My mom got knocked up in college. She claims she conceived my sister when she lost her virginity, or as she puts it, when she finally succumbed to my biological father’s relentless pursuit. Four years later, separated and ashamed, she didn’t tell anyone she was pregnant again. I was born ten weeks early and went to a foster home while she sorted through her litany of doubts and fears. She came and got me even though she was unprepared for what lay ahead — raising two kids alone.
Now, at 33, I too have been laid low by life and by my fertility, but my problem is quite different from my mother’s — I can’t get pregnant. I take my temperature. I test for hormonal surges by peeing onto miniscule paper sticks and I take fertility drugs that give me wicked headaches and hot flashes. My husband and I take turns shooting hormone injections nightly into my delicate skin. I shuttle back and forth from the specialist’s office for ultrasounds and blood work. I persevere even though I am eternally irritable. I wait, impatient and distracted. I pray — for a miracle, my miracle, to be granted. Each month is a marathon of hope and will. Then, when I get my period, I am inconsolable and consumed with rage for not getting what I believe I deserve.
I know I am not alone, but that doesn’t seem to help much. Millions of couples have trouble conceiving. For many, including myself, a baby won’t be a reality without the aid of advanced reproductive techniques. This is a hard fact to face when I’m sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, reading an infertility pamphlet while a pregnant mother with a set of twins in a double stroller coos to her children. I have to fight the urge to not tackle her. Scenarios like this abound. In the same waiting room, I read an article about a mother of nine who still finds time to work out five days a week. Then there’s my own mother’s story. She was a farm girl who made it to college. Her dreams consisted of advanced degrees, not diapers and more poverty. What is this gross inconsistency? I let doctors play God with my body as I weather the miserable physical repercussions and still, no baby. The only explanation I am beginning to be able to live with is that reproduction is random and left totally up to chance. The most deserving mothers or the ones who want a baby the most aren’t first in line to receive their bundle of joy.
I think I’ve been taking all of this very personally and there really is no justice. After my far from celebrated start in this world, I feel this child I want so badly is my due — a reward for my endurance, a token to right all the past wrongs.
Growing up — with a sister with early onset depression in childhood and an overwhelmed and unprepared mother — was hell. My father too had an uneasy relationship with life: his alcoholism, mental illness, and multiple suicide attempts mirrored his disregard for existence — specifically mine and my sister’s. He left us high and dry. To survive all of this, I turned into the “Little Engine That Could.” I played by the rules. I worked hard. I got good grades, respected my elders, volunteered at the hospital, and went to church. When I got a little older, I slaved at restaurants to earn money for college. I banked on the future and the belief that things would be easier, better, and more fair when I got older. I drew these ideas not from the church podium or from watching my mother manage to keep her chin up, but from my own need to make things bearable. This faith, which grew to mean fairness, promised me that the meek, the unlucky, the downtrodden, would inherit the earth — or my own interpretation, which meant, “Pay your dues now, and what you want and deserve will come to you.” Now, I wasn’t at all thinking of the afterlife — just later, in this life. Since I had been subjected to a lot of sadness and unfairness in the past, it would follow that the things that hold the most meaning for me would come to me effortlessly.
The future is here and I want it all — the healthy and happy family of 2.4 kids and a dog and the self-righteous satisfaction of saying to life, “You didn’t beat me, I got mine!” It’s not like I’ve had much of anything handed to me. After not being able to get pregnant the way nature intended, I’ve paid my dues. I have suffered. I’ve spent 40 years, or in my case, 500 days, in the desert. If, the next time I’m on the examining table and my doctor says that I’m not going to get the ultrasound to see how my eggs are developing, but rather a faith check-up, I would not be given a clean bill of health. My beliefs are failing me. It was easier when I was younger — to think of my bright future and how justice would be served. I worry about a day when my faith’s all gone and I’m still not pregnant.
I do know as I take each of these steps with fertility drugs, intrauterine inseminations, and the in-vitro fertilization procedure looming ahead, I am moving through options — and soon these options will run out. Part of me feels relieved; part of me feels panicked. Deliverance from this totally consuming obsession of trying to get pregnant sounds like relief to me once in a while. That is when I can let myself think about adoption. Maybe that is what I am supposed to do — rescue a child from a bad situation or from a mom, alone and scared, much like my mother, who believes that adoption is the only hope for a better life for her child. Maybe that would finally heal my wounds of having a mother who never intended to give life and a father who dropped out of his. I just can’t take that leap of faith yet because I still dream of a life for my biological child — a dream where I want him, pine for him, conceive him, and where he then lives happily ever after, or as close to it as one can.
I have to begrudgingly remind myself that being tested can yield positive results. I’m not talking about not having to worry about current events anymore due to spending all my time obsessing about my misfortune, but rather the gaining of insight. I have been so caught up in creating a new life that I have lost sight of my own. This, in fact, is life, all of it, and it keeps on in the midst of war, political campaigns, rising gas prices, the change of seasons, disappointment, and infertility. I’ve spent much of the last year having a serious pity party, putting things on hold, waiting for this event to happen and then kicking and screaming when it doesn’t. I’m still that little girl who believes if she plays by the rules, tries harder, prays daily, then she’ll be rewarded. My anger’s compounded because I resent being forced to confront the power of my beliefs and admit that what worked before isn’t working now. I have to choose between stubborn persistence or revising my definition of faith to mean not a reward for good behavior but endurance – moving forward in spite of the disappointment, pain, and injustice.
My mom must have had this brand of faith. After many years, she’s finally back on track. She’s in school, getting her PhD, slowly regaining her own life path after being thrust into mothering, as I pine away, cursing my on-coming menstrual cramps, hoping that next month, all this waiting will finally pay off. I have no other choice. And with the most unlikely of role models for this, my mom is showing me something else that I really need to know — how to get back to the business of living.