I'm Sick Of Practicing My Infertility Poker Face

by Sarah Siders

After my first son was born, I thought I would be one of those women, like my mother, who accidentally got pregnant on repeat. Waiting for a child and struggling with infertility never occurred to me as something I might experience.

Until it happened. I’d been waiting for a positive pregnancy test for over two years when I started experiencing strange symptoms in the reproductive department, a missed period among other things. I hoped the weirdness was pregnancy, because that’s always what you think weirdness is when you struggle with infertility.

The home tests promised nothing with their single lines, but my body was still off. I ran out of homeopathic options and patience so I called my doctor to tell her what was going on.

I got the nurse. She listened. “We may have to run some tests, but we have to wait and see,” she informed me. Of course. Tests. And waiting. I’d already done plenty of that.

“Can I rule out pregnancy?” I squeaked in the most non-neurotic voice I could muster. “I just want to be sure one way or the other so I can make the necessary adjustments,” I reasoned vaguely. The nurse humored me and scheduled a pregnancy test.

Less than 24 hours later, I left work early for my appointment in the lab. The drive to the clinic gave me time to remember my last few times spent in the waiting room, doing what I do when months and years of hoping are hanging on a moment: try to sit still, distract myself with newsstand magazines, pretend to breathe.

I recalled the moment when the lab tech called me back and drew my blood, and we both acted like it was no big deal, like I was just there for the Band-Aid. We small-talked about college sports so I could prove I didn’t really mind at all if there was only one line on the test that day.

They sent me back to the waiting room for more discomfort and squirming, I remembered, and there I became superstitious.

I imagined all the things I could do to make the test positive. Cross my fingers, blink five times fast, forgive all the people I’m mad at.

Then I got spiritual and landed on the old, reliable action step for people who have run out of options: let go, surrender. Sort of.

After I waved my white flag, the lab tech returned with the no-emotion face to inform me, “Tests are negative today.”

Whoosh. Out went the little flame of hope.

The negative results always surprised me, but I pretended it was cool. “Okay, thank you,” I smiled back, feigning confidence.

I didn’t feel confident at all. This was always the moment when I felt disappointed, sad. Broken.

I hated this part the most, the vulnerability. It felt like they could see my sadness. Then they would pity me and my body that didn’t work. Ugh. I hated that feeling.

As I reviewed my previous lab waiting room experiences and the potential for my vulnerability to show, I decided to practice my poker face in the last few minutes of my drive.

I knew the tests would probably be negative, but maybe not. I was ready for anything, I assured myself, and a positive result wouldn’t be hard to deal with. I just had to protect myself from the pity of the Messengers, the lab techs.

Remember: remain stone-faced. Be prepared. Don’t let them see the sadness.

They drew my blood, and I wondered if I was wasting my time. I didn’t say that. Instead I gushed to the lab tech about the wall decor. “It’s so colorful,” I cheered.

Back in the waiting room, I pulled out my iPad to write. It was hard to write though as I calculated the due date of this maybe-baby and how old my son would be when his sibling was born. What if it’s a boy, I don’t think I can handle another boy, but I will just be happy if it’s a baby at all, and I can always adopt a girl…

The lab window slid open, interrupting my thoughts. “Tests are negative today,” the blond lady behind the desk announced, and it felt like everyone in the clinic could hear.

I looked around to find myself alone in the waiting room, but I felt alone in the world. I would go home and tell my husband, but he wouldn’t understand what it feels like to hope your body is growing a miraculous human life, only to find out it’s just an ordinary Tuesday.

“Okay,” I stutter, but I wasn’t prepared like I meant to be. “I guess I’ll have to do something different,” I stammer back. Poker face fail.

What? Something different? What does that even mean? My secret was out. I sounded drunk, but it was just the sadness. The out-of-controlness. The I’m-trying-everything-so-what-else-do-I-need-to-do confusion of a mom who just wants a baby.

I shoved my iPad back into my tote, wishing I’d been prepared to leave, hating the moment I lingered there helpless. She knows I’m sad. She knows I wanted the baby. She knows something is wrong with me. She knows.

I still don’t really understand why the lab techs scare me. They are only messengers. They don’t make me un-pregnant with their words. I just hate to hear it. I don’t want the first person to know of my hope deferred, the person who tells me my body can’t do it, or just won’t do it, to be someone I’ve never met.

I walk to the car, texting my friends the news. On my way home, I call my cousin in Texas. “I’m not pregnant.” I try to sound optimistic, but neither of us believe me.

I don’t say it, but I think the pregnancy tests should have a sad face for the negative. Then maybe it would feel like someone understands.