clomid treatments would be $500 and the office would call to find out how much my insurance covers. Happy holidays.
That was it. There we were.
And we went off to our happy holiday in Barcelona.
The day before we left for our trip, two things happened. One, I got a pretty bad head cold and two, I realized that I would most likely be ovulating on our 11 hour flight and during our 4 hour layover in Paris. Flash-forward to that layover where I was red in the face and sneezing my way around the Charles De Gaulle airport, looking for a single stall bathroom suitable for copulation.
“I found a handicap bathroom we could do it in,” I wheezed.
Noah took a good look at me and just said, “I can’t.”
I thought about how hard I’ve been pushing all this and how I felt about taking medication to up my egg ante. I couldn’t believe this is how we’ve spent the last year. We were both exhausted.
But how do you stop thinking about making a baby when you can’t? How do you make sense of the fact that 85% of healthy couples conceive within a year and somehow for some reason you are in the 15% of others?
When we got back from a deliciously gluttonous two-week trip, I came down with the most horrendous stomach bug—a parasite called Cryptosporidium. I was cramping and having hot flashes and spent most of my day in the bathroom. I went to work because I had used up all my vacation days, and at night I cried and sat on the toilet. Before I realized this affliction was parasitic, one of my co-workers, who had recently had a baby, suggested that maybe I was pregnant.
Wait! This is how you feel when you’re pregnant? Nine months of that could literally kill one or both of us!
My illness just kept getting worse so by Thursday I went to the doctor who told me he needed a stool sample. I was sent home with a plastic container the doctor affectionately referred to as “The Hat,” and three little containers I was to scoop my poop into using a tiny flat spoon the size of my pinky nail. At 1:00 am, my opportunity arose. I ran to the bathroom, got “The Hat,” and proceeded to have the most traumatic and disgusting twenty minutes of my life.
Noah woke up to the sounds of my gagging and crying and came to the door and said, “Alright, just come out. I’ll do it.”
Then I cried harder and felt so in love with him and disgusted by myself that the two conflicting emotions just caused me to sweat and throw up.
“Noooo!!! Don’t come in here!”
“If you’re going to be a mom, then you’re going to have to be okay with some of these gross things,” he said.
In that moment I suddenly knew everything was going to be okay. I knew that one day I would be a mom and he would be a great dad with good instincts and good caretaking abilities. He would be there to figure out what to do in the hard times and he would step in to scoop poop.
Neither one of us would be ready for much of what might lie ahead. Being flexible and patient were two things that I was going to have to practice from the get-go--with myself, with my body, with Junior Mint. I got my period four days late and for the first time in months I didn’t cry about it. It’s just not our time yet.