I arrive at the fertility clinic just before 7 a.m. for the Running of the Infertiles: a stampede of pre-workday women running from the elevator to the clinic to sign up on clipboards for their daily blood test, ultrasound, and meeting with the doctor.
I move in the opposite direction of the crowd because it scares me, signing up first for blood work even though this line moves the quickest.
I have a tendency to pass out every single time I do a blood test if I don’t lie down, but seeing as I am going to be getting roughly a thousand of these and this poor, busy, nurse has about a million other women in the waiting room, I decide to give it a go sitting up, like a normal person.
“Wait!” I call, just before she puts in the needle. “I think I need to lie back. I’m so sorry.”
She kindly pulls a lever on the chair and back I go. She points to a red button on the wall.
“Don’t worry if you pass out,” she explains, “This is the fainting button. You faint, I push it, another nurse comes running.”
“Really?” I ask.
We both laugh.
I love the idea of a fainting button — not just the efficiency of it, but its necessity reassures me that I might not be the very worst patient they have after all. Maybe I’m just the second worst. I vow then and there to never need that button pushed.
I move along to the ultrasound waiting room and am ushered into a smaller waiting area when my number, 33, is called. This isn’t just any ultrasound — it’s a transvaginal ultrasound. As I watch the nurse directing us women into different exam rooms, it occurs to me that she has already seen 33 vaginas this morning. All before 9 a.m. 33! All I’ve done today is have a coffee and not faint during my blood test. As I put my feet into the stirrups, I try to count how many times she has seen my vagina. Has it been 6? 7? 10? I can’t recall and hope she can’t either, that there isn’t something unusual about mine that would make it memorable.
“What if my vagina doesn’t look like everybody else’s vagina?” I ask my husband, panicked, when we meet up again in the doctor’s office. “What if I have a particularly ugly vagina?”
“You don’t,” he tells me, which I think is kind of romantic.
After meeting with the doctor, we are shuffled along into a meeting with the nurse who instructs my husband on how to give me hormone shots in preparation for my egg retrieval — a process known as stimulation, or “stims” on fertility blogs. The nurse is extremely sweet and patient, walking us through the process of preparing the needle and administering the injection. My husband asks questions and takes furious notes. I stand and lift up my dress so the nurse can point out exactly where to go and I can lose even more of my dignity. As they feel around my cheek, I am overwhelmed by the fact that $4,000 is going straight into my ass. And it won’t even look better! It’ll look worse!
The hormones are making me, well, hormonal. I’m crampy. My ass hurts. I have a headache that no amount of Tylenol will touch and just generally feel like I have a really bad flu. I watch Rory go off to Yale on Netflix to distract myself and am completely beside myself with emotion. I cry, soaking the cat who has snuggled into my lap, overcome with the purity of beginnings. Rory has so much ahead of her! She has so many ways yet to shape and mold her future self and I feel like I don’t. I feel like time is just ticking away here, as I lie on the bathroom floor in a nauseous, weeping heap worrying how the baby I’m not pregnant with is going to affect the writing career I don’t have.
When my mother was dying of cancer, she handled her decline with so much grace. She was beautiful and alluring and strong and funny until the very moment she passed. If I could be anything like my mother, anything at all, I want it to be this. I want to be able to handle hardships with an emotional elegance, in a way that is poetic and worthy of writing about. But nothing feels decorous about my tears or my pounding head. There is nothing dignified about calling my husband at work to cry or burying my head into the dog’s chest. I’ve handled infertility like a messy, uncertain, hormone-ravaged human, and in doing so, I feel like I have disappointed my mother. I am not living up to her strength of character.
“I died of cancer, and you can’t handle this?!” I hear her say as I heave. “This?! Making a baby?!”
My 11-year-old niece, who is one of the very best people I know, emphasizes the point when I see her at dinner Friday night. Picking up on my increased anxiety, she takes my hand.
“You’re alive Aunty Wendy. Just enjoy it.”
Is there any more to it than that? I pack her words into the little cracks of my heart. I think about my nieces and how much I love them. How lucky I am to get to be their aunt, what strong and beautiful and amazing people they already are. I think about my family and how kind and generous they are and how lucky I am to be their sister and daughter. I think about my best friend who has texted me every single day to offer support and how lucky I am to have a best friend like her.
I think about my husband and how patient he has been and how lucky I am to get to love him. I think about how he takes the time out of his busy day to talk to me when I am having a difficult moment, to massage my ass cheek after he injects it with hormones. I think about how we are both alive and how we should just enjoy it, even this.
These tests and needles and treatments will all be a part of the story of us. They will be something we got through together as a team. Just as we got through my mother’s death, and our roof leaking, and rushing the cat to the emergency vet, and that time my husband got sick on our honeymoon in Costa Rica.
“Remember when you had to inject me in my ass?” I’ll say, recalling this time over dinner one night. And our son or daughter will pipe in: “Dad, you gave mom needles in her ass? Gross.”