Published on March 23rd, 2017 | by Shannon Mowdy1
I YOU I
“Have you tried standing on your head?” It is a bright Sunday morning, and my future mother-in-law and I are driving to the supermarket for a meat-thermometer.
“I know it sounds crazy, but you know if…afterward…Adam helps you to—”
“Right. Yes. I’ll definitely, definitely try that, Sue,” I respond, gripping the steering wheel even tighter. “Definitely.”
The car becomes quiet again, and I try to think about how I can change the subject without sounding like I’m trying to change the subject, but all I can conjure up is the image of Adam’s upside-down face the morning he returned to the bedroom to find me with my back pressed against the wall and my feet reaching toward the ceiling, how he’d laughed and said I was being ridiculous while grabbing my ankles to support me. That same morning, Adam reminded me to test my urine using the strips I found impossible to decipher. There were supposed to be two pink lines no matter what, but one of the lines, I forget which, could be lighter than the other, or else they could both be similar in color, with one of them, maybe the one on the left, darker. (Or was it the other way around?) I sat on the edge of the toilet, perplexed and reading the directions on the ovulation kit insert for the millionth time while Adam brushed his teeth, rinsed, took the test strip from me and declared, “You’re surging.”
“Maybe – and I know this isn’t scientific or anything – but maybe you should try that old wives’ trick, where you…you know…you do it near an east-facing window,” his mother says.
“O.K.,” I say. “I guess I’ll try anything,” wondering but not willing to ask if by “do it” she means standing on my head or, well, do it.
Having given birth and having breastfed two children, I thought I had already faced every public and physical humiliation known to women. But a year and a half into trying to conceive my third and Adam’s first child, I’ve come to realize that my dignity – something I thought I’d lost finally and inexorably the day my younger son, then two, pulled my shirt completely down during an awards ceremony moments before I was expected to give a speech – was still there for the plundering.
Adam and I had decided only a month into our relationship that we wanted a big family, and our urgency to begin had as much to do with being in love as it did with the understanding that we weren’t getting any younger. There was also the ten years he’d spent in a previous marriage trying, unsuccessfully, to have a child, and the fact that for seven of those years I had been his friend, secretly and madly in love with him and wanting his babies. So really, it was a no-brainer.
We figured it would be easy, at least the conception part, considering the amount of time we already spent being enthusiastic about each other. But a year later, we still hadn’t had any luck, even though our enthusiasm had only increased. In desperation, I called my mother, a Lamaze instructor who had given birth to ten children, her last a “surprise” when she was forty-five years old. “You’re trying too hard,” she insisted. “You need to relax.” My mother had been pregnant for most of my childhood, but never had I seen her relaxed. When I pointed this out, she was silent for a moment, and I thought she might, as she always did to prove her point, start yelling at me. But instead she said, quite calmly, “I heard acupuncture works.”
After not much deliberation at all, Adam and I decided that acupuncture wasn’t for us, that we should, instead, try to conceive the old-fashioned way: in a doctor’s office with a turkey baster. His parents agreed to fund what turned out to be not one but many procedures, including several rounds of blood work and sonograms, a monetary investment in the intricacies of their son’s virility and my monthly cycle, an investment so great that I can’t help but indulge their curiosity.
The questions began after the first test, the answers to which were 144 million and my right fallopian tube. After three very long months, it was time for the first round of artificial insemination, or IUI, the least invasive and least expensive procedure the fertility center offered. “Call us when you begin to surge,” the doctor told us. “Then, no more than an hour before your appointment—” she handed Adam a sealed, plastic specimen cup, and we nodded with understanding. Then, turning to me, “You may want to—” here she pantomimed placing the cup into her shirt and between her breasts, “because of the cold weather. And it has to be a clean sample, if you know what I mean.”
Here’s the embarrassing part: Adam and I live exactly an hour’s drive from the clinic. On the day of the insemination, we negotiate the collection of the sample and the morning rush hour on the Long Island Expressway at the same time. I high-five this most above-average and exceptionally good-looking hero of my life, narrowly avoiding a collision with an eighteen-wheeler. Then Adam secures the lid on the cup and hands it to me. I put the cup into my bra, and the driver of the truck pulls up beside us, waving a middle finger.
After we arrive at the clinic, we wait to be seen by the technician who will “wash” the sperm, a mysterious procedure that that takes place in a room into which we are not invited. I imagine that washing sperm involves high-tech, NASA-type machinery, or maybe it’s more like the darkroom in my old high school photography class, with tubs of chemicals and a balding guy in a lab coat, soberly nodding at the exact moment the sperm “washing” is complete. In any case, when I pull the cup from my shirt and hand it to the technician, she looks at me, confused, then tells us to come back in an hour.
We drink decaf tea at a nearby diner, and exactly sixty minutes later, I am in stirrups with the doctor inserting a catheter while the technician tells us the good news. “Nineteen million of your best,” she says. “And three good eggs. Excellent chances.” Cheesy, new-aged, piped-in country music plays quietly from the fluorescent-lighted speakers in the ceiling as the doctor pushes the plunger of the syringe and the catheter fills. Adam squeezes my hand. “Just you, me, a couple of strangers and Billy Ray Cyrus. Darling,” he asks, “is this everything you imagined it would be?”
A couple of months later, I sit in the clinic after yet another blood test, waiting to receive my prescription for the pills that would make me produce even more eggs than I had been, a medication that left me feeling like I was carrying around bowling balls in my uterus. I was waiting, also, to see another doctor, this one a man who liked to make baseball analogies, who would tell me that “every game has nine innings,” who would never say, though it was more accurate, “three strikes and you’re out.”
The first IUI was unsuccessful. So was the second. But Dr. S. remained optimistic for the last of the recommended rounds. “You’re on my to-do list,” he said. Then he clapped his hands together and wrote something down on my chart.
“Thank you,” I said, deciding right then and there that this man could use even the worst pick up lines and still I’d swoon. His to do list. Yes, Dr. S., I thought, smiling like a fiend. I like my eggs fertilized.
I looked around at the corners of his office. Dr. S had a lot of sports memorabilia, some of it signed by famous athletes. There was also a photograph of Dr. S. sitting on a carpet somewhere, surrounded by five or six babies. The babies are fat and healthy looking. Most of them stare off camera, probably at their mothers who stand by waving favorite toys frantically and wearing exaggerated smiles.
Then Dr. S. looked up from the chart with the same expression he wears in the photograph: Straight white teeth in a tan, well aged face. Perfectly coifed hair. Knowing eyes.
“Let’s make some babies,” he said.
I was sent back into the waiting room. There were three other women there, all of us avoiding each others’ eyes, each of us seated as far away as possible from one another. I wondered if Dr. S. had told them that they were on his to do list too, if it was something he said to every desperate woman who walked into the clinic. The TV mounted on the wall above our heads showed the local news station. Someone in another county had won the lottery.
Suddenly, a voice, shrill and excited and full of disbelief, rang out through the corridor and into our silent observance. “Thank you! Oh my God! Thank you!” The voice said, and then, moments later, a woman emerged, with her husband holding her coat and handbag, trailing behind her. She walked into the waiting area, proclaimed herself too excited to sit, and walked back out into the vestibule.
Automatically, the women in the room began to look at each other. One of them, sitting across from me, was dressed like she was stopping in on her way to work in an office somewhere. She carried an expensive purse and seemed to be much older than the rest of us. Then her eyes met mine “How nice,” she said, and I agreed, secretly, silently, hoping it was triplets.
The next morning I take two of the pills and some vitamins. I wash them down with orange juice diluted in water. Then I eat a bowl of whole grain cereal. The box the cereal comes in has a picture of two women hugging each other. They look deliriously happy. And it tastes horrible. But it has a lot of fiber, so I choke it down. Babies like Horrible Crunch, diluted orange juice, and vitamins. They hate bourbon, raw oysters, and stress.
I calmly put the cereal away. I serenely place the milk in the fridge. I peacefully check my fertility calendar. A little flower marks the day. In less than two weeks, I’ll be in the clinic again. Twelve days.
In the meantime, I will be good. I will go to bed early. I will cook and read and call my mother. I will remember to pack youngest son’s lunch and laugh at his jokes. I will ask my older son how school was – how it really was, and I’ll mean it. I will have some fun. I will wake each morning with the person I am meant to be with, and I’ll be grateful, each minute of my life, which is full, happy, wonderful.