Phase 1: Blissful Ignorance
You and your partner just decided that you’re ready to try to become parents! You are thrilled, madly in love, psyched to find out what kind of weird but adorable spawn you and your boo can create. Time to get crackin’ and have all the sex. Well, not during your period. Not on a weeknight after you’ve grocery shopped, exercised, made dinner, and done laundry. Not during Sunday afternoon nap time — what are you, crazy? When the mood is right. You’ve got time! You’ve got nothing but time.
Phase 2: Mild Curiosity
It’s been several months and Aunt Flo keeps on coming to town like clockwork. You’re a bit puzzled; sure, you were on the pill for over a decade, but wasn’t everyone? All your friends got pregnant the second they started trying.
Might be time to start using that basal thermometer folks swear by. The OPKs haven’t helped; as far as they can tell, you aren’t even ovulating. What the hell? It’s just day after day of that cruel hollow circle where a smiley face should be. (Hell yeah, you buy that digital brand for almost twice the price. You don’t trust yourself with deciphering faint and blurry lines.)
Once in a while, you’ll get that cheery smiley face and think, “This is it! The time is now!” only to be stomping down the tampon aisle at Walgreens a couple weeks later. But your OB-GYN said you had to try for a whole year without success before she could refer you to a fertility specialist. Oh well. Everyone says, “This is the fun part!” over and over until you want to declare celibacy.
Phase 3: Okay, Something’s Definitely Wrong
Twelve months have passed and you’re ready to call in the experts, or more accurately, the experts are now finally required to take your calls. They draw your blood and test it, and take your partner’s semen and “wash” it, whatever that means. Nothing obviously amiss is found — no PCOS, no worryingly low sperm count, no nothing. Congratulations, you have unexplained infertility! No one knows why you’re not getting pregnant, whether it’s “female” factor or “male” factor, or what might actually work to solve this puzzling conundrum.
It’s possibly the most frustrating diagnosis you could get because there is no culprit and therefore no plan of attack. The experts suggest intrauterine insemination (IUI), where your cycle will be extra carefully monitored as you take a medicine prescribed to induce ovulation (also used to treat breast cancer patients), and you will visit the fertility clinic to be inseminated with your partner’s sperm at the most optimal time. All told, the procedure costs around $750 a pop, which is painful but a small fraction of the price of IVF. You’re not in IVF territory yet. You hope you never will be.
Phase 4: Treatment
Sending your partner into a clinical room designated for masturbating is not a feeling you are familiar with. You have to just bide your time in the waiting room, so you chirp “good luck!” as a nurse whisks him down the hall. “Good luck”? Really?
Your turn comes soon enough. It is January and you have somehow inexplicably neglected to wear socks, so your feet are slowly turning blue in the stirrups. Your partner notices and takes off his shoes to give you his big manly white (graying, really) socks. He rolls them over your toes and then your soles and you are insanely grateful that he’s here, even though his part is technically done and he doesn’t have to be.
The doctor and a nurse come in, and all three of you coo about what a sweet and thoughtful partner you have. He blushes. The IUI procedure itself is more unpleasant than you expected, like a Pap smear by a very drunk doctor, and takes longer than you feel it should. You and that speculum have never gotten along under even the best of circumstances. When the speculum/medieval torture device is finally retracted and your vagina audibly sighs with relief, the doctor instructs you to lie there for awhile and “relax.” To her credit, the room you are in is a lot more Zen than your average appointment room in a health care facility: The lighting is low, they’ve given you a blanket, the cabinetry and muted walls look like they belong in a well-appointed, tastefully remodeled Craftsman bungalow. Things could be a lot worse.
Phase 5: Everyone You Know Is Pregnant
True, this has been going on for several years, but now it really seems to be occurring with a vengeance that feels terribly personal. Your best friend. The girl you shared a music folder with in high school band. Every woman walking around downtown. The girls your age who started having babies in their early 20s are now on their second, third, and fourth go-round. Some are swallowed-a-basketball-cute-as-a-button pregnant, some are gaining-weight-every-which-way pregnant. Some are #HealthyMamaRunning pregnant, some are #TacoBellForTwo pregnant.
Each announcement is more precious than the one before. Teeny-tiny baby shoes in front of grown-up shoes; proud husband embracing glowing wife from behind, making a heart shape with his hands over her belly; and of course, the elegant simplicity of a black and white ultrasound. You congratulate every one of them, and you are sincere. But it begins to feel as though you are in middle school gym class, waiting and waiting and waiting to get picked by a team for a game you’ve never played.
Phase 6: Nope
At the very first hint of red, a couple weeks later, you know. You tell your partner, and he says maybe it’s not what you think it is, sometimes a little bleeding happens even if it worked, but you know.
And you know no one should feel sorry for you. You and your partner remain madly in love, and you travel often, and you have great friends. This doesn’t stop you from sometimes wanting to shake and kick your body like it’s a recalcitrant vending machine.
Repeat phases 4–6 until you either give birth to a healthy baby or give up on biological parenthood and adopt or fully embrace life as a cat mom.
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