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Friday, September 28, 2012

Dear Abby: Details, Please

I have previously alluded to the fact that I had a hard time getting pregnant with my son. A reader asked for me to discuss that experience.  And I say, what happier way to spend a Friday morning!

I present to you this week's installment of Dear Abby, which could be appropriately subtitled The Years of Frantic Thinking.

The facts are these: My daughter turned 1 in May 2009. Soon thereafter, my husband and I decided that we should start trying to get pregnant with our second child. This decision was motivated in large part by my desire to have our children close together. My sisters and I are each two years apart, and I loved growing up together in a pack. I also figured that, given the demands of my job at the time, it would be more "efficient" to shuttle my children through their life's milestones in relative proximity. I suppose I was also motivated to get going because it took me about 8 months to get pregnant with my daughter, so I knew the results were not guaranteed to come quickly.

They didn't.

In November 2009, I went to my ob/gyn and complained about the delay. He was very nice, but kind of patted me on the head and told me to shush. He said 6 months wasn't a long time, that everything would be fine, and I should fret no more. He did, however, find a few things "wrong" with me, which would be best addressed with medicine he could prescribe me. If the medicine did nothing to help me, he compromised, at that point he would refer me to an infertility doctor.

I was only partly reassured. I was glad, I guess, that he didn't think the lag-time was a big deal. In a bizarre way, I was also relieved he found an issue that he thought required medication, because I hoped that problem was The Problem and that the medicine would be The Fix.

Nope. Took the medicine for a couple weeks, waited a couple weeks more. Nothing.

Off to Dr. Infertility. He talked to me a lot about my past pregnancy, my current struggles, and other medical history. He patted my hand, told me he understood how frustrating this was, and promised we'd figure out a gameplan.

My heart swooned. He was talking action. He wasn't telling me to calm down and wait it out until some magical one-year anniversary of unsuccess passed. We were going to solve this riddle.

And so began regular appointments at his office for exams, tests, drawing blood, ultrasounds. I took more medicine orally. I started ordering syringes full of medicine for delivery to my apartment, which I then self-administered.

On the one hand, I liked the routine. I liked the concrete steps, the forward march, the to-do list. Where so much of me felt completely powerless over my own body, it was soothing to focus my energies on small, graspable tasks.

On the other hand, I was devastated by the routine. The number and occasional extent of the things I had to do and let be done to myself were visible evidence of how powerless over my body I, in fact, was. And all those appointments and blood tests and ultrasounds searching for signs of a baby that was never there were heart-breaking and completely, emotionally exhausting.

Every month followed a similar pattern. It began with a calendar. The calendar told my doctor and I when we'd time certain medications. Then I would purchase said medications. Then I would administer them. Then my husband and I became science's lab rats in the privacy of our apartment. Then I went back to my doctor for confirmation of what my at-home pregnancy test had already told me. Not pregnant.

Then I got up off the gurney in the examination room, managed a polite smile in the direction of my nurse, got dressed, and walked to work. Where I spent the day dealing with other people's legal problems and trying not to think too much about the fact that I couldn't deal with my own biological ones.

This went on for almost a year - probably 11 months or so. Every month - EVERY MONTH - that I confirmed my non-pregnancy was a crushing blow. In fact, they became more crushing because I became more desperate. Why wasn't anything working? What was I doing wrong? What am I willing to do next? If everyone is telling me it will happen when it is supposed to, but it never happens, does that mean it is never supposed to happen? What does that say about me as a woman, and as a mother?

Throughout it all, my husband remained optimistic and relatively even-keeled. He understood my sadness and never judged me for it. He was as supportive as he could be. And my disappointment was his as well; we both wanted this baby, and we both weren't getting it.

That being said, I felt uniquely alone the entire time. This, despite my husband's steadiness and my mother and sisters' daily pep talks. I felt as though my body was betraying me -- as though my brain was operating on some separate plane as everything from the neck down. My thinking self was so angry at my reproductive self. It was a civil war being waged underneath my skin, and I couldn't turn my attention away from it.

And yes, every time - EVERY TIME - I heard someone else's pregnancy news, I screamed inside. When I heard someone joke about how easy it was for them to get pregnant, I went home and cried. When I was asked when we'd have our next kid, I searched for the right answer.

Finally, it just became too much. One miscarriage and months of disappointments later, in the late fall of 2011 I threw up my hands. I couldn't do it anymore. I didn't think I could do IVF -- it was expensive, results not guaranteed, and risked multiple births (and I knew myself well enough to know that I would just barely be able to manage twins, and couldn't confront a decision about what to do if I got pregnant with more than twins). I also couldn't put myself, my husband, or our daughter through the ups-and-downs anymore.

I told my husband I wanted to stop. He said fine. We never discussed whether we'd try to add to our family through other means. I think we were both too tired to jump to that conversation yet.

Almost immediately thereafter, we got great news. My husband had landed a job in Maine. We were going to move. I was going to quit my law firm job. And I wasn't going to start looking for a job in Maine until after my sister's wedding in April.

I continued working throughout December, knowing that after the holidays I would give my notice. If I could have skipped through my days, I would have.

We went to Maine for Christmas with my family. We started looking at houses. I didn't do one minute of billable work.

I gave my notice. We put our house in D.C. on the market. We packed up our clothes, and on the second weekend of January, we drove north to Maine.

Chapter closed. Door shut. Firmly.

Two weeks later, I bought another at-home pregnancy test. I was pregnant.

This past Sunday, my son turned one.

Every day - EVERY DAY - I think about how lucky I am to have him; to have both of my children. Even if it is just for a split second of some minute in some day in which he and his sister are driving me nuts, I think that thought. Probably every parent does, and probably every parent's thought is colored by their own unique experience in bringing that baby into the world.

For me, I look at my son and think about how hard I worked - we worked - to bring him into our family. I think about how he came only when I stopped working so hard. And I think about how hard I want to work to be a good mother to him. To pay him back for all the good he has done me.


  1. The things we do for love . . . . I enjoyed every, single word of this entry, the lack of snark notwithstanding!

  2. Every child is an absolute miracle!!!!!! My 4th was un-planned, I cried for 4 months. Then I had a dream I couldn't have children, never cried another tear over it. She has truly been my GIFT. Life wouldn't be complete without her. God knew, even thugh I didn't, how much I would need her. Great story Abby, keep it up. Look forward to your posts.

  3. We had a difficult time conceiving our second child as well. I thought it would be as easy as the first time around but it turned out not to be the case. After 6 months of trying, I went to see a doctor. He suggested using basal body temperature to pinpoint when I was ovulating. It turned out that my ovulation cycle changed since giving birth to my first. Within that month, following the ovulation chart, we got pregnant again. I'm glad you had the baby you wanted and worked for! :)