Getting Up and Going Home

Getting Up and Going Home

There has been some heavy reading in the press of late. Rachel Cusk of the New York Times reviewed two books on assisted reproduction. Earlier this month Jennifer Senior, also writing for the Times, reviewed The Art of Waiting. In the review, Ms. Simon writes the following.

“I thought quite a lot about what normal is and isn’t as I was reading “The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood,” Belle Boggs’s thoughtful meditation on childlessness, childbearing, and — for some — the stretch of liminal agony in between. Her book is a corrective and a tonic, a primer and a dispeller of myths. It is likely to become a go-to guide for the many couples who discover that having children is not the no-assembly-required experience they were expecting. They will come away enlightened, reassured and comforted by her debunker mentality.”

I have to agree with Ms. Simon’s assessment, but for a reason she does not state here. You see, the author and her husband were successful. I doubt very much that anyone would recommend a book so wholeheartedly to anyone, single or married, going through this process had the protagonists not been successful. I doubt the other book, Avalanche: A Love Story, will be held up as a corrective, tonic, or primer. Cusk describes Avalanche as, “a harrowing and profoundly disturbing account of self-immolation in pursuit of an ideal, for what Leigh has failed to recognize about ‘creative life’ is that it too seeks to concretize the ineffable, and that it arises in people of a single-mindedness and determination so strong it can destroy them.” After years of trying, love, sex, trust, compassion, solidarity disappeared. The author’s marriage failed. She continues her pursuit alone. I did not. As I have said before, I did not feel the insatiable hunger for a child that many without experience. When it was over, I wondered where the love, trust, compassion, solidarity, the friendship went. Now I know. What’s worse, I went to being a person to a vessel to a non-entity. I am still struggling to overcome my erasure.

Having been through this process, I read these reviews to compare notes. I get everything I need from the reviews, so I don’t need to read the books. I know about the rituals, the infantilization of language (follies? embies? baby bump?), the seemingly endless menu of choices, the statistics (most of them inflated, in my experience) my ex would have understood the not knowing when to stop because he didn’t. I didn’t and don’t understand the not knowing when to stop, but then again it was my body and later another woman’s body who were undergoing these treatments. This is where most women who undertake this journey and I differ, and I wonder if they experienced the same clinic fatigue as I. Our clinic got tired of dealing with us because we were difficult clients and because we were failures. I also don’t think they knew what to do when the man, not the woman, has rampant babyfever. I was never desperate to be a mother, much less a biological one. Most of my friends are on that path now, or are about to embark on that path. It’s the largest not-so-secret club in the world. As a non-parent, I know a surprising amount about the rituals of parenthood simply because my parent friends speak so openly and freely about playdates, birthday parties, mommy boards, and mommy bloggers. I have nothing to say on the subject except to allow my friends who are mothers to vent about the ridiculous standards to which they are held. Of all of my friends who have children, none of them had to resort to IUI or IVF, and only one so far has had a hysterosalpingiogram. She told me about how much it hurt because she knew I’d understand. I don’t talk much about my experience because there’s no one to tell, really. No one wants to hear what I have to say.

These patterns are recurring in other aspects of my life. No one wants to talk about my failed marriage, except my therapist. No one wants to talk about the abuse, except my therapist. No one wants to hear about the loneliness because either they can’t relate or they worry that mine mirrors their own. I think I’m tired of talking about this, but I’m stuck and I can’t move. I’m bound by my own anger and I can’t find the end of the rope to untangle myself. Nothing I did was right in my marriage and I can’t even grieve properly. I want to scream and kick things, but there is nowhere to scream and nothing to kick.

I’ve Been Here Before. I’ll Be Here Again.

I’ve Been Here Before. I’ll Be Here Again.

-Can we talk about the last implantation?
-I’ve been waiting for you to talk about the last implantation. I’ve been giving you the silent treatment for the last two weeks waiting for you to talk about the last implantation.
-You’ve been giving me the silent treatment?
-Yup.
-Funny, I said, I didn’t notice.

Infertility is a time sink, a black hole. Time and space warp. Time, in particular, stretches out before you and collapses behind you, propelling you forward. The next menstrual cycle. The next appointment, The next round of injectables. The next insemination. The next consultation. The next implantation. The calendar rules your life in a way you never thought possible. It is a ruthless and intimate taskmaster. I kept my menstrual calendar in my Filofax. Every month I put little Xs next to the days I was bleeding and little dashes next to the days when I was most likely to be ovulating. When I had my requisite year of Xs and dashes, my doctors decided it was time to see a fertility specialist.

You learn a lot about your body and yourself when you’re trying to conceive. I learned that my menstrual cycle was 21 days long, which is on the short end of normal. I also learned that my periods were 10-12 days long. To put this into perspective, a woman’s menstrual cycle can be anywhere from 21-35 days long, the average cycle is 28 days. Menstruation typically lasts 3-5 days, but anything from 2-7 is considered normal. In a 28-days cycle ovulation typically occurs midway through the cycle. This does not mean that ovulation occurs on day 14 on the dot, but that it can occur anywhere from day 11 to day 21. In my case, if ovulation typically occurs midway through the cycle that would put it around day 10. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that I was bleeding, heavily, through my most fertile period-if I was fertile at all.

The first doctor we met with was all bravado and swagger. The walls of his office were covered with awards, newspaper articles, pictures of himself. His degrees were there somewhere. He sat back in his chair and nonchalantly told us the playbook, I think that’s what he called it. When I raised concerns about the condition of my uterus, he smiled and said why don’t you let me tell you what to worry about. I told him that after three hysteroscopic myomectomies and one laparotomy, I thought I was just as knowledgeable about my situation as he and that my concerns were justified. (In time I was proven right, but that’s a tale for another day.) As we left I thought, the only thing missing was a picture of his penis. We made our next appointment with a different doctor one known more for his clinical acumen than his bedside manner. He suited me perfectly.

In my experience, fertility clinics are not like other doctor’s offices. They are not looking to form a long-term relationship with you the patient. They want your treatment to be successful, they want you to come back when you want another child, and they want you to refer your friends. Everyone is enthusiastic and hopeful. They’re like cheerleaders. Ready? As the woman it’s your fault so you get the personal questions and invasive tests first, OK!  Great! Not responding to the drugs? That’s ok! Look at his sperm. It’s perfect! I remember feeling like the information I was getting was being dumbed down for my benefit; perhaps to spare my feelings. I looked around and saw that I was in a desperate place full of desperate couples. I wasn’t desperate.

As treatment dragged on we became like guests who’d overstayed our welcome. Between not responding to drugs, failed IUI attempts, a catastrophic fertilization failure where all of the embryos died, a successful fertilization of donor eggs, and four unsuccessful implantations, treatment dragged on for nearly four years. I freely admit that this part of my life is distorted and hazy. It’s like one of those stories where there are flashbacks within flashbacks. They ran out of reassurances. They never knew why procedure after procedure failed. I’d done the research and knew this was a roll of the dice at best. He took every failure to heart and could not understand why I didn’t. I tried to talk him into adopting or being a foster parent. You don’t know what you’re getting, he argued. I told him you didn’t know what you were getting with your own biological children. He asked, didn’t I want a little me running around? I told him the last thing I wanted was a someone running around with the same hangups and insecurities as me. Eventually they stopped talking to us. Eventually, he stopped talking to me.

A friend of mine asked me once if I felt like a failure as a woman. I shrugged and said that if my entire idea of myself as a woman was bound to my ability to reproduce then maybe I would, but it doesn’t so I don’t. The ability to have a baby doesn’t make one a woman any more than it makes one a man. If you’re young and/or immature when you have a child, you might have to grown up faster than otherwise. Then again, I have seen my fair share of couples where one partner takes care of the children and the other takes all the credit.  Who I am as a woman is about who I am as a person. I may not be the most conventional person, so I guess that doesn’t make me the most conventional woman. In the end I can’t be any other way.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

In spring, they say, every man’s fancy turns to love. Perhaps it should be every man’s biological clock ticks a little louder. I say man deliberately. I choose my words carefully. I sensed a restless tick! tick! BOOM! in him that I never heard in myself. I often think he tried to transfer his biological clock to me to make me think I wanted something that I really didn’t. I think there are men who do this and succeed. My ex nearly succeeded. The day we filed for divorce I came home from work to find him on JDate. Any prospects? Yup. You hungry? Yup. It was all very anticlimactic, almost banal. I think we even went out to dinner.

His pursuit of other women began almost immediately after the initial filing. It was laughable, really. While out for a drink one afternoon with friends I watched as he hit on a young bisexual woman who was in a committed relationship with another woman. It made me think back to a time when we were first married where he said the only thing wrong with me was that I wasn’t bisexual. Apparently, bisexual women exist purely for his pleasure. That would change, of course. By the end, there would be so much wrong with me it would start tirades. His disregard for my presence was brazen. His conduct made others in our party visibly uncomfortable. Some clueless men are cute when they flirt. For him to flirt would have required tact and subtlety and a fundamental shift in his attitude towards women.

The second outing during the mandatory 90-day cooling off period was at a housewarming party hosted by mutual friends. I sat on the sofa next to the other cool married woman and watched him work the room: pursing his lips, knitting his brows, nodding, weaving. I’d seen his father do the same countless times when holding court. He looked out of place, odd, like a crane or a flamingo in a duck pond or a rabbit warren. As I drove h0me, he regaled me with tales of conquest-particularly or this “hot chick”, a “seven-out-of-ten” (his words, not mine)-over her pathetic boyfriend. In he end, she went home with her boyfriend and I drove the conquering hero’s inebriated ass home.

In separation, as in marriage, we were always together. It was nice when we were first married but it wore on me after a while. It wasn’t that we did everything together, we had to do everything together. We were involved in all the same projects, mostly his projects. I was roped into things to ensure we projected a united front. The longer our marriage went on, the more insistent be became on projecting this image. When he announced our separation, the constant togetherness confused people. It got worse. It turned into see how together we are? See what a great team we are even in separation? One person I told, thinking (mistakenly as it happens) that he already knew, commented that we were always together and we seemed to get along so well. People didn’t think it was real. My ex admonished people not to feel that they had to pick sides. I knew they were going to choose sides no matter what I asked.

I knew he was on a full-fledged fishing expedition but it really hit home when he started taking our young, single, female friends aside to tell them the news. It was like watching the Annunciation. Behold! I give you good tidings of great joy! For, yea, my wife and I are getting divorced, it is amicable and I have chosen you above all others to hear this news. Every time he took another friend aside, I half expected to hear Handel. I was able to gauge his interest by what he told them and how; was it one-on-one or in groups or pairs? One-on-one meant interest. Otherwise, she was safe. When he escorted one particular friend out of a bar, my suspicion that he had a crush on her was confirmed. It was obvious that he liked her and his constant denials were more about saying I was wrong and keeping me in my place. When she strolled back in, planted her hands on my table and said, I love you, my suspicion that the feeling was not mutual was also confirmed. Several months later I mentioned her to my ex he was rather blase about his crush on her. It ended, he said.

Other women pursued him too. One day he got a phone call from an acquaintance asking if wanted to accompany her to an outdoor art festival. Have fun on your date, I said. It’s not a date, he replied. I explained to him that when a woman phones you and invites you to an art show, it’s a date.  They seemed at first glance to be well suited to one another. They’re both intelligent, nerdy, but I got the sense that she was more interested in him than he in her. The more I got to know her the more I realised why he wasn’t interested; she was too smart, too independent, too secure, and too strong for him. She wasn’t damaged like I was and he couldn’t get a toehold. I have a long fuse and finally one day it blew. The chapter on my marriage closed and this new part of my life started.