January 1977 – December 2006
It took us twenty months to get pregnant. Twenty months of cycling from devastated to excited to cautiously optimistic to anxious to devastated again. Twenty months of sex that went from passionate, to meticulous, to clinical, to meaningless and back to passionate again. Twenty months that involved four rounds of Clomid, two IUIs, and one lucky round of In Vitro.
It was shockingly, painfully, self-image-shatteringly not what I had expected. Having kids has always been the only thing I was ever sure about. I’ve wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember, with a clarity that has never wavered. And it wasn’t just being a mom: I wanted to be pregnant and give birth to the baby. Know my childhood, and you’ll understand why.
When I was two, my brother was born at home, very early on a cold January morning. My mother, outraged at how she’d been treated at the hospital during my birth, had immediately embarked on a new career as a Lamaze teacher, and as soon as she got pregnant again, she found a midwife willing to do a slightly illegal home birth.
Waking up to my newborn brother’s cries was my introduction to a childhood full of birth and babies. Every month, the hospital would show a “Miracle of Birth” movie, and the local Lamaze teachers took turns running the projector and taking questions afterwards. I loved going to the showings, and watching the video, which in retrospect should have been terrifying to a young child — lots of screaming, crying, and graphic shots of baby heads coming out of vaginas.
But I was used to it. My mom’s Lamaze stuff littered the trunk of our car. There was a skeletal pelvis in there, and a Raggedy Ann doll connected to a terry cloth placenta that could be delivered from a Quaker oat canister covered with a piece of stretchy fabric with a slit cut in it. My mom once learned how to knit solely in order to make a fuzzy wool uterus.
My Barbie dolls used to have sex with a Ken paper doll (strangely, I never had an actual Ken doll), and then wind up pregnant. I had a baggy dress I’d put on them, and a tiny plastic baby doll I kept around for this purpose. After a few minutes of Barbie wandering around with the plastic baby in her dress, I’d call in the imaginary midwife and deliver the baby right there in the dream house, using careful Lamaze breathing.
Every few months, one of my mom’s classes would have a reunion. An entire party full of two and three month old babies. I loved it. I wandered the rooms looking for trusting parents who would let me hold their little kids. By the time I was eleven, I was a seasoned babysitter.
So it was never even a question about whether I wanted to have kids. It was the clearest thing in the world. I was just waiting for the right moment. In college, when my romantic prospects looked bleak, I decided that if I hadn’t found someone by the time I was 30, I’d find a sperm donor and just become a single mom.
After Sandy and I had been dating for a year, we had a big philosophical conversation about our hypothetical family. He said he’d always thought he’d adopt, that there were so many children who needed homes. And while I agreed with him totally in principal, I tried to explain that my whole life, lived in and out of Lamaze classes, was a dress rehearsal for the pregnancy and birth I knew I needed to experience. A life-cycle event. Something I couldn’t just walk away from.
It never occurred to me that it wouldn’t be easy.
Infertility snuck up on us, punched us in the stomach, and robbed us emotionally and spiritually blind. It turned getting pregnant from something that was so not a big deal — a natural next step in my life, something I was born to do –- into an enormous high-stakes battle. It took something full of joy and excitement and made it scary and depressing. I cried a lot. I blamed myself.
Over the course of the first year, I rarely wrote anything about what was happening. I was constantly certain that my pregnant life, my real life, was about to start, and I was holding out to write about that.
Then a year passed. I started writing. A lot. Over the next few months, as we get closer to the birth date, I’m going to share some pieces of that twenty-month experience. Sandy and I don’t mind talking about this, and we hope that if you or someone you know is going through something similar, and just need to know that someone else is out there, or you want to know what IVF is really like, then we can That Couple, as in “I totally know this couple who had so much trouble getting pregnant and did IVF and it worked!” It helped me, when we were struggling, to find other stories out there. I didn’t always actually want to talk to them because their success sometimes made my failure jump into sharper relief, but even so, it helped to know they were there.
[Next: Part II]