Infertility, unexplained. The diagnosis was rendered unceremoniously: a box checked on a form I wasn’t supposed to see. After years of unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant, the answers weren’t coming, only percentages, protocols, and more procedures. I was quietly unraveling. At first, my wife and I tried on our own—frothy tubes of pink semen defrosting on the bathroom counter—but my doctor said two women weren’t meant to make babies. In my lowest moments, I fear maybe she was right. Our once joyful path to parenthood had taken a detour.
Needles in a variety of styles sit on the table in front of us: long hollow steel tubes, plastic dial-up pens, small orange and white syringes with short tips. Sitting in the conference room at our fertility clinic, my wife and I take turns practicing on a rubbery pad of pink proto-flesh—jab, jab, jab. The nurse nods her approval. I must inject myself daily in the soft pillow of skin on either side of my belly button. I’m eager for the sharp ache of this clear directive, this sense of control over my unexplainable body.
Fertility drugs with names like Lupron, Follistim, and Ovidrel line the bathroom counter, their glass bottles sparkling in the overhead light. These are the soldiers in my battle against the unexplained: hormones designed to induce the growth and ripening of multiple eggs, then trigger their release. Soon my belly will swell with blooming ovarian follicles, and I will watch for signs of hyperstimulation and twisted ovaries. Both could kill me.
Envy is now a part of life, a feeling that coexists within me alongside hunger and thirst. Everyone gets pregnant, it seems, and easily: teen moms, geriatric moms, unmarried moms, married moms, moms with 17 kids. Strangers all seem pregnant, and then the people I know start getting pregnant—first my best friend, followed by my sister—but fertility eludes me. I’m embarrassed by my pitiful whimpers into my pillow at night: why not me? Hushed prayers of If we can just have one baby, I’ll be happy carry me off to sleep.
Regimen: a prescribed course of medical treatment or a way of life. The IVF regimen is both for me. The daily injections are a touchstone, a tangible action with the promise of reward. I expect that if I follow the directions, I will get pregnant. There is no alternative. The shots must be given at the same time each day, and so I carry the supplies with me in a black zippered pouch just in case. Secret bruises bloom from bright red pinholes on my tender belly.
Time for the next dose. I draw clear liquid into the barrel of a syringe and expel the excess out along with any air bubbles. I sit on the closed toilet to better access the injection site. The sharp scent of alcohol releases into the room and chills my skin, drawing up constellations of goosebumps. My left hand pinches the curve of moon dough that rises over the waistband of my underwear while my right hand wields the needle. I take three quick breaths and anticipate the jab of the needle on the last exhale. It burns. Holding sterile gauze to the now-bleeding pinprick, I twist and drop the spent syringe into the red sharps container on the toilet tank. It clatters and settles into place among the other needles, once useful, now discarded.
I lie back on the examination table and try to relax. Valium makes this easier. My bare legs are quaking under the thin, blue sheet; my eyes are watering under the blaze of surgical lights. Figures in papery blue gowns rustle around the room, busy. A window between the procedure room and the lab slides open. A gloved hand passes out the vial containing the two grade-A embryos that have been growing in the lab. I am proud that my cells are acing tests so soon. “Ready?” my doctor asks as he threads the catheter through my cervix. I strain to feel something, but my body feels heavy, dumb. “There they go,” he says, looking at a computer monitor, and I see them, my twin shooting stars making their way home.
Long days of waiting follow the embryo transfer. During this time, in liminal space, I feel both connected to my body and separate from it. I try to keep busy. My fingers trace the curve of a plastic mannequin’s baby bump at a department store. I stare a moment too long at a mother and her pink-faced baby at the grocery store, my empty palms twinging. The pregnancy books tell me to avoid soft cheeses, red wine, and raw oysters, so I do. I’m driving to meet a friend when I get the call from the doctor’s office. I pull my car over and hear the words I’ve been longing for: “You’re pregnant.”
Excited, we sign papers on a house with extra bedrooms and, with doctor’s approval, leave for the vacation we had planned. We drink fruity drinks and walk on beaches, hand in hand. I walk around, rubbing my belly, a sweet secret growing inside. Happy—for all too brief a time. One morning, there’s blood. Please stay, I whisper through tears, but our twins are lost before we even hear their heartbeats. Dark blood and clotting curds of tissue dribble out of me for days, soaking into emergency room sheets, filling pad after pad. I resist the urge to cradle these bits pooling in the shower, a crimson swirl of warm water at my feet.