On New Year’s Eve 2019, my husband and I sat down at the kitchen table to write down our resolutions together.
We are going to have a baby.
There were other things on the list too, but the first entry was the one that stuck with me. It had been on the list the previous year, and we hadn’t achieved it. It was my mantra. We are going to have a baby.
Baby, I thought, as I collected my pee in little plastic cups from Amazon and inserted ovulation test strips into it.
Baby, I thought, as I had a balloon inflated with dye inserted through my cervix to make sure there weren’t any holes in my fallopian tubes. The pain shook my whole body. I found out later the sensation is similar to contractions. They’d told me to take ibuprofen to prepare for the experience. My insurance didn’t cover the procedure (Cigna says infertility diagnosis and treatment is “not medically necessary”) and I still owe the hospital 500 bucks.
Baby, I thought, as I lay splayed out on a table in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, my 1000 year old fertility doctor poking and prodding me with an ultrasound wand from the inside to look at my ovaries, as a nurse and a medical student and my husband looked on. I imagined this must be what a turkey on a cooking show feels like, being stuffed in front of an audience.
Baby, I thought, as my period came each month. Sometimes it came a few days early and surprised me. Sometimes it came just late enough that I’d already taken a pregnancy test out of excitement. But it always came. I’ve always had physically difficult periods, always felt like my body hated me, but never as acutely as this year. In the shower, I’d watch streaks of blood flow down the drain, carrying my dreams of motherhood with them.
Baby, I thought, as another acquaintance announced a pregnancy or a live birth. It seems like everyone got pregnant in quarantine. Over on Facebook, my high school classmates announce baby number three or four or five—reinforcing that it can’t possibly be that hard to get pregnant. I used to feel so superior to them, that I got out of our hometown and they didn’t. Now I pore over ultrasound photos and baby announcements and wonder what they know that I don’t.
I never wanted children before I met Chris. I didn’t actively not want them either, it has just never been an urge I’d felt one way or the other.
But things change. You fall in love and you get married and one day you look over at your favorite person and think, “What if we made a completely new human that’s half me and half him?” During the first year we were dating, as we walked through our neighborhood, he pointed at a house on the corner with a swing attached to an old oak in the front yard and told me he could see our kids. I saw them too—dark-eyed, auburn-haired, barefoot & wild.
It was like a switch flipped. I didn’t just want a baby. Suddenly it felt like I needed a baby.
I got my period yesterday, which means we’ve now been trying for two whole years. So far, there’s no clue what the problem is. The fertility doctor drew 11 vials of blood last week for testing and everything came back normal. Chris has had tests done, all normal. But just because the doctor says everything looks fine, doesn’t mean I don’t feel broken.
I read some study recently that says 92 percent of all couples who are actively trying to get pregnant will do so within the first year, with 98 percent pregnant by the end of the second year. Of the remaining two percent, some just never get pregnant. Nobody has told me that seems likely, but it’s in the back of my mind constantly like a drumbeat. 98 percent of people would be pregnant by now.
Our next step is IUI, or as my mom calls it, the turkey baster method—in which Chris provides the doctor with a sperm sample, they do something with it in a machine to make it Super Concentrated Sperm™️, and then shoot it up into my uterus through a plastic tube. Every time we try this, it will be $600 out of pocket. If that doesn’t work, the next step is IVF, which costs 10 grand per cycle and has always seemed like an unrealistic option for us. Being infertile is expensive business.
Infertility. That’s what this is, technically. I always thought that label was reserved for when something was determined to be wrong, when the doctors confirm your partner is shooting blanks or your uterus is inhospitable for a fetus. But if you haven’t been able to get pregnant after a year of trying, you’re considered infertile by the medical definition. And sometimes, they just never figure out the problem. Some couples just can’t get pregnant and nobody knows why.
Is that us?
I started going to therapy this year and it’s helped a little. Beth, my therapist, says I should focus on showing gratitude for my body, even when it’s hard. “Think of all the things your body has done for you,” she says, and she’s right. My body has climbed mountains. My body has survived bangs and bruises and falls, a concussion, a couple of car crashes, a bruised tailbone on two different occasions.
Why can’t it do this?
I haven’t talked about this to anyone who’s not my doctor, my therapist, or a member of my immediate family. But this morning I was scrolling through Instagram and a college acquaintance’s baby bump brought me to tears. I want to be able to feel joy for her—and I do, but not without a deep despair for myself.
But maybe it’s time to start talking about it. Maybe I would feel less alone if I knew who some of those two percent of people are who can’t get pregnant after the first two years.
So I guess this is me talking about it.