Published on April 30th, 2016 | by A. V. Klotz9
YOUR UTERUS HAS ITS OWN IMMUNE SYSTEM: A. V. Klotz on How She (Finally) Got Pregnant
You feel the blood before you see it, and by the third time, you know before you know. As if you never really allow yourself to hope, so when you take down your panties when you get to a bathroom, you are not surprised because you knew. The first time there was a gush of bright red, a hemorrhage—such an old-fashioned word to accompany an equally antique word, miscarriage.
Yes, a miscarriage of justice, you think. That’s what this is. Everybody else seems to be able to have a baby, just not you. There is no justice. You walk in the mall in North Central Pennsylvania in the summertime and it seems that every adolescent girl is swimming, big-bellied, pony tail dancing, holding the hand of an acned adolescent boy, smiling. “I’m a member of this club,” she smirks, “but you aren’t.” Another club not to be invited into. You, with your beloved husband, lovely Manhattan apartment, good job, degrees from a fancy college—you aren’t allowed in. STAY OUT. NO TRESPASSING.
Finally, finally, the stick turns blue—you’re pregnant. You thought it could never happen, but what happens next is what you should have wished harder to prevent. That first time, Memorial Day weekend, you are back in Pennsylvania, so excited after two years of trying and so relieved that you are finally fourteen weeks along. You have just told everyone. Much jubilation. You relish your tender breasts, the way your body feels like a shelter for this tiny unborn creature. And then it isn’t. No warning on this one, just blood. Your calm doctor in New York says you need to go to the hospital, which is forty minutes away. You remember little. But waking, from the D & C for which they put you out, you see your husband by the side of the bed, and as he leans towards you, you see dirt gathered in the cuff of his overalls–from the garden—cosmos, snapdragons, petunias, zinnias—you had been planting earlier—spill to the floor. Like hope.
After the third go-round of hope and loss, called “Spontaneous Abortion”—another vile term—and “We’re sorry, but we can’t find the heartbeat,” you go to New Haven to see Alan, your sister’s husband’s cousin, revered expert in the art of helping those who can’t have babies on their own to succeed.
“The good news is that you can get pregnant. The bad news is that you don’t stay pregnant.” He is funny, irreverent, impossibly kind in scrubs and clogs. Blood work. “Rat veins,” the nurse at the lab pronounces. “Teeny-weeny.” You feel guilty for having such small veins. Shots, each night, given by Seth into your hip—some days, you imagine you can still feel the site of the injection a quarter of a century later. “We’re fixing the plane while we fly it,” Alan announces matter-of-factly. “You know your body better than anyone else.”
During a sonogram at Yale-New Haven, you know something is not right. The technician won’t look at you. Finally, “I hope you didn’t go to a lot of trouble to get pregnant; there’s no heart beat.”
You are Vesuvius: “How dare you say such a thing to someone being treated here—in the department of reproductive endocrinology.” Your friend calms you, impressed by your uncharacteristic fury.
Next, Pergonal. Your husband drops an ampule—hugely expensive. Your pharmacists replace it at no cost. Everyone is rooting for you. Your ovaries feel like grapefruit. No pregnancy. Alan moves to Boston, now collaborating with a New York colleague in your care. This man, Dr. G, is kind and brilliant. By now, you know the infertility scene. There’s a waiting list for three years just to see him. You waltz in one afternoon when Alan tells you to go. He is dreamy looking—Sam Waterson but taller. After the fifth miscarriage, he says, doing a much less dramatic D & C in his office, “I’m so sorry. This shouldn’t have happened.” You cry on the table.
Alan finds an experimental trial for you. He and Dr. G have presented your case at a conference. “It’s very new, sort of crazy. Your uterus has its own immune system. It doesn’t recognize your husband’s cells, so that’s why you’re losing the pregnancies” (Never babies, always pregnancies).
“So, if you get accepted, this researcher will vaccinate you with your husband’s white blood cells, sort of like injecting you with rat venom, but why not try it? They thought the polio vaccine was crazy at the beginning,” he explains. “We’ve tried everything else.” You have. This is a last ditch effort, but you both are game. In Boston, Alan’s optimism opens another aperture of possibility. He has fired his receptionist when she was mean to you after miscarriage four.
“People come to me only after they’ve suffered a lot. Whoever answers the phone needs to get that, needs to know they’re not calling to chat; they’re calling for miracles.”
By now, your sister and your brother-in-law have divorced, but Alan dismisses it with a hasty, “Too bad about your sister and my cousin. Things happen.” There is no decrease in the level of his commitment to helping you have a baby.
You love him.
Tubes of blood must be overnighted to Philadelphia—this is the early ’90s. AIDS panic infects the city. Your intrepid husband talks to the FedEX managers about the protocol for sending blood. No one wants to do it—everyone is reluctant, tense, but he insists, quoting the protocol document the FEDEx manager with whom he consulted has written for him. The blood must be sent—his and mine—nine tubes. Off it goes, finally, from E. 86th St. to a lab at Jefferson Hospital (where you were born—a good omen, you pray).
You are accepted. Jubilation. Fragile, delicate, excruciating hope. By now, you are well into adopting a baby, too. You have begun to lose hope about this having of a baby, but you want so much to be a mom. Adoption has its own dramas. For starters, you have a one-bedroom apartment and you intend to keep working and you and your husband are different religions, but you make a lovely resume to send to obstetricians and ministers and birth mothers and you run personal ads in pennysaver newspapers…and you hope.
“Why not?” Alan says, beneficent in granting his approval. “You want to be parents. Go for it, but when you get pregnant again, you have to get on a train and go to Philadelphia immediately,” he explains.
You do. You get on the train. At the clinic, they take Seth’s blood. You wait. The magazines are old. Later, you tell your Mom, and she sends new subscriptions to the lab. They give you a shot. They send you home.
When you stay pregnant, you do not quite believe it. Your HCG levels stay high enough. Your husband injects you with progesterone, every evening, in your hip for sixteen weeks. You call him Claus—as in Von Bulow. Eight weeks. Twelve. Fourteen. All the other anniversaries of loss. But not this time. “You are going to have this baby,” Dr. G smiles. You rest your hands, proud, disbelieving on the bump that is your baby. You hear a real heartbeat on a Doppler; you see the real shape of a baby, not a lima bean, on the sonogram. You are full of wonder. Nine months later, you carry baby Miranda up the four flights of stairs to your apartment. A massage therapist once told you that you were not losing separate babies; rather, this one baby was determined to get to you. You hold this baby close, so glad she has finally made it to your arms.
Now, more than 20 years later, with Miranda, Cordelia and Atticus (the after-thought, but a whole different story), you look like an earth mother. It didn’t come naturally, but you have friends, now, who never knew about that long, sad chapter, who just assumed your babies had shown up on schedule like so many babies seem to do.