Published on September 20th, 2023 | by Christina Yovovich0
Breathing Through (Part I)
I purchased the fertility monitor in December of 2010, eight years after Eric and I married, eight years after my psychosis and time in the psych ward, and eight years after the miscarriage. It fit in my hand, an egg-shaped computer which required me to pee on a stick, then insert that stick into its shell each morning. It became a defining feature of my life. Waking up, stumbling to the bathroom, unwrapping a long thin stick, peeing on the stick, trying not to get anything on my hands, (it always got on my hands,) inserting the pee-covered stick into the egg-shaped computer, and waiting. Waiting until it told me I was having a low fertility day. Every day was a “low fertility day.” In theory, the loathed egg computer could tell me it was a high fertility day, or even a peak fertility day. A peak day, the instruction manual showed me, would come with a little picture of an egg on the screen—ovulating. I grew to hate that smug egg which consumed my pee and repeated itself.
After three months, I visited my gynecologist. I told her I wasn’t ovulating. I didn’t tell her how angry that made me, how every morning the rage came out a little hotter, a little wetter. She nodded as if this was news she was expecting, which made me hate her white egg-shaped face. She wrote out a prescription for Clomid, a drug she said would help me to ovulate. I took the small piece of paper, promised to come back in two months if I hadn’t conceived.
It was a surprise we were trying to conceive at all. After my miscarriage, I decided I was too unstable to have a baby, that the medication I took for my bipolar would poison any child growing inside myself. Instead, we settled into a child-free life. I attended an MFA program, taught undergrads, and wrote poetry and essays. Eric went to work at the labs and wrote code to imitate the behaviors of electrical circuits. After my MFA program, I kept teaching and writing, and took up exercise and weight loss as an occupation. I lost 100 pounds and we spent our weekends cycling around the city or swimming laps in the pool.
The change began in my psychiatrist’s office. He was an odd duck. He sat sideways in his easy chair. He’d lean against one arm, drape his legs over the other arm, his white ankles flashing, and as we talked he’d swing his feet back and forth, the soles of his Birkenstocks greeting me over and over. “Do you ever have deja vu in your dreams?” he’d ask me in our monthly appointments. I always answered no, but after a couple repetitions of the question I had to restrain the urge to say “No, but I’m having deja vu right now.” He also was bothered by my weight, and he prescribed me a new medication which he said would both help my bipolar and help me lose weight. I took it for a month, and then returned to his office where he flipped his feet back and forth and said he’d expected more weight loss. He decided to raise my dosage. He warned me, I remember this now, that I might feel a little “stupid” on the higher dose. I took the new prescription, filled it, and started taking it.
And all hell broke loose. I didn’t just feel a little stupid, I felt completely altered. Altered in a way I recognized from psychotic episodes in my 20s, which had landed me in locked psychiatric wards. Light hummed. The edges of my vision quaked. My thoughts seemed simultaneously stuck in the muck of my brain and yet racing so fast I couldn’t track them. One night I attended my MFA writing workshop, trying my best to seem normal as the light sang to me over my classmate’s speech, and then reeled across campus until I reached the light post where Eric and I had agreed to meet. I collapsed against the singing post, and passed out. Eric found me there, drove me home. The logical thing to do would have been to call my new doctor, but it was true, the higher dosage of the medication made me stupid. So stupid I forgot about his warning, forgot I was on a higher dose of the new med, forgot calling him was even an option. I was in the altered state for a couple weeks, struggling to stay sane enough to teach my undergrads and attend my graduate classes. Eventually Eric figured out he should call my new doctor, who told him to have me stop taking the new medication. I did, and got a bit better, but the thought of seeing that doctor again sent me into a panic.
Under a new doctor’s care, gradually, I became stable. She was different than any doctor I’d had before. She wanted to see me every two weeks at first and she met with me for an hour. She prescribed pills, but she also listened to me, was a therapist. (That I was able to afford her every two weeks was because of Eric’s job. Writing code is more lucrative than writing poetry.) An older Asian woman with a calm and assured air about her, she was a good listener, and she gave good advice. I felt safe in her office, and heard. And she sat the normal way in her chair, and never once asked me about deja vu. I saw her every two weeks until I was stable enough to move to every three weeks, and then every month. I still see her every month.
In 2010 I had been seeing her for several years. During one of our sessions, she leaned back in her chair, and commented on how stable I had been on my medication. Then she said, “I’ve been reading, and I believe a healthy pregnancy would be possible while taking your medication.” Her voice stayed level, even as she delivered this enormous news. “I don’t want to push you in any direction,” she told me. I sat on her sofa, a pillow on my lap. “But I wanted you to know that if you wanted to, I believe you are stable enough to consider having a child.” I don’t remember what I said back. I probably asked a clarifying question or two. I’d always assumed a pregnancy would be impossible while on my medication, had assumed my miscarriage in 2002 was because of the medication. But I didn’t cry, or laugh with joy. I thanked her for the information, then moved on. I probably talked about my workout routine. I was toying with the idea of a triathlon. She would have listened to me talk, her fingers going tap tap tap on the keyboard of the laptop she always had in her lap.
That night, over dinner with Eric, I brought it up abruptly, as if it was no big deal. “I saw my doctor today,” I told Eric. “She said if we wanted, it would be possible for me to get pregnant while taking my medication.”
He froze, just for a moment, and then answered in a similar nonchalant tone. “Oh, really?” he said. “That might be interesting.”
I know Eric, how to read his casual fronts. I knew what that moment of silence meant, and what “that might be interesting” meant. It meant he really wanted a child. For the first time, I allowed myself to see things from his perspective. In all our years of being without a child, I knew he loved me. I knew he knew that part of the deal of loving me was not having any kids. I didn’t let myself think about it beyond that. But now I thought about it, thought about how much he must want a child. I remembered my own devastation after the miscarriage, and the way he crumpled over when I told him I’d lost the baby. And I thought, maybe, I might be willing to give this baby a try. I wasn’t sure that I wanted my whole life to change. I wasn’t sure, but Eric was the rock who kept me steady when my mind was wobbling. I wanted to give him this thing.
I don’t remember telling Eric that I was willing to try. He thinks I brought it up casually. Mostly he remembers that he was trying hard not to push, not to get too excited, not to get carried away.
I was the one who did all the work upfront. I went to my gynecologist and told her I was thinking of getting pregnant. She was a brusque older white woman with an accent I couldn’t place, and she let me know I was pretty old for this pregnancy thing already at thirty-five. She told me to go in for a mammogram and for an ultrasound of my uterus, which startled me, and she told me to start tracking my cycles. I complied and went in for a mammogram and ultrasound. I updated Eric about all these appointments, but didn’t ask him to come with. Then I bought that damn fertility monitor and acquired a new nemesis and eventually a new prescription.
Eric said, “Having a child is something I’ve always wanted to do. When we decided it was impossible, I accepted that, but it was a sadness for me.” And that was enough. That kept me peeing on sticks, and getting my various parts squeezed and palpated and now, apparently, it was going to be enough to get me to take yet another new drug.
I took the Clomid for a few days at the beginning of my cycle. I discovered that whatever the hell is in Clomid made me mad enough to eat rocks. It was a pure, chemical anger unlike anything I’d experienced before. I walked around for those few days burning with fury at nothing in particular. Or maybe I should say, burning with fury at everything. Screw Eric and the way he guzzled coffee in the morning. Fuck that roadrunner in the front yard. Go to hell, student who wanted an extension. All that anger squeezed an egg out of me. I peed on a stick one morning, stuck it in the loathsome computer and it told me it was a “high fertility day.” The next morning, the wretched thing showed me a round egg on its screen, I had achieved a “peak fertility day.” The Clomid had worked. I walked around all day feeling that little egg floating through my fallopian tubes. A possibility. A possibility where for months, years, there had been none. I felt a spark of something then, something I wasn’t ready to define.
Eric and I tried to get pregnant for two months, with the help of the Clomid and my egg-producing rage. But it didn’t work. My blood came at the end of each month, ending the hope for a baby, and I was a little surprised by the sorrow I felt. I wasn’t sure if I wanted a baby, but it seemed I was sure that I didn’t want to not have a baby. I went back to my brusque doctor, and she nodded again like she’d been expecting all this, and she referred me to a fertility specialist.
It seemed to me that time was moving very quickly. One moment we had agreed to try to become pregnant. The next, we found ourselves on an elevator in a hospital which whirred along on the way down to a fertility clinic. Weren’t there supposed to be years of trying first, before we presented ourselves to a specialist? But apparently at thirty-six years old (I’d had a birthday) I didn’t have years to try.
The fertility specialist had white hair, a gut of authority, and sat behind a big wooden desk. He explained to us about IUI, intrauterine insemination, how the clinic would inject Eric’s sperm into my uterus after a Clomid-pumped ovulation cycle. Eric had been looking through a pamphlet while the doctor talked. “Let’s wait a month,” he said when the doctor stepped out. “I’d like to try this schedule listed here before we come here for a procedure.”
When the specialist came in, we told him our plan to try on our own, with Clomid, for one more month. I could feel him suppressing an eye’s roll as he said, “Call us the next month. We’ll get you scheduled for the IUI when you ovulate.” He didn’t say anything about what to do if I became pregnant and I didn’t ask. We both knew I wasn’t going to get pregnant trying on our own.
Another round of Clomid. Another few days spent in the flush of pure chemical anger. Fuck babies. It was all I could do not to crush my egg-shaped computer with my foot on those mornings. But instead I dutifully and resentfully peed on my stick every day. Again, it eventually told me I was at peak fertility. And Eric and I followed the timed intercourse schedule from the pamphlet, laughing together about the whole thing. After our carefully scheduled sex, I propped my hips up on a couple pillows, and we chatted. I think I even let myself daydream a little about what it would be like to have a baby, just for those moments when we were alone together on our large bed.
A couple more weeks passed. And then one morning as I got dressed, I noticed that my breasts were sore. It reminded me of when I was developing as a teenager and they’d ache. “Huh,” It occurred to me that I had a test stick I’d better pee on. It didn’t take long. I was pregnant, the two lines informed me. I’ve never been more shocked in my life. But it was a numb kind of a shock. Everything inside me felt very quiet.
Without preamble, I walked into the dining room and handed the stick to Eric.
“That line isn’t as dark as the other one, is it real?” he said. No, I explained, a little annoyed, any second line at all meant pregnant. We both stared at the test. Then I put the stick down on a kitchen counter, where it stayed for weeks.
I knew I was supposed to keep this secret this early. Everyone knew that. So I went to my workout with my trainer, told her I was pregnant and the other three women in my workout group, too. Later I met a friend for a writing date, and told her I was pregnant. Then it occurred to me the fertility clinic might want to know I was pregnant, so I called them. They told me to go get bloodwork. Later in the afternoon, the clinic called me with the results: yes, pregnant.
When Eric came home from work that night, I told him about the confirmatory bloodwork. I could see a light growing in his face. “You’re pregnant!” he said. “We’re going to have a baby!” We went out to dinner at a fancy place, toasted my pregnancy with cranberry juice.
Did I allow myself to feel happy? I think I did, a little. I told more friends about the news. I kept working out, but stopped thinking about a triathlon. I stopped, this truly filled me with glee, I stopped peeing on sticks every day and put that loathed fertility monitor far back in a bathroom cupboard. I walked carefully through my days, aware of a small spark of life inside me. I felt I knew that spark. I was certain, deep in my bones I was certain, that I was carrying the same soul I’d miscarried almost ten years before. My son was back, and hopefully this time I would bring him out into the light.
The day of the ultrasound came and Eric and I rode that elevator down to the fertility clinic yet again. I felt a little guilty, sitting in the waiting room. I imagined all the other women had been trying to conceive for years, had faced heartbreak after heartbreak. My pregnancy almost felt illicit. How dare I get pregnant after just three months of trying, then show up at a fertility specialist for an ultrasound?
Since I was so early in the pregnancy, the doctor had to use an internal wand. I laid back on the table in the paper gown, and he inserted the high-tech dildo into me. I gritted my teeth and breathed through the indignity of it, Eric standing at my side. On a screen, the white-haired doctor showed me the tiny sac which contained my son, and the point where the sac attached to my uterine wall. “Is there just one?” I asked. I’d read that Clomid caused an increased likelihood of twins. I’d tried to make my peace with the possibility of two babies, but still found it terrifying. The doctor snorted, “Now you’re getting greedy. No. There’s just one.” My dislike grew with his next speech, about how he didn’t approve of me taking bipolar medication while pregnant. It was a selfish decision. “Are you sure you really need it?” he said, frowning down at me with my paper gown. I was terse. “Yes, I do.” I was terse, but furious. How dare he imply? Fuck him. And I was scared too. What if he were right? What if my psychiatrist was wrong and my medication would somehow hurt my baby as he grew inside me? Eric and I left the office together. I was still filled with anger and fear but it faded a bit as we stared together at our printout of our little egg-sack son as we walked together to the car.