[I started writing this yesterday not knowing where I could put it, because as much as I want to put it on my non-kinja personal blog and share it with people in my meatspace life, I think it’s too soon. It’s very longwinded but writing it helped me process the past few months. Since GT has been there for me through much of this I thought I’d share, in case it helps anyone going through something similar.]
In December of 2016, I almost got my tubes tied. Now, I’m trying to have a baby. This is not a cautionary tale. If you want to get your tubes tied, I fully recommend doing so, and for what it’s worth, I don’t believe I’d have any regrets now if I’d done it. I do believe that every person who ever told me I’d “change my mind” about not wanting kids (or, more charmingly, simply asked me what was wrong with me when I said I didn’t want them) still deserves a punch directly in the face. Don’t say that crap to people. Just, like, ever. But my life happened to take a few highly unexpected turns, and now here we are. I don’t attach any value judgment to it. These kind of things just happen, or they don’t.
But you can consider me far more surprised than anyone that they’re happening to me.
I was in the grocery check-out line when I got a text from my husband. I’d texted him earlier that day that I had my surgical consult scheduled for getting my tubes tied. He reluctantly texted me that he’d been meaning to tell me he didn’t want me to do it.
I felt like the floor had dropped out from under me, and I responded to him with something about as dramatic, because I thought this was it, my life was ending. I walked out of the store with tunnel-vision. I don’t remember driving home, and when I got there I sat on the couch and cried. I’m sort of newly disabled, and I’d had to mostly give up my beloved job as a baker few months prior. I had no idea what I was doing with my life anymore. All I had was my uncommonly wonderful marriage: the one thing in my entire life I was ever sure I’d gotten right. And now that was, eventually, some day, going to be over.
Because I couldn’t want kids. I couldn’t make myself do it. It was antithetical to me. Forget pregnancy and childbirth, which were basically the most horrific things I could imagine happening to a person, but once that was done you had to keep the kid. These were not feelings I had any control over, they were not a decision I’d made; they were visceral, fierce, gut reactions, ingrained in my DNA. I’d managed to sort of wrap my mind around the idea that, for most people, having a baby was something they found attractive, if not in the immediate sense then in the abstract, long-term sense, but it was impossible for me to understand.
Once, I had a UTI while on vacation. My mom, texting me for updates, asked what my symptoms were, and I told her that they were mostly having to pee every five minutes. She asked, “are you sure it’s U.T.I. and not B.A.B.Y.?”
I texted her back “ha, ha, No,” or something, but I was not amused. I told my husband that the real punchline of that joke started with an A, not a B, and how could she possibly think that was funny? I looked at the idea of getting a positive pregnancy test the way most people would look at a cancer diagnosis. I had to try to stop myself from saying things along those lines, because people find that viewpoint Highly Upsetting. Which is baffling, because it literally doesn’t affect anyone else in any way whether or not I choose to use my uterus.
But there was one person it did affect, and he told me he didn’t want me to get my tubes tied. And I lost it. I’d always been terrified that someday he would decide he really did actually want kids and either we’d get divorced or he’d just be miserable for the rest of our lives because I was denying him this thing that, for some reason I could not understand, was so crucial to so many people’s happiness. I couldn’t do that to him, but I certainly couldn’t just agree to have a kid, either. That scenario played out in my head with me having a psychotic break over finding myself pregnant, us getting a divorce, me becoming a deadbeat mom, all of our lives being utterly ruined… etc, etc.
These aren’t good conversations to have over text. He came home, I was still on the couch crying a lot, and he sat down with me and hugged me and was completely and perfectly wonderful about it. He put zero pressure on me, and assured me that he would never leave me no matter what happened. He understood that there was no point in talking about the pros and cons and trying to convince me; he knew how strongly I felt. And he wasn’t saying he definitely knew he wanted to have a kid either. He just didn’t want to completely rule it out forever, just in case. It was a very reasonable viewpoint. I could hardly argue with it, even though I told him that I would never change my mind. And that was the truth.
So I did a thing I never thought I would do, and I got the copper IUD. You have to understand, I once put off getting blood tests done while my chronic fatigue and pain got increasingly worse for like, five years, and when I finally had to do it, I panicked so much I cried. (Joke’s on me: I eventually got so sick that seeing specialists became my full-time job and I had blood drawn weekly. Yes, I am now mostly over my needle hangup.) It’s not so much pain-avoidance, because I live with chronic pain on a pretty constant basis. It’s the idea of something deliberate and acutely painful happening to me while I just have to sit there and take it that I can not deal with. It definitely rises to the level of a phobia. (Why yes, I do have anxiety. I’m medicated. It helps for most things. Just not painful medical procedures.)
But I could no longer safely be on hormonal birth control, and my life depended on me not getting pregnant. So I did it. I got (extra) anxiety meds for the occasion. They made me loopy and sleepy, but did nothing for my actual fear and dread. It sucked, and I maintain that the fact these things are done to women without anesthetic is absolutely bullshit. But it was over quickly, and I was pregnancy-proof for 10 years, and that was a pretty okay deal.
That was December. The following August, we went on vacation to the Adirondacks. This was a special occasion, because we always go in the fall for our anniversary (by far the best time to go,) and then I’m starved for nature all year, homesick for a place I rarely get to be. But this year, I got to go three times: once in June with friends, this August trip, and then again in October.
We stayed in an Airbnb room on our favorite dairy farm and got free bread and cheese. The whole time, I was having a terrible GERD flare-up and what seemed to be a very early case of PMS with bloating and cramps. When we came home, I was expecting my period any time.
Almost a week later, I finally dug out a year-plus-expired pregnancy test strip from my pre-IUD and pre-anxiety medication days, peed in a cup, and waited. I remembered doing this with some frequency (again, pre-anxiety medication) and having my heart feel like it was going to beat out of my throat while I watched the pink dye creep across the strip. This time, I waited the full five minutes, looked at the single line on the strip, and just went, “hm.” I thought that was a little odd.
The next day, I got my period.
“I finally got it,” I told my husband, “in case you were worried. Cause I kind of was.” But… I kind of wasn’t? I guess I just had a lot of faith in the IUD.
The day after that, the Alien Thoughts began.
I cannot possibly adequately explain to you how swiftly or with what force the Hammer of Hormones descended upon my brain. It was, quite literally, overnight. It was not a gradual dawning of an idea beginning to have some appeal. It was a light switch. But not like a normal switch, more like one of those industrial power switches with a big lever that Dr. Frankenstein dramatically cranks down to power the lightning rod. I was possessed.
“HEY YOU SHOULD MAKE A BABY,” said the alien thoughts, loudly and often and at the most inopportune moments. “TINY LITTLE BABY = GOOD?????” They would not shut up.
My husband, who I am sickeningly in love with at all times, was just the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and I Needed To Tell Him Immediately To Put A Baby In Me.
Gross. Except it wasn’t?? It was suddenly an incredibly attractive idea. I have never had such a hard time in my life keeping my mouth shut. Every time I looked at him I wanted to shout it. It was ridiculous. I wanted to gag myself because I was honestly not sure I could contain it. And saying that to him would’ve been the worst thing I could possibly do, because I obviously didn’t mean it, I had just become possessed for some reason. I didn’t want to lead him on when these were clearly not my real thoughts but a hormonal hijacking.
After a few days of suffering in silence, I hesitantly confessed my shameful brain takeover to my best friend, who has a toddler, and who I knew would be understanding of my torment and not leap on me with “I told you so”s.
“It’s really freaking me out,” I said.
“I’m kind of freaked out!” she replied.
Then she told me something that I remembered her mentioning years ago: before she had her son, she’d had a really early miscarriage. She didn’t even realize that she’d been pregnant until after the fact, when the Hammer of Hormones suddenly crashed down upon her and she went absolutely baby-mad, and her friend told her that she’d experienced the same thing and it was a chemical pregnancy. She was resentful of her body for taking control of her feelings so intensely, even though she already knew she wanted to have kids at some point.
Is that what this was? With the almost-week-late period and everything? She thought it sounded like it. And she assured me that the hormones chilled after about a week, and not to worry that these alien thoughts actually meant anything. She also told me that if I did change my mind, she would support me, and I said whoa, whoa, there, let’s not get carried away! This was just a temporary insanity. It would pass.
And it did. At least, the crazy intensity did. But the thoughts, now slightly more rational without the raging hormones behind them, didn’t go away. I told myself that not feeling like I was going to imminently blurt it out every five minutes meant that I was cured of my possession, but I definitely was not back to normal. Now that that switch had been flipped, there was no un-flipping it. And the more days that went by, the worse I felt about not telling my husband.
Eventually, I confessed. I couldn’t actually bring myself to say the word “baby” or anything extreme like that because, just… no, but I did tell him I thought I’d had a chemical pregnancy and subsequently my brain was filled with crazy insane thoughts that did not belong to me and I didn’t actually think those things, but I sort of was still thinking them, pretty much like all the time, and I just sort of felt like I should say something.
“Well, that’s a weird coincidence,” he said. “I’ve been thinking that too.”
I told him about 20 times that it didn’t mean I had changed my mind. I hadn’t. Really. I just had these thoughts in my head. I didn’t put them there. It wasn’t my fault.
A few more days went by, and we didn’t talk about it. After all, I hadn’t changed my mind, so there was nothing to talk about. We went to stay with his parents for the weekend. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. We were barbecuing with his brother and some friends and I needed them to go away because I just NEEDED to talk to him about it or I was going to lose my mind.
My mouth wanted to go off on its own again, but at the same time I was petrified to voice the words. I got my husband alone for a second and told him I sort of maybe wanted to talk about that thing that we talked about the other day but didn’t really talk about. No nouns. Nouns made it sound like a real thing and that was ridiculous.
He said okay. Eventually everyone left or went to bed, and we talked about it, in hushed tones, with no nouns. I said I don’t know, maybe, maybe we should just talk about thinking about it. Just as a… thought experiment or something. He said okay.
We kept talking about it. He started throwing around the B noun as if it wasn’t a scary word that could conjure things just by speaking it, which really freaked me out.
We went out for lunch after our first appointment looking at some houses with a realtor. I told him IF this were to ever happen, which was a very big if, I would be having a scheduled C-section and I didn’t care what anyone else had to say about that, because it took me a week to recover from that time we had tickets to a taping of the Late Show and had to stand in line for two hours. The last thing I needed was to be sent into a flare from over-exertion when I had to take care of a… thing. (And also, frankly, I was not doing traditional childbirth under any circumstances regardless.) He said okay.
I told him if we did it, I hoped it would look more like him. But I wanted it to be a girl. If I wanted it at all. He said, “But what if it’s like you? That would be great.” I expected him to end that sentence with a joke, cause that’s the kind of thing he usually does. He didn’t.
I kept telling him it was probably stupid to even consider, though, because I’m sick; I can’t even take care of myself, or work anymore, or keep the apartment clean, or remember what I’m talking about in the middle of a sentence, and I would definitely be one of those people who forgot the… thing in the carseat, because my brain just doesn’t function right anymore, so how can we even think about this?! You have to be responsible for keeping the thing alive!
But then... I’m sick, I can’t work anymore. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life. I’d spent a year and a half on the couch: isolated, exhausted, in pain, hardly ever leaving or seeing anyone. Having an infant didn’t exactly sound like it was very far out of my way. Wouldn’t this kind of be the ideal time? I could do that thing where you put your shoe in the back seat when you’re driving. And get an app.
I read a $1.99 e-book about deciding whether or not to have kids, and then another one specifically about deciding when disabled. I needed to see if we were stupid for even talking about considering it. I was also beyond terrified of falling into the black hole of mom-ness and Republican gender roles and losing my life and ruining our marriage. Being a dad is one thing. Being a dad’s fun. You play with the kid and hang it upside down by its ankles and tell it bad jokes. (My husband is a connoisseur of terrible puns; every time he says one now he declares “I’m so ready,” as if that’s the only preparation he needs for the job.)
Being a mom, despite any couple’s best intentions going in, seems to mean being a slave to your family’s every tiniest need and whim while everyone in the world judges you for how wrong you’re doing it. And if you have the good sense to see the injustice of your life, you hate your husband and resent your kids and before you know it you’re posting minion memes on Facebook about getting sloppy wine-drunk on a Tuesday night.
Not to mention, whatever you do, you’re gonna screw your kid up at least a little bit. That’s just how it goes. What if I couldn’t keep my anxiety under control and passed on that horrible crippling curse to yet another generation?
I told my husband we should go to a couple’s counselor. He said okay.
We were bad at counseling, because we didn’t really have any problems yet. The counselor wasn’t very good either, because she just sort of said, if you want a kid, have a kid! Kids are great! She did at least seem to be aware of her own bias, and suggested referring us to someone else who was less pro-kid-having. We never ended up going through with the referral because schedules weren’t working out and our first experience was so unenlightening.
My psychiatrist, on the other hand, reminded me that I’d just got done telling her I didn’t manage to take a shower until 4pm most days. I know, I said. It’s probably a terrible idea.
We agreed we’d have to hire in-home help, even if my husband was the only one working. I told him I would not be falling into the mom-does-everything trap because not only is that bullshit but I obviously literally couldn’t do everything; I can’t do much of anything. He said okay.
I started seeing all my specialists and talking about which of my medications weren’t approved to stay on while… you know. Doing the thing. Luckily, I could stay on my anxiety medication. I ran out of my regular multivitamins, so I ordered prenatal vitamins to replace them.
We started googling things that led to those “trying to conceive” forums, and I told my husband if I ever used one of those acronyms unironically he should shoot me.
When we went back to the Adirondacks in October, we rented a cabin and I tracked my ovulation for the first time. My brother-in-law and his girlfriend stayed with us for a few days and I tried to disguise the strips and little plastic cups in the bathroom trash can.
I didn’t ovulate until cycle day 23, which I confirmed while sitting on an eco-friendly toilet at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, listening to a recording of birdsongs and thunderstorms. Later that night, I googled if ovulating that late was bad. It wasn’t good. The whole trip, I kept thinking about coming with more of our family next year, or maybe my best friend and her family. Staying in a cabin, you can pace yourself: just go out when you want to or sit around and enjoy the scenery even if you’re not up for a hike, so it’s a good vacation when you’re chronically fatigued. Or if you have a little baby, maybe.
We saw some really adorable forest animal print onesies in a gift shop at Mirror Lake. Neither of us were looking for them, but my husband mentioned them to me after I’d consciously decided not to mention them to him, because that would be ridiculous. “I know,” I said. “I love them.” We restrained ourselves from buying anything. That would be insane.
When we got home, I got my IUD out. I’d heard that getting it out was nothing like getting it in; I wouldn’t even feel it. Consequently, I didn’t stress about it or prepare for it at all. What I’d heard was very, very wrong. But it was over quickly.
Walking back from the doctor’s office with my cervix cramping, I wondered if I knew what the hell I was doing. I expected that at any moment the anxiety was going to kick in and I was going to freak out and regret this. I never did.
We went to visit our friends who were having a Diwali party at home with their week-old newborn. She was tiny and awesome and slept the whole time, and I was weirdly too intimidated to ask to hold her because I realized I hadn’t held a newborn since my little cousins were born, and they’re all 18 now.
In November, I ovulated much earlier. Still not as early as most, but not so late that it would fall into what a fertility doctor would later tell us was the timeframe of a “bad egg.” Two days later, I knew I was pregnant. My mother-in-law also knew I was pregnant. (She’s a little bit psychic. She knows when people get into car accidents.) She called up that day asking my husband probing questions about how I was feeling, which he diplomatically avoided answering.
The morning of the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we were staying at my in-laws’, and I got a positive test. I stopped expecting to freak out at any time and was cautiously happy. My husband was even more cautiously happy. I was a little disappointed with his reaction, but it was still early, he said. He just didn’t want us getting excited and getting our hopes up too soon. I texted my best friend a picture of the test. She had a much better reaction and started sending me links to fabric with foxes on it so she could make me a diaper bag. I called my OB, booked my first prenatal appointment, and had her call in a script for nausea medication because I had been having symptoms for two weeks already and I didn’t want everyone to find out at Thanksgiving.
I went over to my grandma’s to make challah dough and apple crisp, and had to repeatedly make excuses for why I didn’t want a turkey sandwich, because cold-cuts are a no-no (listeria.) But I accepted hamburger soup and green tea.
While I was there, my husband texted me that his grandfather, who’d just gone into hopsice care a few days prior, had passed away from Parkinsons.
Then I went to pee and discovered I was bleeding.
I had already been spotting a little off and on for a few days, but I’d read that was normal sometimes. This wasn’t a whole lot, but it was enough that I was scared. I made an excuse to leave early and called my doctor. Since I was out of town, she said if it got worse, go to an urgent care or ER. It didn’t get worse, but it didn’t get better.
I took a test the next morning, and it was negative. We had eggs for breakfast and they were so salty I nearly puked after one bite; my husband said I was crazy and they tasted fine. I hoped the test was somehow wrong. I went back to my grandma’s house to finish the baking.
The night before Thanksgiving, I was on a group text from my mom (who was hosting) with several other relatives, requesting someone to write a Thanksgiving message on the chalkboard in the dining room the next day. I went to art school, so everyone on the text started volunteering me. I have terrible handwriting, I said, someone else should do it. I was pretty curt about it. I was getting in my car to go to urgent care, having made up some excuse that I was going back to my grandma’s, while my husband’s extended family was gathering at his parents’ house.
The urgent care across the street couldn’t do the right blood test. While I was in the parking lot after having been turned away, my husband told me he’d called one the next town over that could, and sent me the address.
Everyone there was really nice. They drew blood; I gave them my usual spiel about how I’m fine as long as I look away and they don’t tell me when they’re going to stick me. I couldn’t stop shivering, and they brought me a cup of water and a blanket that had been heated in an oven or something, which was pretty great.
The test was negative. I wasn’t pregnant anymore.
I managed not to cry until I got to the car. Then I went into a CVS with my disheveled streaky makeup for a box of pads, which I expected I’d need soon even though I still wasn’t bleeding that much. I bought two bags of potato chips and two bottled peppermint mochas, because I was feeling sorry for myself so I deserved junk food, and if there was any silver lining at all it was that I could have more caffeine.
My in-laws had all gone to gather at my husband’s aunt and uncle’s house where his grandmother lives; I asked him to make up an excuse for me and ate my potato chips in bed while I ugly-cried.
It was hard pretending to be normal with my family at Thanksgiving. I skipped a few more family gatherings with my in-laws around the funeral than was polite. At the funeral on Saturday morning, I felt awful for being so distracted, then got a terrible migraine from the incense and spent two days in bed.
My mom texted me that she noticed something was up with me on Thanksgiving. I had no plans to tell anyone else that we were trying to have a baby until we were actually having one and I had a big stomach to explain, but pretending to be normal while being around both of our entire extended families had been exhausting and miserable. My husband had been doing his best to take care of me, but he had a lot on his plate with his grandfather’s passing. I told my mom what happened. I expected more shock, because I thought she’d finally come around to believing I was never going to have kids, but she was really cool about it. Although she wanted to get lunch with us before we went home, which sounded like a really awkward lunch.
We went to a new ramen place which had anime murals all over the walls. I questioned if they were licensed. It was my mom’s first real ramen experience and she liked it. When my husband went to the bathroom she finally asked me if I was feeling okay, which I was, and if we were trying, which I said we were, but we hadn’t planned on telling anyone that. She said it was exciting and I said “I guess,” cause talking about the whole thing was really weird and uncomfortable, and she made a face at me.
Then we drove back home.
Two weeks later, I was pregnant again. I knew it immediately. I got a positive test the week before Christmas, and then a negative one within 12 hours. On Christmas night I talked to my dad on the phone, which inevitably led to the topic of how the world is a dumpster fire.
“Good thing you don’t want to have kids,” he said.
“Yeah,” I answered. I felt bad for not telling him, but what was the point? It was just more bad news.
I actually feel guilty about that all the time. Am I terrible for even trying right now? Should we try to move to Canada first? They’re not so keen on taking in disabled people, but my husband has in-demand skills.
He told me he wants the kid to take my last name, even though I took his, so they’ll have a better chance of their job applications being read. This idea makes me want to cry. I truly, truly hate it, but he’s not wrong, and I have no right to disagree, because I’ll never really know what it’s like.
After the second loss, my OBGYN put me on progesterone supplements for the second half of my cycle, which sent me into a horrible pain flare.
Then it happened again in January. Between the holidays and binging comfort food, I put on 10 pounds. After the third loss, I noted to my OB that my AMH from the last blood test was really high, which google told me might be a sign of PCOS. She put me on Metformin, and did not warn me that it would make me violently ill for the first week.
We went to visit my in-laws again and my husband, for some reason, told them over dinner that I was on Metformin because that’s what his dad takes for diabetes. My mother-in-law is now convinced I have diabetes and keeps offering me splenda in my cha.
In February, I made a new record for early ovulation: cycle day 12. That was probably a good sign, I thought. A break in what was becoming a horrible routine. Two weeks off, chugging coffee while I can, feeling sorry for myself, then switching gears and trying to get over it because you’ve got to if you’re going to do it all again. Two weeks on: just one big mug of black tea per day, no touching the litter box, no bacon because of nitrites, no soft cheeses, having absolutely wild dreams, that weird not-quite-cramps feeling, acid reflux, swollen fingers, vacillating between nauseous and starving, and thinking to myself, but not myself: will you stay with us, this time? I know it’s soon, but I’ve got a good feeling, and I’d really like it if you would stay.
When we first started, I had daydreams of cuddling a little baby, of family vacations and showing them good cartoons and decorating messy sugar cookie reindeer. Now, I just try to think as far as being pregnant long enough for it to feel real. Maybe long enough to have a little bit of a belly. That used to be horrifying to me but it’s not anymore.
This time I had a dream one night that it was a girl.
A few days before our first appointment with the fertility doctor, I stopped having that good feeling.
When I was very young and ignorant, I once held the idiotic opinion that people who couldn’t have kids easily should “just adopt,” cause that’s what I’d do in the unimaginable theoretical scenario that I wanted a kid at all. It seems simple, what with there being so many kids in the world who need a home, if you don’t know that you basically have to be a millionaire to afford it and probably not be disabled to be approved. When my husband booked the appointment at the fertility clinic, I told him I would not be doing anything invasive, and if it came to the point of IVF, we should just stop. We never planned on having kids anyway. I just didn’t know if I could cope with that, on top of all my health problems. It would be too much. He said okay.
When we went in on the day after Valentine’s Day, I told the doctor I might be pregnant right now, but I’d usually have a positive test already, so maybe not. Maybe it didn’t stick long enough for the HCG to even register this time, but it had definitely started. Fourth time in a row, it’s hard to mistake the symptoms. She believed me, and said she’d do a blood test to check, and we might hear back before the end of the day. She said she wasn’t convinced that I had PCOS just from the high AMH, and the fact that I kept getting pregnant was a really good sign, and despite all of my losses occurring in exactly the same way with the same timeframe, there was still no reason to think the next one wouldn’t be a success.
I told her it didn’t feel that way.
She mentioned clomid, which carries with it the risk of multiple babies, and a couple of invasive and painful tests for which they do not give anesthesia. Let’s just start with the blood tests, I said.
We didn’t hear from her that day, so I emailed in the morning. She responded: I wasn’t pregnant anymore, and it looked like I might have PCOS after all. Time to increase the Metformin and keep up with the horrible progesterone suppositories the next month, along with adding four new supplements to my twice daily fistfuls of pills.
We’re in the midst of packing now. In a few days we’ll be moving from the one-bedroom apartment we’ve been in for five years to a 3-bedroom house in the suburbs. There are baby gates at the top and bottom of the stairs; when we first put an offer in, we thought we might keep them. Now I think we should take them off.
This is still a story without an ending. It’s probably not a story anyone really wants to hear, cause there’s really nothing uplifting about it. But being quiet hasn’t helped at all. And as I gather up all the ovulation strips and boxes of progesterone in my bathroom and a trash can full of negative pregnancy tests to hide them away before relatives come to help us pack tomorrow, I wonder what the point is. It’s not polite conversation, maybe. All the hope and dread and grief that feels like it always comes too soon to really be deserved, like it shouldn’t bother me so much. Each individual one hurts a little less, actually, but cumulatively the hope dwindles and the feeling of futility and disappointment grows.
People go through much worse and for a much longer time than we have. Mostly, they don’t talk about it. I understand why. I’ve never been very good at not talking, though.