Waiting room

Checklist for the “put back” or transfer as I can never seem to remember. Valium on board. Bladder full. Clumsy a bit because my monkey mind started swinging rom the branches 2.5h before the transfer, threatened to evolve into a baboon of anger and bloated purple cheeks of jealousy in me. Might have taken an additional 5 mg of Valium to quiet the monkey. He’s napping now. Nice monkey. Head spins a bit with head turns, but thankfully I’m not walking much!

The IVF waiting room has different music than the consultation waiting area. Music aimed at us our generation of delayed fertility. Tracy Chapman and I are plotting our escape in a fast car. The ambience is more my speed. More tangible and real, less Zen. More co-ed with donating partners whisking in and frozen, stoned, pre transfers like myself. I toast my other pre-transfer colleague in the waiting room with my bpa free water jug and she lifts her with a smile. The decor is more River Runs thru it–more masculine, more car and driver, limited, discrete flowers and the zen tempered by clubby wood feel.

Young Americans David Bowie*
Tracie Chapman Fast Car
This Is Us. Emmylou Harris and Mark Knoepler
Something by David gray

*Second time today as crate and barrel played a cover of this today. Nothing more relaxing than taking your mother in law to C and B on the big day.

That’s behind me now. I’ve had the transfer. A grainy photo of our embryo is presented to me. I take their word for its beauty as I’ve never had an embryo make it past the 3rd day. I pined over those embryo shots tightly wrapped balls of 8 cells. This time, we are going to just hope. Dan is coming to pick me up.


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Childlessness at the Crossroads

Exciting day! My piece Childlessness at the Crossroads went up on Brain Child Magazine’s website.


Thanks to everyone who made it possible, especially Dan.

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Wouldn’t That Be Lovely?

Katy Horan

Wouldn’t That Be Lovely?

Like most people with infertility, I limp through my waning fertility like a returned Civil War veteran. To first glance, I look fine, but the shrapnel of our failures fester beneath my clothes and my cheery “hello.” If I unbuttoned my blouse, I’d expose the heaped up edges of my wounds and threatening gangrene of my soul. At work, I hide it. Only the people who have to know, know. Others may suspect, but say nothing about the sudden changes in schedule that cluster around an uptick in doctors’ appointments. My side of the family knows; my husband’s side does not. Secrecy in infertility is not unusual. Despite the enormity of its impact similar to a death in the family, more than half of couples with infertility keep their infertility a secret. Whereas you might confide with a co-worker your sorrow of your grandmother’s death, the disappointing follicle count from your morning’s transvaginal ultrasound is not a water cooler topic. I wonder if should wear a button, “No baby zone.” At least is would protect me from well meaning questions and commentary.
“Dr. Horan, are you expecting?” a respiratory therapist’s question boomed from behind me as I gossiped with an oxygen sales representative, Stephanie, in the hospital corridor.
I nodded to the , “Expecting? Yes, I am expected. I should get back to work in a second,” I nodded my head, and without missing a beat, I finished with my conversation with Stephanie.
Stephanie’s eyes grew wide. “Did she just ask you…?”
I shrugged. In a bizarre and unfortunate twist of body shape and good will, people that I work with often think I’m pregnant. Whereas Stephanie is tall and thin, I carry a familial “pooch” or a fullness below my belly button. My mother and sister have it. Well meaning people often mistake it for a baby bump. As a teenager, I assumed that this anatomical annoyance would pay off in some sort of karmic swap for the sartorial punishment of poorly fitting jeans. Nope, quite the opposite. When I am most vulnerable, my body invites people to ask me if I’m pregnant.
I’d venture to guess that the majority of us have all committed the mistaken pregnancy faux paus. I, myself, once asked an oncology fellow if she was pregnant. She was not. She wasn’t even married. Or dating. She hadn’t even been on a date in four years. Her saucer like brown eyes filled with tears before she shoved her face back into a patient chart.
So, to save you from the embarrassment of inadvertent childbearing conversation no no’s, here’s a review.
1. Never grab a woman by her hips and ask “are you blessed?” It will only earn you a fake laugh and a flippant, “Nope, I’m just getting fat.” In fact, unless you attend a religious service every weekend with someone, it’s best not to ask anyone if they are blessed. The mere question pops the top on a existential can of mixed nuts. To be safe, only comment on pregnancy when the woman’s water breaks.
2. If you know a couple who married in their late 30’s, do not ask them when they are going to start a family. Chances are, they are already trying very hard and are oversteeped in the bitter tea of their failure. One-third of women over 35 years old have infertility which makes the odds of offending someone quite high. (www.cdc.gov)
3. Do not suggest to people who are trying to get pregnant that it will “happen when it happens.” It may never happen–up to a quarter of infertile couples go on to adopt. In the same vein, avoid the cliche “it will happen when you least expect it.” Despite three years of infertility, I am still gluttonously optimistic, scanning the horizon for an opportunity to least expect IT. No sneak attack from fate will get past my laser vision. To give an example, earlier this year during a breast lump scare, I actually thought, “This be a great time to have the unexpected happen!”
4. If someone replies to your question about having children with a prim “I don’t have children; I have a dog,” listen for the subtext. If you pay attention, you will understand one of the following: she is hoping to have children and the dog is her furry surrogate, she hates children, or she would like you to fuck yourself for asking. Ask to see a picture of the dog on her cell phone, share a chuckle over the dog’s uneven ears, and then if you are dying to know more, go fuck yourself.
5. If you ask about someone having children and she hisses, “Wouldn’t that be lovely?” it is time to back away. Back away slowly, and start talking about something innocuous like health care reform, because that infertile woman has reached her nuclear option.
I make it sound so confrontational, don’t I? A kind question on the wrong day about childrearing can rip open the hidden wounds of infertility and make you snarl like a wounded dog. My own responses to inappropriate or unwelcome comments about my infertility have varied from stoic to tearful to angry to wistful. At a banquet the other night, an older mother, old enough to know better, started quizzing the table’s childless women, all above the age of forty, when they were planning on having children. Thankfully, the first woman took the bullet for the rest of us. She had perfect hair and plump painted lips. She sighed, and flipped her mahogany hair over her bronzed bony shoulder, “I’m an aunty to plenty of kids. I think we’ll forego disrupting our fantastic marriage for kids.” When pushed further, she countered, “I’m forty three and so I don’t see it happening.”
Under the table, Dan squeezed my knee. Unsatisfied and undeterred, the breeder inquisitor turned her eyes on me, and I squeaked out, “We are old, too.” I gulped my red wine, and a Good Samaritan bulldozed the conversation elsewhere.
Just to be clear, I don’t recommend the “We are old” response. Well-meaners will whip out their smart phones and barrage you with chubby cherubs born to older Facebook friends and family. Instead, I recommend the line that will satisfy everyone if delivered with sincerity and a firmness that prevents further exploration. “Wouldn’t that be lovely?” If you are infertile, I recommend that you practice “Wouldn’t that be lovely?” in the mirror. Think Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Wear gloves and pearls if necessary. Form each word, watching your lips for a giveaway sneer and your eyes for a wistful tear.
Because beneath their impertinence, the well meaning questioner do not want to hurt you. It’s the opposite. They see something in you worth passing on. They associate babies with happiness and they want happiness for you. They want to share the excitement and the joy of your pregnancy and childrearing with you. And, if you were pregnant, you would be right there with them celebrating.
I learned this lesson the hard way. A patient of mine, Jan, never had children. She wasn’t really my patient at first. Her husband, Don, was my patient. Freshly minted from my fellowship training, I stumbled through Don’s diagnosis and treatment. His wife, Jan, in snappy pink petal pushers and bright white Keds, came to his follow up appointment to thank me for fixing him. With a warm sweetness and intensity that bordered on ferocity, she fixed her bright blues eyes on me and said, “He is my star, my moon, my light.” They had been together for forty years. She had heard that I had gotten married since Don’s last visit. She asked sly questions about my husband and how we met. Her eyes lit up delight and she shared the parallels of their unlikely meeting.
Then, I asked the unforgivable; I asked if they had children. She sagged with the weight of emptiness. The room became silent. I know how heavy that emptiness can be. How can you mourn for something you never had? Her head still bent she told me, No, they had wanted children, but never had them. Don looked out the window. She straightened her shoulders, and flattened a fold in her cardigan. “Will you and your new husband be having children?”
I smiled. “We are older, but we hope that we will be able to.” At that moment, I wanted to be pregnant for Jan. To win one for the losing team.
Tears made her blue eyes gigantic, her bouffant head bobbed, and she said, “I hope you will, I will pray for you.”
Two years later, Don dragged Jan in to see me, for weight loss and back pain and she became my patient. I found lung cancer. Don was devastated. Jan was determined. “He needs me. I can’t die yet,” she announced.
Weeks later, I passed her on her way to her specialist’s appointment. Although her body had shriveled to less than 100 pounds, she still snapped along in the hallway. Her eyes brightened at my empire waisted dress. “Dr. Horan, I’m so excited! Are you pregnant?”
It was after our second IVF and I was wearing the shapeless dress because my pooch was bloated and angry. I shook my head , “No, I’m not.” Tears fired in my eyes and I watched her fragile face fall. I grabbed her bowed shoulders before she scuttled away with embarrassment. I whispered in her ear, “I would love nothing more, Jan. I would love for it to be true, so just keep thinking those good thoughts.”
Don visited me after she died. Jan had worried that she offended me. I reassured him that I held no bad feelings. She wanted some justice, a wonderful fat baby in exchange for the horror of her cancer. She wanted so much for us, the perennial losing team, to win this game. She carried her own festering wound like mine, scarred over but still tender to the touch. In a way, I felt that I let her down.
If I am ever lucky enough to have a child, I’ll hoist that child into the night sky and let the moon and the stars wash their light over unblemished skin. And, I will think about Jan, knowing that some of that light is her, and she will see that we won. Wouldn’t that be lovely, Jan?

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Ovaries Not Required

Although ovaries are not my specialty, I know them more intimately than most women going through infertility treatment. In my medical training, I held the shrunken ovaries of post-menopausal women during dissection. During my internal medicine training, I felt them in young healthy women as they flitted by on their yearly pelvic exams. I would not say I was an expert. I found ovaries to be ephemeral and shy, and very unlike their male counterparts, the testicles, which hang gregariously out in the open. Testicles boast about their ongoing sperm production. Men can produce sperm for their entire lives. Although recent research suggests that there may be egg stem cells in mice, we human women have finite number of follicles, our ovarian reserve. We start out with 100% of our reserve. Mine’s down to 5% now; in 6 months, it will be 3%. I lost 50% of my reserve like most women before I even thought about boys beyond their inherent risk for Kooties. The rest were wasted while I was in school and training and looking for Mr. Right. Bummer.
Initially, my husband and I thought our infertility was only “male factor.” Causes of infertility are divided by gender. Female factor infertility can be due to structural disruptions that limit passage or implantation of the egg and embryo, hormonal disruptions that affect the menstrual cycle, genetics, and a myriad of other causes. In men, once structural and genetic concerns are ruled out, male factor infertility boils down to sperm. They are measured for quantity, quality, and motility. Those guys have to swim!
My husband had a vasectomy during the course of his first, unhappy marriage. Therefore, we had male factor infertility with an easy solution—vasectomy reversal. Dan said, “A scalpel, near my junk, again?” I thought that we’d do the reversal and, within 6 magic months, I’d be pregnant. Before they would schedule the Dan’s surgery, I had to see a reproductive specialist to “clear me.” I was a bit offended. My ovaries were faultless, chock full of follicles just waiting to burst forth with the perfect ovum, like Eve offering Adam the apple.
Several people recommended my first doctor to me. She had been president of the American College of Reproductive Medicine. She was pale, almost bloodless as she looked down her pinched nose at me. When I challenged her recommendation that I undergo a series of laboratory and invasive testing costing over $2500, not covered by insurance, her eyebrows shot up and she peered at me imperiously over her glasses, as if to say, how dare you? I had done my homework and understood that none of the tests she offered had the positive or negative predictive value to assure or deny my fecundity.
“I have normal periods and consistent premenstrual symptoms. Isn’t that the best predictor?” I begged.
“You are thirty six years old and have never been pregnant despite twenty years of sexual activity,” she countered.
I recoiled. Did she just call me a slut? I fought the urge to yell back, “Of course I’ve haven’t been pregnant, you old cow, I’ve been on the pill for the last 18 years.” But, her comment cracked my stony belief in the infallibility of my ovaries. She was right. My teenage years had been rife with hormonally-fueled bad decisions, and I had only had missed period scare, that turned out to be due to illness. But, after that, I became a committed birth control pill user. Right? Except for those couple times…
I relented to undergo the ultrasound, and promised to return on the second day of my next cycle for the laboratories. The ultrasound was affordable, $250, available, and praised my “junk” enough to get me cleared for Dan’s surgery. My uterus was “gorgeous,” and my ovaries were “present with a follicle count of a woman five years younger.” I came home gleeful with this information. I was going to be like my grandmother who had my dad at age 42 in 1944, and not like my mother with her mid-thirties’ migraines heralding early menopause. No female factor infertility here. I was a stud-ette. I couldn’t wait to tell Dan that I was perfect and all we needed was to re-arrange his “junk” and we’d be set.
I’ve heard this “dividing the blame” from other couples that we’ve met going through this process. “It was all her,” one of Dan’s friends explained about his ex-wife. “I was good to go.”
“It’s really all him,” a friend whispered over a glass of wine in my kitchen with her husband steps away. “Male factor, you know,” she nodded.
A year later, despite new plumbing and sufficient sperm, we were still not pregnant and I was mortified that I ever hung all the responsibility on Dan’s neck. Dan and I scheduled an appointment with the new partner of my previous doctor.

The new partner was young, so fresh to the practice that the bookshelves behind her were empty, spare a few books. I loved her instantly, not for how she made me feel, but for the way she handled Dan. Dan has the most lovable and maddening qualities of an introvert. He’s attentive and open with me, but with strangers, he erects his Teflon façade. With a single comment from her, his usual façade evaporated. She was the husband whisperer.
We mapped out a plan for investigating what female factor infertility might be lurking in my pelvis as well as a repeat sperm analysis. She was upbeat and positive and I truly believed that we would get pregnant. Dan and I walked out hand in hand, the office staff smiling at us.
In contrast, the waiting room of Danuelle’s county clinic was an entirely different.  Danuelle was my high school mentee.  She became pregnant at the end of senior year of high school.  We were at the county clinic for her first prenatal appointment.  Nobody smiled.  Nobody even looked up when I arrived with Danuelle and her twin in tow. I gave Danuelle a gentle shove to the reception desk, and mimed for her to get off her phone.  My patience was razor thin. “Hon,” I thought to myself, “If you are old enough to get pregnant, you are old enough to check in for your own appointment. The appointment that it took you four weeks to make.”
The waiting room was vacuous with dusty mini-blinds at random heights creating an abstract light show across the scarred linoleum and modular furniture. It was the kind of modular furniture found only in county clinics and airports, where it was assumed that unless bolted to two other similarly uncomfortable chairs, people would wander off with them. There was nothing to read, unless you count breastfeeding pamphlets in eight languages scintillating. I staked out a chair across the room. Danuelle’s twin slumped in the modular loveseat ten feet from me, and, across the room, Danuelle sprawled on the only piece of furniture that resembled a couch. She had resumed her phone call with Clarence, aka Baby Daddy, after checking in at the desk.
It appeared that Clarence had the bad manners to go to football practice to avoid getting cut from the team instead of meeting us at the pick up point. And, now, he was hearing it from Danuelle. I felt sorry for the guy, despite my reservations about his role as Baby Daddy. He was now desperately trying to cover the 3 miles between their high school and clinic on foot and bus. Usually, shy and soft-spoken, Danuelle filled the empty waiting room with echoes her alternating wheedling and dramatic threats.  We appeared to be the only ones waiting for an appointment, but her appointment time came and went, and we were still waiting.
Decades of western sun had faded the color photos to anemic pastels and cooled the hot pink Naugehyde upholstery to a sick mauve. The Naugehyde of the chair next to me had ulcerated long ago; the faux leather edges were smoothed like worry beads. Underneath the ulcer, grimy, anxious fingers had picked at the exposed foam. I gulped down my guilt, secretly adding up the money we had spent at our fertility clinic. It could have paid for a new suite of unassaulted chairs for this tired waiting room.
Danuelle was 14 weeks pregnant, or so.  She wasn’t certain.  The ignorant bliss of the unintentionally pregnant—I was counting days until I could pee on a stick, she wasn’t sure when she last borrowed money from her mom to buy tampons. Biologically, it made sense that she was pregnant. Strike while the iron is hot. Her ovaries were at their zenith, while my ovaries were as faded as the photos that I was staring at.
Clarence arrived moments before they called Danuelle back to her exam room. I secretly cheered for the kid. I was tired of hearing Danuelle tell me, “Everyone’s upset that Clarence got me pregnant.”
Her blaming Clarence for her pregnancy upset me more than the male vs. female infertility factor blame game. “Tsk, tsk,” I wanted to say, “You both should have paid more attention in sophomore year health class. I do believe that both of you had to be present to win so to speak.” I said nothing.
I stayed behind steaming off my thoughts as Danuelle, her twin, and Clarence disappeared into the belly of the clinic. I didn’t join them for many reasons. First, I wasn’t invited. Second, I was a bit peeved by the cast of characters and drama required for her first prenatal appointment already in her second trimester. And, third, most important, who was I in this theater? I was the driver, not her mother. I had been her mentor for almost 4 years. And, how did that go? Pregnant, but with a high school diploma. Success tarnished by an embryo the size of a peanut.
Initially, Danuelle said that she was going to have an abortion, because she and Clarence knew their limitations. I didn’t really believe this plan as I knew that she was taking prenatal vitamins, “the good kind with omega-3’s for the baby’s brain.” Clarence and Danuelle would walk to Target every weekend to look at baby clothes. I offered her feta the week before and she looked at me as if I stabbed her belly, “No fresh cheeses, they say.”
I knew she was keeping the baby when she put off scheduling the appointment. She wanted someone to tell her it was too late to have her abortion. She loved babies and hated school. She had raised her nephew through most of high school and she was more proud of him than pulling up her grades or her diploma. I had asked her if she got pregnant because she was scared of starting college. She looked at me with her timid, almond eyes and said, “Maybe.”
In stark contrast, I loved school and lingered in its safe and hallowed hallways. I was practical and postponed babies until my ovarian reserve was lower than interest on a savings account. I had already told her that I would not tell her what to do. It wasn’t my job as her mentor. My job as a mentor was to help her “navigate her decision process,” or some bullshit like that. Even if it was up to me, her decision to keep or abort the baby when seen through my dystopic lens was like the optician’s query “better one, than two?” in which both of the lens distort the letter miserably. I was paralyzed by my own struggle with infertility. I could not mentor on the subject of fertility. I had conflicts of interest with my conflicts of interest.
Clarence stalked out of the clinic suddenly, interrupting me of my downward spiral of thoughts. Danuelle’s head appeared from the door. “Can you come back with me?” It was the first thing she had said to me since I picked her up two hours prior, and somehow being needed made everything clearer in my head.
“Sure,” I said smoothly, as I rose from the tattered, modular loveseat. It was my first prenatal visit, and although it wasn’t for me, I was ready. I was the driver, not her mother. I was her mentor. Ovaries not required. And, along the way, she might mentor me. I could support her and would support her, come what may.

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Check out my essay on Modern Love Rejects!

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Tick Tock, Tick Tock

Last fall, my husband, Dan, and I were hiking at Larrabee State Park to celebrate our second wedding anniversary.  Our dog, Jack, trotted alongside us.  We descended through the verdant silence of the firs and madronas and emerged on the startling palate of greys of a Northwest beach.  Slate stones were washed by charcoal-stained water under silver grey skies. Jack chased and retreated from the waves, tickling the the pebbles.  An impending discussion of our infertility, the greyest of subjects, weighed down on us heavier than the Northwest skies.

When Dan and I met as 30-somethings, he asked me where I had been all his life.  “I was busy,” I teased him, tapping on his perfectly tipped nose. Three decades of boys, school and wanderlust made for sparkling cocktail party conversation, but I was ready for hearth and home, and the trappings of coupledom.

I had always wanted to have children.  As a college freshman, I had dreamed that I was infertile, as barren as a cursed wife from a Mexican realism novel.  My barren body, like hers, dried the earth around me, until it filled my nostrils with red dust.  Choking awake, I found myself alone, gasping in the dark, a sense of worthlessness soaking into me, unable to separate reality from the tendrils of nightmare that remained wrapped around my chest.

In my 20s, I sublimated my baby-cravings as I finished college, medical school, and residency.  Sublimation was easy when the only babies I saw were being delivered to 15-year old mothers at the county hospital where I worked 80 hours a week.  Sublimation became harder when I became an aunt, again, again, and again, each one dewier, and finer, with more sweet milk hair than the one before.

As I approached 30, I was alone, my baby dreams evaporating in the Texas sun.  Time to relocate, I thought. A medical mission called, “Famine?”  I asked.  “Angola?”  I echoed as I scrolled through the CIA fact book online, “Sure, I’d love to go.”

Angola was both an antidote to baby cravings and a curse with her rich, iron-stained soil.  She awoke from her famine while I watched, my own hunger unsatiated. Wilted babies arrived from the bush, carried on their mothers’ backs in colorful panus which belied the gravity of the situation.  We watched with delight as the babies recovered their well-deserved baby chub.  After the seasonal rains came, rows of corn marched from the hand-tilled fields.  Fewer and fewer wilted babies arrived in the night, and suddenly our sullen, bloated, kwashiorkor toddlers were laughing as they rode our hips, their hair bleached by malnutrition, growing in black.  It was time to go home.  I was 30, and as my two-year-old nephew screamed at me everytime I saw him, “Tick-tock, tick-tock!”

I moved to Seattle for a fellowship in pulmonary medicine, and I was transformed from a woman content to park herself in a comfortable, unsatisfying relationship into a dating mercenary.  I dated each man just long enough for my friend, Anne, who was seamlessly tucked into marriage, to ask,  “When do I get to meet Drummer Boy (or, Indian Neurologist, Drunken Artist, Folk Singer, English Professor, Dissatisfied Lawyer, Tunisian Boy)?”  They were destined to fail the moment I anointed them with their caricatured moniker.  Then, I met Dan.

Dan was different from the men I had dated before.  Bright and driven, he loved his job and knew what he wanted.  He was handy, helping me hang a range hood on our fourth date.  He could be vulnerable, but didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve like other Seattle yoga-men.  Before Dan, I believed love was like concrete; it was an ugly mess that had to be mixed together on the ground with a shovel before it could meld anything together.  From the first moment I saw Dan unfold his lanky frame from the chair at Cafe Fiore, I realized love could be easy with this “way too cute for me” boy in an oatmeal wool sweater.

“When it’s right, you’ll know,” my mother always counseled. With Dan, I finally knew.  I had finally found my someone, my pack-mate, my soulmate.  With one minor complication.

“Dan does not want to have children.”  I blurted out to my friend Henry on the phone one night.

“Maybe he just thought that, you know, before he met you,”  Henry’s reasoning echoed through the phone.

“I think he is pretty certain,” I bit my lip.  “He had a vasectomy.”

When I broached having children, Dan asked, “What if it changes us, just trying, you know.”  He said “us” as if we were a singing duo from the 1970s with spangled jumpsuits and our name in lights.

Dan had reason to fear the loss of “us.”  He had known two couples with fertility issues; both ended up divorced.  We were very “us.”  On our third date, we planned to cook a Sunday meal together.  The morning was gloomy,  I started some bread and pulled down the stockpot for soup.  When he arrived, he swooned at the yeasty smell and presented me with a new cookbook of soups. “Funny, I was thinking we could make soup.”

“Us” went so far to have a brand.  The first winter we were together, I invited Dan cross-country skiing with me.  Near the top of Mt. Ozbaldy, he began drawing in the fresh snow with his ski pole.  A couple came up behind us and as I crab-walked out of their way, I saw a perfect heart, pierced by an arrow.  My heart warmed, but then seized with an urge to flee, to run away, to slide down the mountain, away from this perfect man, who was so wrong to be in love with me.  Dan added a  D + K in the center and then turned around with a flourish. We embraced, the layers of down and fleece giving way to the solidness of flesh.

After that, the D + K brand was left behind in the snow, sand, and mud where we traveled.  It even found its place on top left corner of the directions to our wedding.  Anne frowned when she saw this.  “It’s a bit cheesy, don’t you think?”

Months later, I stood outside an  examining room.  His urologist, the best in the city, was examining Dan in private.  His privates, in private, I laughed to myself.  Dan’s doctor beckoned me back in with his kind, droopy eyes.   “We can work with Dan’s problem.”  He rolled toward me on his stool, “but, you’re the problem.”   His eyes transitioned from kind to cold.  “How old are you?”

“Thirty six.” The air went out of the room and my cheeks burned as if slapped.  Dan grabbed my hand as if to rescue me from the hole opening below my chair.

“I’d recommend you get started right away.” His grandfatherly eyes returned, “Listen, I’m in the business of making babies.” He rolled back on the stool.  “Work and other things are important in a young woman’s life, but unfortunately, you only have a limited time to have babies.”

In April, Dan had his procedure.  Now, it was all up to me and my ticking womb.  Baby craving bled into every unstanched space of my being.  If a patient cancelled, I would open up my library link and research our chances.  In one article, the researchers had shown a linear relationship between maternal age and timing of reversal with likelihood of conception.   “Hmm, linear relationship,” I whispered to myself, “so I just need to find the slope of the line.”  I searched in every drawer of my desk and ultimately, made graph paper by hand to discover we had a 17% chance of getting pregnant without intervention.

Our babymaking life became a prison calendar of counted days and pee sticks.  There are sticks to know when to have sex and sticks to know 4, 3, 2 and 1 days earlier that you are not pregnant.  During some months, my stereotypical premenstrual irritation would creep up my spine, and I would know that in two days, the blue line would be absent.  Those months, I threw the negative sticks away quickly.  Day 1 of a new month would arrive soon with another 2% chance per month of conception.  Other months, sensing the tiniest quake in my being, I’d leave the stick a minute longer, turning it in the light to make sure I wasn’t missing a shadow of a line, of hope.  Infertility becomes your religion, complete with faith in the unseen and a toilet seat as your altar.  You sacrifice sushi, wine, and coffee to its idols.   You submit yourself and your spouse to rituals and procedures in hushed, neutral-toned offices.

Friends with rounded tummies, smiled beatifically at me and promised, “you’ll get pregnant when you least expect it.”  I felt like standing on a corner and screaming, “God, I’m right here…and I’m least expecting it.”

The trail at Larrabee climbed up a bluff from beach.  For once I was glad that I was officially not pregnant.  That night, we had reservations to eat at the highly touted Willows Inn and I was anticipating a gorgeous meal with a luscious wine pairing.  The grey skies opened and unmasked the sun as we sat in the blustery wind for a Christmas card picture with Jack.  We talked openly about our fears and superstitions of fertility treatments and what life could be like without children.  Although not especially religious, we both shared a what if God is trying to tell us something? superstition about our infertility.  We were a team again, but still I wondered if this babymaking could be unknowingly dividing us, an invisible chisel wedged in the rock.

My chest grew heavy as we drew nearer to the parking lot, and our D + K brand remained unetched in the sand and pebbles.  As if reading my mind, Dan handed Jack’s leash to me, “Just a sec, I have to do something,” as he crouched to face the grey waters of Puget Sound.  Perfect heart, arrow’s tail, arrow’s point, then D + K.  Bestill my heart.

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How Target Sold Me Out Along with My Empty Uterus

How Target Sold Me Out Along with My Empty Uterus

When I started this blog, I was in the still hopeful early stage of infertility.  I’ve moved into the middle age of infertility.  It comes with acceptance and an edginess about our lack of childbearing.  The acceptance allows us to think of other options like childlessness and adoption.  The edginess gives me license to talk back and work the guilt factor.

Earlier this year, my teenage mentee had a baby.  We went on a Target shopping spree to make sure she had everything she needed.  About six weeks later, I started receiving baby magazines, coupons for baby merchandise, and offers of life insurance congratulating me on my new birth.

I love Target.   I love the promise of a better home and look that the red symbol holds.  It has buoyed me with retail therapy most of my life.  It like my box store best friend.  How could my BSBF do this to me?  Their transgression is explained by NYT article attached.

I tried to email Target to demand an apology and cry “uncle”, but their website only allows 500 characters to communicate how their flippant use and assumptions of my purchasing habits is crushing my soul.

Here’s a copy of the email I would have liked to share:


Dear Target,

I was once a regular Target shopper, but I will not be anymore and I’m writing to tell you why.

For the last two years, my husband and I have been trying to get pregnant.  Infertility degrades your confidence and your sense of self.  I tell you this, because you may not know the additive pain and misery of monthly cycles of hope and disappointment.  You may not know how hard it is to smile when all your friends get pregnant, but you don’t.  You may not know what it’s like to inject yourself in the buttock and belly in hopes of getting pregnant. 

What you do know it that I bought baby goods at your store.  What you don’t know is that I didn’t buy them for myself, but for a teenage mother that I mentor.    And because of those purchases, I am getting DAILY reminders of my lack of motherhood.  I received a baby magazine that I certainly did not sign up for.  I received congratulations on my baby coupons.  I received an invitation to buy life insurance.

Thank you for selling my personal information.  Thank you for selling me and my empty womb out. 

As part of my appreciation, I will avoid your store until I receive some form of meaningful apology and a retraction of my personal information from the companies with whom you do business. 

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Baby lust. You disappear for weeks and sneak up beside me as I am walking down the hill the the light rail. I can feel your weight on my left hip, the ghost toddler, whispering half words in my ear. There is not a baby in sight, just the usual hustling, scurrying trench coats, drab charcoal, boring beige, hipster black, scuttling to the next bus stop and parking garage. Where did you come from? Who let you out in this rain?

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Sunday easy side up

The NYT Sunday crossword is a lot easier when you haven’t spent Saturday night licking the bottom of a wine glass.  Lying in bed with your husband without a hangover  hitting the replay button of all the stupid things I said last night is also quite lovely.  I am ensconced in an easy Sunday of  laundry and fuzzing the dog with my legs splayed across the carpet.

Gratitude for the inertial rain cozies me back into my chair.  There are more articles to read, another cup of decaf to drink, and baskets of laundry to fold, but for now, I’ll just be and enjoy the steady sheets of rain that occasionally “plop” on the railing outside the kitchen door.

The hearthstone warmth of pensiveness comforts me after a week of frenetic wishing, wanting, and wondering.  Over a year has passed since we started trying and we’ve moved into what my husband considers the “too scientific” and “too technological”  realm of separating sex and conception.  I am grateful of his willingness, albeit hesitant willingness,  to experiment.

Shame and guilt are internal timekeepers of  babymaking for those of us  tweaking our hobbled ova and wombs.  Every failure appears an indictment of our years of socially-tolerable, bad habits.  But, I’m wedded to those bad habits as my downfall, because I don’t know who or what to blame next week if we do not end up pregnant.

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The county clinic waiting room

I’ve been in the waiting room for over an hour, the air conditioning vibrating the chair beneath me.  The photos on the wall have faded in the sun and the chair next to me has ulcerated it’s faded Miami Vice faux leather.  The money I’ve spent on trying to get pregnant could replace at least one pod of interconnected chairs at this clinic.  This is not my fertility clinic; it is the county clinic with sliding scale fees to where I brought my mentee, her twin, and her boyfriend.

She is 14 weeks pregnant, or so.  She isn’t certain.  The ignorant bliss of the unintentionally pregnant–I’m counting days until I can pee on a stick, she’s not certain when she last borrowed money from her mom to buy tampons.

I’m worried about her.  What will she do?  I’m shocked that I’m not green with envy.  I don’t even have that visceral sucking vacuum feeling like when my friends announce they are pregnant.  I’m sad, anxious, and concerned for her, but also a little impatient with the “everyone is upset with me because Clarence got me pregnant.”. No, honey, you played a role in that too.

What will she do?  I don’t know.   I am just the driver.  Thankfully, I don’t need to make any decisions.

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