Thursday, December 31, 2009

In which I attempt to share the pain

Now that Christmas is over, I need to get off my ass and finish preparations for pregnant best friend's baby shower. This event is planned for January 16th, a few days after my laparoscopy. Good times! But I need some help in order to make it the best baby shower evah. And I figured: Who better to ask than a group of people for whom baby showers are incredibly fraught and painful?

I'm having trouble with my planning in part because we are not baby shower people. In fact, we've been calling it the Celebratory Pre-Birth Event because the label baby shower conjures up such disturbing images of humiliating games and mountains of fussy gifts. I've never been to an actual baby shower, so maybe the classic version is way cooler than it appears, but in any case, it's not what PBF wants. The second reason I'm having trouble is the obvious one: my mind becomes curiously fuzzy when I think about anything having to do with her baby. And when I try to imagine what I'd want in her place, I have to crawl into a hole and feel sad.

Here's as far as I've gotten. Decor: since she's having a girl, the style will be ironically exaggerated girliness. Flowers, pink ribbons--I'm gonna make it real purty. Menu: cupcakes, deviled eggs, and cucumber sandwiches. Tea. A discrete flask of vodka for me. Gifts: I've gotten a few adorable items from my favorite weird Japanese shop. But the only thing I'm sure of so far is that I'd want lovingly hand-made items at my own event. Somehow that seems most important to me: the idea of people toiling over things for my child seems so right--like a series of protective charms for a dangerous world. Luckily all my friends are capable of making cool stuff. For PBF, I've been working on a quilt featuring woodland animals. It's looking pretty damn awesome so far, if I do say so myself. Activities: since this group of people's primary form of entertainment is drinkin' and since drinkin' is out (except for me, discretely), I thought perhaps we'd make a mobile.

I'm sure I'm forgetting something important though, due to my fuzzy head and lack of experience. SO, I'd like to ask anyone who feels like engaging in this tortuous exercise to respond to the following: operating under the assumption that you will someday have an upcoming baby to celebrate, how do you want it done? What's important to you?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A little window onto my future if I am very, very lucky.

My brother is in the kitchen hunting for things to feed his children. Brother: do you want ham? toast? english muffin? bagel? child: bagels are hard to peel. ???

It's been interesting having Christmas with children around. I've never done it before, unless you count my own childhood. On the one hand, it's made me quite miserable to see all the lovely moments parents have with their kids. On the other hand, it's been a good reminder that life really would change if I had offspring. The amount of damage that two well-behaved children have done to my orderly little domain is remarkable. Am I ready to have hammy handprints all over my house? Am I ready to be used as a napkin? Am I ready for everything to be grubby? Am I ready to have to walk everywhere extremely slowly? Am I ready for life to become an endless cycle of cleaning and feeding and washing? No, I'm not ready. However, I totally am ready for nine months of adjusting to the idea. And of course, my own children will be magically clean, so that would help.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Do me a favor

I was doing pretty well at propping up my Christmas spirit. We got a shallow layer of snow that at least makes the outdoors look like winter and not an unusually cold and dreary November. The house is prepared to receive eight family members, including the hanging of festive garlands and buying of lots of interesting cheeses. What else do guests need? Towels? Use this aged cheddar with chives. My husband even squealed like a girl and said I feel Christmasy! Then I stopped by the home of pregnant best friend to drop off their Christmas gift, and my spirit got completely crushed. I didn't even stay! But their little apartment was so cozy and full of joy. She's made the transition from noticeably with child to super pregnant. The place just reeked of happy nesting people about to experience the Great Change. Oh wait, that's menopause. The Other Great Change.

I firmly believe that feeling sadness in the face of other people's reproductive success is a natural, unavoidable response: only the rarest of people can shrug off this kind of experience and remain serene in the face of it. I'm utterly not that person. It certainly makes me mad that I can't control my feelings, but I'm not going to feel bad about feeling bad. I'll just wait till something makes me feel better. Perhaps a pregnancy announcement from one of you. That's right, someone needs to get pregnant this cycle to make me feel better. Don't let me down.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The anxiety begins

Last night I had a dream in which I was in France for a conference or something, and stopped in at a clinic for a consult with a French RE. Apparently there was something wrong that needed urgent redress. The doctor talked at length but I had no ability to grasp what he was saying. As I was wheeled into surgery he asked if I had any last questions. "I have no fucking idea what's going on," I replied. WHAT DOES THIS DREAM MEAN? Get out your Jungian texts, please.

I know that people say a laparoscopy is no big deal. And clearly it can't be that bad if you recover so quickly. But I've never had surgery before, so am becoming more anxious as the date approaches. First of all, I fear the BOWEL PREPARATION. I don't have any idea what that will be like, but I feel certain it euphemistically describes something that I will not enjoy. The materials from my clinic say that the BOWEL PREPARATION will prevent certain complications during surgery. I'm guessing they're talking about risk of infection and such, but I can't help imagining other scenarios.

Second, I fear that I will wake up to be told my doctor has diced up both my ovaries and chopped up my fallopian tubes and that a hysterectomy was performed to prevent me from bleeding to death or something. That my womb has been replaced by a bunch of wadded up newspaper. He will press on my abdomen and it will be like crinkle crinkle.

Third, I fear that they will find something that can't be removed, or that will be difficult to remove and will grow back instantly, or that will require the more frightening surgery, the myomectomy. The one that means I'd have to have a C-section if I ever had a baby to deliver.

I'm not sure what to hope, in fact. If they don't find anything, we go straight to IVF. And after dealing with probabilities like 5% and 15%, 50% sounds so good. But I should be hoping they find something easy to fix, right? That there's a chance I could go back to conceiving through natural means, and that we could spend that money on reparing our decomposing bathroom instead of a treatment with a 50% chance of failure.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Growl! Snarl!

My pregnant best friend was recently moaning about all the "social pressure" she feels to be a "good daughter in law" now that she's having a baby. Neither she nor her husband likes spending time with his parents, and normally they can get away with seeing them very rarely. But now that there's a grandchild in the picture (the first), she'll have to see them a bit more, and waaaaaaah, poor her. What the hell does she know about social pressure! Read this, smug pregnant person! There's some social pressure for ya! Luckily my mother already has grandchildren to fuss over, but my mother in law...every time I see her she looks speculatively at me as though she's assessing my childbearing potential and finding me wanting. It's like she's measuring my hips with her beady little eyes, and thinking of ways to bump me off so my husband can find a nice new wife with lots of years left on her.

So what do you think--should I take my revenge on pregnant best friend by inviting her in-laws to the upcoming baby shower I'm organizing? It would be a super great surprise for little miss social pressure!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dear Santa: Please bring me a new daddy

Since I was fifteen, I've spent pretty much every Christmas with my father. Normally at this time of year we'd be leaving for Berkeley for a few days of Christmasy action, followed by a brief vacation at our favorite hotel in Healdsburg, CA. (The name of this fine hotel is nameoftown + the word hotel.) We'd be looking forward to lying around in very soft sheets, having a massage or two, and dining at some nice restaurants. (Last year we had dinner at C.y.rus, the venue of this season's final T.op Che.f episode! I'm vegetarian, so have to say "eh" about the experience. I know the stereotypical chef detests vegetarians, and that's fine by me, provided he or she cooks me something delicious.  Plus some other diner had left a bottle of very expensive wine near our table--bringing your own wine is a whole big thing--and the many officious waitpersons kept offering to open it for us, thinking it was ours. So it was like a test of our moral strength the whole time.) But my father inconsiderately died in April, six weeks after an adenocarcinoma diagnosis. This has sucked more than words can express--he was my good parent, and plus, there goes my traditional Christmas plan. So we decided to say home this year. But I didn't want my dad's girlfriend of about fifteen years to feel like she didn't have options, so I asked her to spend Christmas with us. And my brother's children are now old enough that they can travel relatively easily, so I asked him and his family to come as well--their first visit to our house. And of course then I needed to invite my other brother (an awesome 23-year-old who recently moved to LA to become a screenwriter). And then I felt like I had to invite my mother and her recovering-alcoholic boyfriend. No disrespect intended--major props to him for being a recovering alcoholic, but he has asked my mother not to drink around him, and she is way easier to deal with after a glass of wine. Plus he looks disapprovingly at the rest of us as we get as drunk as possible. So, next week six adults and two children will descend upon my house. We are putting them all up! I'm anxious about feeding them, and about deflecting pregnancy-related inquiries, but think they will actually not push. I'm also anxious that I will fall into the role of spinster aunt who has to ask a lot of questions about what is and is not okay for the children. Can your five-year-old have knives? How about bleach? Should I not ask your three-year-old to light the fire? And of course I worry that I won't be able to keep my sadness about my father not being there in check. Today I got a Christmas card from his parents with a little note: A bad year, but things will get better. This from two people who are basically on their deathbeds. Fuck it, I'm going to try to believe them, at least for the next few weeks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The real reason I'm barren

Other people dealing with infertility often seem so well-adjusted and logical about their situation. In the grips of overwhelming emotions (anger, sadness, envy), sure, but not torturing themselves with foolishness. So I'm wondering if I'm the only person who has secret explanations for why I can't get pregnant. Maybe this is only possible for people in the unexplained category, but I can imagine it working for anyone: these secret explanations have nothing to do with medicine. Maybe people of faith don't need secret explanations: it's in God's hands and part of God's plan. But I can imagine it working for religious people as well: these secret explanations have nothing to do with faith. They are basically ways of making this situation all my fault and they do not answer to reason. For example, early on my secret explanation was that, because I concealed my attempts to get pregnant from my best friend, I was an asshole, and didn't deserve to get pregnant until she'd had a baby and I'd suffered sufficiently to make up for this immoral act. Later my secret explanation was the following: because my mother had a bunch of unplanned pregnancies that made my childhood chaotic and anxiety-filled, I was very careful to prevent the same thing from happening to me. In fact, I was very proud of the fact that I never accidentally got knocked up, and that I got my life in order before having children. IF is a punishment for my pride.

In reality, I don't even need secret explanations to make it my fault. How many cases of unexplained infertility are not actually cases of female factor, even if that precise factor is never identified? My husband's contribution is fine, yet I do not conceive. I know there are other possibilities (feel free to try to convince me its not my fault!), but will be quite surprised if it turns out that they don't involve me being defective. I wish I were one of those people who never wastes time with blame. To be clear, I don't spend much time on blame either, but I can't help getting completely irrational once in a while and searching for cosmic explanations that will allow me to feel even worse. 

But enough gloominess, it's time for a CHRISTMAS TREAT! The question shown below is always the last question on my final exam. It's a free point for the students, and makes grading more fun for me. This one (from a genuine student exam) is pretty awesome, and may capture what some of you are feeling today.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mother to 104

Novel pronouncement time: Infertility comes with a lot of anxiety. But I am currently looking out over a refreshingly different vortex of anxiety: it's final exam day in my big lecture course. Stretching out before me is a sea of 104 terror stricken young adults. Can you see the beads of cold perspiration on their brows? Can you hear the anxious scratching of their pens? Can you feel the cramping of their tiny little hands as they frantically scribble?

I confess that I love final exam days. I look at their earnestly bowed heads and am filled with a warm affection for these people. I hope they all do brilliantly, even that guy who was a total asshole the entire semester. Even that girl who had the kindness to tell me she is PREGNANT, when something vague about "medical issues" would have been a perfectly great explanation for her absences. It may be that I enjoy exam days because I don't have to do anything (except cast the occasional baleful cheater-discouraging eye over my flock). Or they may make me feel all super powerful, or they may just signal that the semester is finally fucking over (well...except for the grading of all these exams). But I think it's that I really am fond of these students and am wishing them the best. Every group of students teaches me something new, and much of what they've taught me will, I contend, make me a better mother. (Particularly if I foster-adopt some teenagers.) Let me enumerate some of these lessons.

1. Faceb.ook is more important than you, mama. I don't do FB myself because I'm a crotchety luddite (and it seems like I spend a lot of time listening to others complain about it), but it's clear that if FB is still around by the time I acquire progeny, it will absorb a lot of their time. (Time they could be spending telling me what a great mother I am.) Just as FB absorbed a lot of my students' time while I was lecturing in their general direction.
2. Teenagers are irresponsible. I have a lot of first year students who are in fact teenagers. At first I was shocked at their poor time management and inability to connect cause and effect, but now I know it's not personal. They're teenagers. I doubt that I will actually be able to use this information if I get teenagers someday (because my own teenagers will be so infuriatingly different), but who knows.
3. You're going to lose your temper, and all you can do is try to make it right. I (mildly) lost my shit with a student this semester because he was all whiney about his grade. Keeping my temper is one of the things that scares me most about the idea of actually being a mother. I like to dream that ridiculously exasperating students are at least some kind of practice.

See how far ahead of the game I will be? It's going to rock. And for all the anxious infertile women in the two week wait, or waiting to hear about an adoption or a test or the next step, let us all give thanks that we are not undergraduates taking a final exam. Because it is clearly very stressful.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I hate you and your stupid Chanuka party!

Last night my husband and I attended a Chanuka party hosted by a friend of difficult-to-describe status. When I started my job I met three women at a new faculty orientation. The four of us are now known as the Lady Professors, in reference to a remark made about one of us: She's pretty hot for a lady professor. I thought that was funny, and have "reclaimed" the totally sexist description. The Lady Professors have coffee regularly, and we vent about those numerous things our husbands can't muster the slightest interest in hearing about. We also vent about more personal things and they've come over for Thanksgiving dinner and whatnot. We're friends, but we have little in common aside from being at the same stage of our careers. We rarely see each other off campus and our menfolk don't really click, so it's a weird species of friendship.

SO: This party was hosted by the Lady Professor I'm closest to--let's call her LP1. LP1 knows my situation, and likes to ask me about it. She's also tried to comfort me with stories of her brother's successful IVF experience. She tells me details about her life that she doesn't share with the rest of the LPs. For instance, when she had a baby a year and a half ago, she told me about the stresses of adjusting to parenting. And how they were affecting her marriage to the point that she'd raised the possibility of divorce. Like the fact that, although her marriage was still rocky, she'd started thinking about trying to get pregnant again. She's almost forty, and her OB advised her not to wait too long. Last time the Lady Professors had coffee, two weeks ago, I was telling her about my last failed IUI and she was, as it turns out, totally lying to me. Because of course she's pregnant again, entering her second trimester. This was gaily announced at last night's party as we all sat around the plate of Chanuka doughnuts.

I know, I know, tis' the season for pregnancy announcements, and what is there to say about pregnancy announcements that hasn't been said before? They hurt, we do our best to fake the enthusiasm we can't possibly feel. But I felt particularly blindsided on this occasion, and I'm trying to figure out why. Did I really expect her to tell me she was pregnant before the three month mark? I guess not--the reasons for not telling people are good reasons. Did I really expect her to have the empathy to realize that a heads-up e-mail would have been classy? I guess not--I'm hip to the fact that even sympathetic people can't understand how painful this experience is and can't be expected to know how to make it less painful. This is her happy moment, and she has no obligation to think about how it will affect me. Fine.

So why was this a shock? I think I was caught off guard because I hardly ever go anywhere, and never going anywhere should protect me from unexpected pregnancy announcements. And I have very few friends, which should also protect me from unexpected pregnancy announcements. I mean, seriously, not knowing anyone and never going anywhere--that ought to be pretty effective, right? And I guess I thought I was safe from her because she knew about my situation and would show some tact. And I guess I thought I would be more relaxed about this stuff because I am on reproductive hiatus. But it turns out that being in limbo is only okay if nothing happens to anyone else.

In short, I have nothing new to say about this topic, except to add my plaintive wail to the many already wafting through the ether. So here it is: It's not faaaaaair! You already have a beautiful child! I hate you! I hate your stupid party that I didn't even want to go to! I hate your delicious doughnuts!

Thursday, December 10, 2009


A few cycles ago I bought some of the fancy digital pregnancy tests, the kind that provide the result in words. I was tired of looking for phantom second lines and figured a blunt "not pregnant" would be easier to take. Plus, variety. After two boxes worth of "not pregnant" I've determined that it's not easier to take, and there's some extra guilt associated with putting all that garbage into the landfill. The digital tests are about fifty times larger and more plasticy, and contain a battery and everything. BUT, it also occurred to me that there's a real opportunity here for specialized supportive pregnancy tests for infertile couples. After all, if a pregnancy test is going to give you a message, why can't it be a nice message? For example...

Needless to say, these tests would have to be specially marketed, as not every woman wants a pep talk. And there's also an opportunity here for women who are terrified of a positive test. E.g., not pregnant. hallelujah! or perhaps pregnant. it's going to be okay. Anyway: MONEY MAKING OPPORTUNITY. Perhaps if I don't get tenure because I'm so unproductive as a result of infertility, I'll move forward with my excellent invention.

P.S. You can translate the title of this post with a binary to ASCII converter.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Baby or puppy? Hmmm...just can't decide.

Yesterday someone suggested that I get a pet to fill the void in my childless life. This is, for me anyway, a new one on the list of horrible remarks to make to the infertile. If I'd allowed the conversation to continue, doubtless the person would have gone on to suggest I go down to the local animal shelter and select the oldest, mangiest, blindest, most three-legged dog available, 'cause that's all I DESERVE.

I don't think most people would equate a pet and a child. Even people who use the word furbaby. I'm guessing that, to those who use it, the word means I love my pet so much it's like he or she is my child. I get that. For me it conjures up images of gestating, delivering, and nursing a puppy or kitten, but that's just me.

I love cats and dogs. And chinchillas and iguanas and all other pets. (Except parrots. And monkeys. Sorry, simply can't open my heart to parrots and monkeys.) But I don't want a pet, and here's why. It started with the pigs, Cheesecake and Piglet. I was about two years old when we got them, and about three years old when they were slaughtered. I guess it was intended as a lesson in food production, but turned out to be more of a lesson in how The Things You Love Will Be Taken From You. Next were the adorable fuzzeh bebeh ducks. This was a lesson to my useless, irresponsible mother in how If You Don't Provide An Enclosure For Your Ducklings They Will Wander Off And Freeze To Death. (You may know that song about the ten little ducks going out to play? Special poignancy for me.) When I was about five it was the three plump bunnies. Eaten by wild dogs. This was a lesson to my useless, irresponsible mother in how If You Don't Provide A STURDY Enclosure For Your Bunnies They Will Be Eaten By Wild Dogs. A year later there was the beloved dog we had to get rid of. My mother got knocked up by the married neighbor so we had to move out of town and couldn't take the dog. Then there was the beloved cat who jumped out of the car miles outside of town, found her way home, and, we later learned, got shot by the neighbor boy. Having the cat you love leap out of the car and having your mother refuse to stop and catch the cat is already an unforgettable memory. After a few more such incidents (e.g., the gerbils--my mother left the cage open and they were eaten by a cat who subsequently wandered off, never to be seen again), I hardened my heart to pets, and it has remained hard. To normal people, pets represent love and companionship. To me they represent heartbreak and death. My husband wants to know what will happen when our hypothetical child can't live without a dog or cat. I suppose I'll give it another shot at that point, though knowing my life, it will be mama, I'll diiiiieeeeee if we don't get a monkey! But the suggestion that I get a cat or dog so I don't spend all my time longing for a baby--while a totally brilliant solution for most cases of infertility--simply isn't going to work for me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How to measure happiness

In college I had this somewhat insane boyfriend who charted how he felt about our relationship on a day-by-day basis. He was studying physics, so I guess he liked to take a quantitative approach to everything. Actually, it now seems very likely that he had (has, I guess--I'm not in touch with him) an autism spectrum disorder. Anyway, having reached a similar level of weirdness, I present the following chart. No, it's not my basal body temperature, or my progesterone level, and it's certainly not my hCG level. It's an estimate of happiness according to my cycle day.

For the unit of measurement on happiness I have decided to use fluffy kittens, as in I feel 4.5 fluffy kittens happy today. This is (obviously) abbreviated fkit, and I noticed after making my graph that this looks rather like an abbreviation for fuck it. I like that. Happiness could also be measured in fuck its, as in fuck it, I may as well have a drink. These numbers are totally made up--it's not like I've been doing this for months and have nice averages to present or anything. And since I'm still in the early stages of the fun IF boat ride, I've only got pre-intervention cycles and IUI cycles to work with. I imagine IVF cycles might look quite different. Probably the y axis would need to go down to negative 10. In any event, I was driven to produce this chart because, for the first time in a very long time, I'm on an enforced break. And I was feeling almost cheerful yesterday. I was thinking wow, those women who say that taking a break can be nice might actually be right! I'm the most impatient person in the world (I've got a trophy and everything) so I couldn't imagine that having nothing happening could ever be a positive thing. But maybe it is. Maybe I am experiencing the relief that comes with a lessening of the pressure to reproduce. But then I realized...maybe this is just my normal less miserable post-ovulatory self (I'm on day 17). That was kind of a bummer. I'd like to think I've got weeks of feeling less shitty ahead of me. Clearly, the only way to resolve this question is to obsessively chart my happiness level during this break and then compare to my estimated average...or I could try not worrying about it. Will I feel worse than I do today at some point? Absolutely. Will I feel better? Probably. Do I want to spend my time on this in lieu of being inseminated? Probably not. I don't want to end up like my insane ex. But I am curious if other people have the same predictable patterns in their mood, and what sorts of things can result in an unexpected peak or dip.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Before my last IUI, I spent some time looking for success stories on the interweb. I found plenty, but I also found some CRAZY people. In one forum I found a post from a person who claims that if her success rate for IUI is 15% the first cycle, it's 30% the second cycle, and 45% the third cycle. If that's really what you meant, infertile-lady-whose-internet-identity-I'm-making-a-minimal-effort-to-protect, you need to have a chat with your RE. If this understanding of your chances comes from your RE, your RE needs to have a chat with Intro to Statistics at his or her local educational institution. If this were truly the case, then all I'd need to do every time I wanted to get knocked up is participate in a series of 6.67 IUIs. Hells yes, I can do that! Anything for a baby, right?

Now, I use statistics in my research, so might be better informed than the average person. I understand that when you have a series of independent (the outcome of one is not affected by the outcome of another) events with a fixed chance of occurring, the cumulative probability is the same as the individual probability. For example, the chance of getting heads when you flip a coin is the same if you flip the coin once, or three times, or a hundred times: 0.5. I also understand that success rates are not about me, an individual case. Success rates are about samples from populations of people thought to be representative of my situation. I don't have a success rate--not yet, anyway.

Infertility is all about statistics, which can be dehumanizing, discouraging, and comforting. For example, I find the one-in-seven (or five, or four--depends on the woman's age) figure for number of infertile couples in the US comforting. But I find the breakdown into male factor, female factor, or unknown factor dehumanizing. Maybe because it separates the couple into individuals, allowing blame to be ascribed. Or take the chart on my pregnancy test box that lists the percentage of women in their sample who were pregnant and tested positive at different days (e.g., 5 days before the expected day of their period). I find those numbers both discouraging and comforting. They provide for a gradual descent into sadness (I tend to test on days 12, 13, 14), but they also make me feel pretty comfortable having an enormous drink on day 14 even if my period is late (which it always was on Clomid). The likelihood that there's anyone in there to give a damn is vanishingly small.

The statistic I'm keeping in mind for the present is 50% per cycle, the number my RE cited when asked about my clinic's IVF success rate. I know it doesn't mean I have a 50% chance of getting pregnant if we do IVF. I certainly know that if the rate is 50% per cycle, that doesn't mean the rate for a second cycle would be 100%. I'm not a crazy person. But it's a comforting number. It's starting to snow here, and I've got no chance of getting pregnant for at least two months, so I need some comfort.

In other news, after hanging out with my best friend I was pleased to discover that some things associated with pregnancy are still boring. I'd like to make a general announcement: I don't care about your birth plan. Regardless of who you are, your birth plan is boring to me. (With the possible exception of my own hypothetical future fetus--your birth plan interests me very much.) Hearing about someone's birth plan (then my OB was like blah and I was like blah and....snoooooooze) is reminiscent of hearing about someone's wedding table decor in way too much detail. Then we had pale green napkins, but not like sage but like a warmer...snoooooze. Nothing whatsoever to arouse my interest. This might be one of those things that changes when you get pregnant. I hope to find out.

Friday, December 4, 2009


My best friend is coming over this afternoon. We're going to make some cookies. It should be nice. The kitchen all cozy and warm from the oven. But...

We have never had the easiest friendship. When we first met towards the end of college, we were interested in pretty different things, career-wise. Over time, though, she's moved further and further into my area of research. This is good, as it means we go to many of the same conferences and have lots of fun traveling together. But it's also bad, as it means we are in a good position to evaluate each other professionally. Two years ago she started teaching in my department. Now we have offices down the hall from each other. We share students. We see each other all the time. This is not ideal for our friendship. I'm sure plenty of people would do fine in this situation, but we both happen to be sensitive, judgmental, and insecure. Because of this excessive overlap in our lives, I didn't tell her I was trying to get pregnant. This might seem bizarre--what kind of a best friendship doesn't involve sharing such details? But I wanted to have the experience to myself. And I knew if I told her I was trying, she'd start trying too.

I got caught. We went out to dinner on an evening when I wasn't drinking (just in case). She noticed. Sure enough, a few weeks later she told me they were going to start trying in a couple of months. My husband and I had just started our infertility workup. I came clean. I told her how long I'd been trying, and that I hoped she'd get pregnant immediately, that she wouldn't  have to go through what I'd been going through. Two months later, I was waiting to learn the outcome of my first IUI, and she was pregnant.

At first I could be happy for least during the luteal phase of my cycle, when there was a chance I might be happy for myself soon. It was exciting hearing about the details of a pregnancy--none of my other friends have kids. We just didn't hang out during the other weeks of my cycle. But once she started showing, I couldn't bear it. It became so much more real. She's going to be a mother. There's a baby in her oven. My oven is cold and dark. Or maybe on perpetual pre-heat.

When I think about the experiences she's having--feeling her baby kick, preparing a nursery, birthing classes, delivery, motherhood--I feel overwhelming sorrow. When I see her belly, tears come to my eyes. I have to walk past the Land of Pregnancy every day on the way to my office, but those anonymous pregnant ladies only arouse a petty kind of envy in me. But when it's someone so close to you, it's different. Because our lives are so similar, it's so easy to visualize. It could so easily be me. So I can't see my best friend, and I can't share her experience.

And that's a whole other source of sorrow. I miss her. I want to know what she's going through. I want to be a good friend, and I don't want to lose her in the process. What if she makes all new friends with babies, and I never see her again? And I'm trying. I'm organizing a baby shower. I'm making cookies with her. I'm doing my best, and that's all I can do. She's being very kind, too. She understands that I can't do more, and I'm grateful for that compassion. But I'd love to know if anyone has ever figured this out. How do you preserve your friendships with fertile women? How do you minimize the damage infertility does to your relationships with the women you love?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Perseverance will bring desired results

Last night my husband mentioned that the decade is drawing to a close. I'd been oblivious to this fact, what with my every neuron being devoted to thoughts of my empty uterus. But now I've started thinking back over the...uh...zeros (have we figured out what to call this decade yet?).

Early in the decade I got the following fortune cookie fortune: perseverance will bring desired results. I still have it, tucked into my filofax. In some ways, this has been the theme of the last 10 years of my life. Perseverance. Achieving desired results.

I'm a university professor. People (e.g., my students, my colleagues) tend to assume I'm an overachiever for whom intellectual pursuits have always been a zone of comfort and success. They think I did well in high school and had a typical college experience, that the obvious signs of my success (I have a tenure track job at a mediocre institution--that's actually pretty hard to achieve) are sufficient to make me feel secure. In short, people tend to think all this shit came easily, and that now I just chill up in my ivory tower feeling smug. Of course, that is how I spend the bulk of my time. BUT it was a tough road getting here. I earned myself a mess of Ds and Fs in high school, and, oddly, no college wanted me. I worked as a grocery clerk. (And by the way, grocery clerks really do notice all the embarrassing things you're buying, and yeah, they judge you.). It didn't take long for me to decide I didn't want to do that for the rest of my life. I had to take a circuitous route to getting into a good college. I also paid for college myself, working a crap job and struggling to make ends meet. It was lonely and hard. But I persevered. I achieved desired results.

At the beginning of this decade I graduated from college and moved across the country to start graduate school at the University of Chicago. Grad student housing hooked me up with a nice little apartment, and I was getting money to study stuff that interested me. I still recall getting my first fellowship check. This money is for me?! To use to study things?! It was awesome.

2001-2006 were not easy years. I'm not brilliant, so had to work my ass off. I'm also a social misfit, so spent all my time alone in my nice little apartment. But I did well, and I was probably as happy as I get. I published a few papers. I met a nice boy. I passed my qualifying exams. I wrote my dissertation. I went on the job market. The academic job marked requires maaaaad perseverance. Amazingly, I got a job. Once more, I figured out what needed to be done, I did it, it worked.

In 2006, I married my nice boy and moved slightly further across the country to begin my new job. The first few years of an academic job are stressful--constant evaluation, steep learning curve, etc. My progress was reasonable, though. My superiors approved of me. All was well. In 2008, we started trying to get pregnant. My husband had been ready for a while, but I wanted to time things so I could deliver at the end of a semester and use my pre-tenure teaching leave to extend my parental leave and it was all going to be so well-planned. I had my ovulation predictor kit. I knew how to get things done, and pregnancy was just another thing.

It will be 2010 soon, and there's little prospect of a pregnancy any time soon. I've never had a positive pregnancy test. We fall into the "unknown factor" category. We've just had our third failed IUI, all well-timed, all with good follicular response, all with lots of vigorous, shapely sperm. I'm scheduling a laparoscopy for January.

My point is not that my life has been super hard and waaaaaahhh poor me and I'm the greatest for overcoming these enormous obstacles. Like many women in my situation, other than the empty womb, my life is pretty good. I'm early in the IF process. I still have hope. My husband is supportive. I'm grateful for all these things. But like many women in my situation, I'm filled with despair. I persevered. I did not achieve desired results. I can persevere fuck out of this bitch, but I can't make it happen. If I achieve desired results, it will be due to the intervention of my doctors. Not to me. Not due to my work ethic, or my excellent organizational abilities, or my smarts. It's not new to say that infertility robs us of our faith in our bodies and our sense of personal efficacy. But boy, am I feeling it this month. 2009 has sucked. This decade, which should have been an unbroken series of satisfying achievements, has taken a heartbreaking turn.

I'm guessing a lot of infertile couples are thinking back over this decade and this year. I hope the next year brings all of us the desperately-longed-for child we all deserve. I'm thinking of making some fortune cookies stuffed with fortunes that say "you will get pregnant." It may not be true, but neither was "perseverance will bring desired results."