intrauterine insemination

Screw Fate

Memoir Mondays, Installment #3:

All of those stories about infertility, the ones with happy endings, they all seemed to go the same way. The pregnancy didn’t happen on the sixth try or the seventh, it happened at some critical juncture, when all hope was on the verge of being lost.

Maybe it happened after three failed rounds of in-vitro fertilization, or after the husband learned that his sperm were immotile, or on the mother-to-be’s forty-second birthday after half a dozen miscarriages.

As we prepared for our tenth insemination, I tried to have faith in the happy-ending stories, to believe that my own good news was imminent. I imagined calling all my friends and telling them: It was meant to be. Our last vial of sperm. Fate was testing us, but in the end it was kind.

Kellie met me at the fertility clinic for a procedure that had now become routine. Each visit had included the same painful exam where Dr. Norman entered me with gloved fingers and announced that my uterus was retroverted, and each time I wondered why he couldn’t have just written that in his notes and skipped this part of the ritual.  This time, if Dr. Norman had noted that we were using our last vial of sperm, that there was nothing left of our original stockpile, he didn’t mention it. He headed for the door with no special goodbye, no good luck wishes.

“Wait!” I called as he entered the threshold. “One last question.” I asked if he had any advice if I wasn’t pregnant by the end of this cycle. We had been trying for a while now, I reminded him. Should I be taking some tests? Were there treatments I should consider?

He opened his manila folder and glanced over my chart. “This is your tenth attempt,” he told me, as if perhaps I hadn’t been keeping my own count. “We normally recommend in vitro after six failed tries. So that would be my recommendation: in vitro fertilization.” He nodded and left the room.

“What’s in vitro?” Kellie asked me. It took me a minute to answer her. I felt like he had hit me over the head with a tire iron, and as I lay there in a hospital gown, I tried to gather my composure.

“That’s the thing where you pay them a million dollars, and you inject hormones in my ass every day. Then they harvest a bunch of my eggs and make embryos in a petri dish.”

“Oh,” Kellie said, unfazed. “We’re not there yet.”

I agreed with Kellie’s assessment more than I agreed with Dr. Norman’s.  I had asked him the question in a moment of recognition that he was a doctor, a specialist, and perhaps he had untapped wisdom. But no, all he had were protocols, and those protocols were irrelevant to my situation. For a straight woman to arrive at six failed intrauterine inseminations would have meant that she had already tried to conceive naturally for over a year. It also likely meant that she had undergone a series of tests. But Kellie and I had done none of that. We’d simply walked through their door. I’d had acupuncture and three months of progesterone, but so far no one had even drawn my blood. As desperate as I felt, I wasn’t ready to be told that I was IVF material.

When I rose to leave the building I was alarmed by the rush of fluid to my underwear. This had happened every time, and yet it never ceased to dismay me. Though one vial of sperm was less than a tablespoon, and though I remained supine on the exam table for half an hour to better guide the fluid towards my uterus, it always spilled out of me in a rush the moment I stood up. It struck me as an expensive way to juice up your underwear.

On the car ride home, I held onto Kellie’s hand. I dispelled Dr. Norman from my mind, and tried not to consider the indefinite future. For two weeks I waited and played that hopeful story on a loop. I told myself maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe soon I’ll be calling my friends with good news.

But I didn’t make those phone calls. My period arrived on time.

There was no special way to mark it, this period that arrived thirteen months after our first attempt at conception. We’d been through summer, then through autumn, winter, spring, and now we were coming to the other side of summer again. I took the dogs on a long walk under a flat gray sky and thought about what I would have by now if things had gone the way I expected: a baby strapped against me, nearly four months old. I wondered about these eggs that I’d expelled, each one carrying its own unique code of who it might have become if given a chance. Some of them were girls and some were boys. They assembled in my brain, a party of babies, all of them wearing onesies, some in bonnets, some in tiny leather shoes, some of them laughing, some of them crying, some of them gazing contentedly at nothing in particular as newborns often do. These were the kinds of thoughts I entertained every day, but never spoke out loud.

Note: This is the third installment of my #memoirmondays series, where I post a scene from my memoir-in-progress. I don’t promise to move chronologically or reveal the whole story, but you can read earlier installments here and here.

Some of the Ways I Didn’t get Pregnant

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1. I didn’t get pregnant by intrauterine insemination, the procedure that requires a doctor to insert a catheter into a woman’s cervical os—a tiny and tender hole—and slowly release sperm. The sperm has been washed and frozen, thawed and spun. Meanwhile the recipient lies in a hospital gown, her feet in stirrups. Ten times that recipient was me, lying there trying to will those expensive sperm towards my patient egg. But each time my egg failed me, or the sperm failed me, or my body failed me—it’s hard to say which. I didn’t get pregnant, just a little hurt and broke.

2. I didn’t get pregnant “just by looking at a penis,” even though a number of women informed me that they themselves were so fertile this was all it took. “All I have to do…” they’d say. It became a surprisingly regular conversation. At the time, I thought they were inadvertently rubbing it in my face that they could achieve so easily the very thing that was costing me so much time and expense. But maybe they were trying to be helpful, hinting that maybe there just weren’t enough penises in my life. In fact, it may be true that in the two years it took me to conceive my first son, I did not look at a single penis.

3. I didn’t get pregnant by relaxing, though that was by far the most popular suggestion. With every month that passed, more and more people said it: “Maybe you just need to relax.” I tried, but perhaps my problem was that I thought relaxation was an attitude. I told myself to breathe when I felt nervous or hopeless, or when I worried about my worrying because apparently my fears were like corrosive acid to my reproductive organs. Maybe by “relax” they meant an action, like a month in Hawaii or a weekly massage. Maybe what they meant was: have a drink.

4. I didn’t get pregnant from a turkey baster, although my son did develop a fondness for our turkey baster (used, I swear, for basting turkeys) when he was two. He played with it in the bath, he slept with it for a couple of nights, and then he wanted to bring it to preschool one day. I told him no, offering no good reason, because—you know—the kid with two moms wants to bring a turkey baster to preschool, and I worry what people will think. And so I was relieved that he moved on to other interests before doing something really concerning like naming it “Dad”.