I made the announcement late last summer on vacation, sitting on the porch of a rented 19th-century farmhouse with friends on a small, secluded island in Maine, a wine glass firmly in my hand. “We’re having a baby — from India!” My friends looked at me quizzically before my strangely put phrase clicked, and then hugs and congratulations and toasts were offered. I hadn’t felt so close to being a mother since I’d been pregnant a year and a half earlier, before having a miscarriage.
A little over a month ago, shortly after the last time my period came and once again crushed my pregnancy hopes, my husband, Neil, and I had made a decision: If I wasn’t pregnant this month, we’d stop the dreaded infertility treatments and get started with our plans to adopt a baby from India.
Still, I allowed myself to hope against hope that maybe it could still happen. Every twinge of nausea I read as a possible sign that the infertility treatment regimen had finally worked. On the other hand, the very same signs of promise might just as well be signs of failure. Feeling moody and emotional, even on this beautiful and idyllic Maine vacation, I speculated about the cause. Was it PMS? Lingering infertility drugs in my system? Or could I actually be pregnant? I allowed myself to fantasize, one last time, counting out the months to see when I would be due, thinking about the one expensive pair of maternity jeans I’d spring for, about the kind of stroller and infant pouch we’d select. I allowed myself to think, one last time, about what it might be like to breastfeed.
My husband and I have been together for more than five years, married for more than three, and trying to have a baby for a little bit more than two. I was 30 when we married, 31 when we started trying. I never imagined, not once, that I’d have any trouble getting pregnant. Even after my first pregnancy and miscarriage, and my subsequent troubles conceiving, I still didn’t believe things might not work out as planned. A battery of tests had come up with nothing but the all-too-common diagnosis of “unexplained infertility.”
I started the infertility treatments after we’d been trying to conceive for a year and a half following my miscarriage. I might have started earlier — I’d had a prescription for the infertility drug Clomid sitting in my desk drawer for nearly a year — but I kept hoping that the next month would do the trick. Next to the Clomid prescription was a pack of cigarettes. My body menstruated like clockwork, and on Day 26 of my cycle, the day my period invariably arrived, I’d have a glass of wine and allow myself to smoke just one of the cigarettes — I was a smoker in a previous life — until I felt like I’d had my consolation for the month. Then, I’d go back on my infertility-fighting regimen of yoga, meditation, acupuncture, lots of fruit and vegetables, no alcohol, and little caffeine. It wasn’t a huge sacrifice. I like living healthfully. The problem was the interminable focus on my reproductive system.
Shortly before our Maine vacation, I told my infertility specialist we were thinking of quitting treatment and going the adoption route. He looked horrified, like I had just said we were planning to overthrow the government. The decision to stop trying so early on in the treatment process is pretty unusual. My doctor, a good looking, trilingual Italian man who’d initially struck me as dashing, was “sure” he could get me pregnant if I kept going on the road from infertility drugs and intra-uterine insemination (IUI) to the promised land of in vitro fertilization (IVF). If that didn’t work, he added, there was always the option of donor eggs and even surrogacy.
But I’d been through enough already to know that I wanted to stop. Two rounds of drugs that made me sick and loopy, and two rounds of IUI, which hurt more than they were supposed to because, as I found out during the first attempt, my cervix was blocked and scarred, most likely a result of the D&C I’d had when I miscarried. The cervix issue meant that if it came time for IVF, I’d have to walk around for ten days before each procedure wearing a catheter that would keep a path clear for the insemination. And, yes, the doctor acknowledged, my being small (a petite five feet, two inches) meant that carrying twins or even triplets — a possibility that became more and more likely with each additional medical intervention — would be particularly problematic, increasing the odds of having to go on bed-rest, or that the babies would be born prematurely.
What the doctor couldn’t see was how hard the last two years had been for me, and for my husband, too. Losing my first pregnancy was bad enough, an acute pain and a lingering grief. But the infertility was almost worse. I hated the feeling that if I could only do or find the right thing — an acupuncture treatment, the perfect body weight, the right foods, the right timing of our sex life — then everything would be okay again.
But it wasn’t okay. I wasn’t getting pregnant, and the stress and strain were wearing on both of us. Neil complained that I was upset nearly all the time; I complained that he wasn’t upset enough. Making matters worse, the infertility drugs were making me feel feverish and exhausted and depressed. I couldn’t write and could hardly bring myself to read.
A new friend of mine named Patricia, a novelist studying the art of energy healing, offered me a session right around the time my second round of infertility treatments began. Neil drove me over to her house one afternoon after we’d had an appointment at the clinic. Lying on her massage table, made up with care in silky, smooth cotton sheets, Patricia moved her hands over me and touched me gently. The windows were open, and a cool summer wind came through as she told me that she was moving the toxic medicine out of my body.
She worked quietly, and I was left to relax and let my mind wander. That session, and the next, I didn’t think about a growing belly or heaving milk breasts or the pain and pleasure of childbirth. I saw myself, instead, boarding a plane, Neil by my side, the two of us surrounded by light and the good wishes of our friends. I saw us on our way to India, on our way to becoming parents. I saw myself wrapped in a deep-hued scarf of purples and reds. And I saw our little girl, gazing up at me from a crib in her sweet-smelling orphanage across the world, wondering what was in store, when she’d be taken home.
“I’m coming,” I whispered. “We’ll be together soon. We’ll be there soon.”