Remember how, among my Facebook pet peeves, I mentioned “#9 the cryptic post that prompts confused, concerned comments”? Well, I realize that in some ways the past, like, six months have been one big long #9 here on Bread and Bread.
So here’s the story. The short version, which is not short. I’m coming out, but not in a disco way or even a fun pride parade kind of way.
On a long ago road trip, AK and I discussed the idea of having kids in that tentative way of newish couples who don’t want to seem overly eager or serious. I said I’d always thought about adopting. She said she thought it would be fun to adopt one and have one biologically. I said I was down with that, and thought she’d make a cute pregnant girl.
A few months later, she clarified, “Oh, no, I was picturing you getting pregnant.”
And so a seed was planted (not literally—that would come later). I, who had always wanted kids but had felt profoundly neutral about pregnancy—if I wanted to feel feminine, I would put on a dress, okay?—started liking the idea of being one of those cute ladies with a bump that tabloids can’t get enough of.
Our friends said encouraging things like, “Oh, Cheryl will get pregnant right way. She’s so healthy and disciplined.” Some subsequent medical tests said, “Mmmmm…maybe not.” I had a blocked fallopian tube and slightly low progesterone, which are considered highly surmountable problems in the fertility biz, but I’m a perfectionist. The body it had taken me years to learn to love and treat right seemed to have turned on me in a way that was startlingly reminiscent of the summer I was 11 and started my period. Then I was pissed about nature’s reminder that I was meant to have babies, not be an Olympic gymnast. Now it looked like I would do neither.
That was June. My doctor assured me that a pill called Clomid would trump both problems, so I did my best to let go of preemptive pride in doing this naturally. Or as naturally as a procedure that involves a doctor and a catheter rather than a penis and a glass of wine can go.
In the fall, we bought the first of nine vials of frozen sperm from the various Latino gentleman that frequent our friendly neighborhood lesbian-owned sperm bank. This would be a good place to add that this process often had me ricocheting between gratitude and self-pity. On the gratitude side we have the fact that I live in a city that has a friendly neighborhood lesbian-owned sperm bank. And my little nonprofit has shelled out for a Cadillac insurance plan that not only covers a lot of infertility costs but considers “my partner doesn’t have a penis” as valid grounds for infertility. Finally, my dad has the means and generosity to pick up part of the not-insignificant remainder of the tab. And if AK lacks a penis, she does not lack balls or compassion or other rock-solid qualities that I never would have predicted such a laidback girl could have.
On the self-pity side, we have three failed IUIs, which is what they call the glorified turkey baster method. (There is so much lingo. When I first logged onto message boards that I never should have logged onto, I was like, “What the hell does ‘BFN on 12 dp3dt’ mean?” Now I have a 14-page Word document full of my own such notes.)
We considered in vitro fertilization, which I had always deemed the territory of rich people who thought their genes were special and didn’t want someone else’s damaged goods. I was way too much of an adoption advocate to do IVF, right? One day at church, which happens to be across the street from the sperm bank, I all but heard Jesus tell me to adopt. But that was before my third pregnancy test, when I was even more sure than the first two times that I was already pregnant. I stayed awake almost the whole night thinking of the faint pink line I would see on the test that I’d driven to CVS at midnight for because I wanted the most accurate brand and AK had hidden the box I’d bought the first time around because it was making me too crazy.
And then there was no pink line, and I felt like a dried up old loser in a world of blossoming flowers for the third time, and suddenly IVF seemed doable. It was a lot faster than adoption, and I wanted a baby yesterday.
So I took a deep breath and a lot of drugs. I read about the high success rates on my doctor’s website, then signed stacks of paperwork full of disclaimers saying that, if I got pregnant at all, it would be with Cyclops triplets whom I would proceed to miscarry. Whatev. I signed it all.
I learned how to mix potions like a chemist and shoot up like an addict. AK learned how to give me shots in the ass. In mid-February, the doctor and his team knocked me out and retrieved 17 eggs. I felt like the overachiever I knew I was meant to be. That weekend we went to my college friend’s wedding, where the toasts included a lot of talk about babies, and I wondered if she was already pregnant. I wondered if, in a way, I was too. Over at the lab, my eggs were being fertilized.
The following Monday I returned and they transferred three embryos back into my uterus and told me to lay down for three days. I was cool with that. I’d made a stack of meals for AK and my dad to bring me, and I was armed with season one of Gossip Girl. So, quite literally, I sat back and waited.
You know how they say, of various certainties that people try to undercut, “That’s like being a little bit pregnant!” As in, no such thing.
Reader, there is such a thing.
My March 2 blood test showed that my HCG hormone level was 9. Most doctors declare <5 not pregnant and >20 pregnant. Incidentally, there’s such a thing as having a little bit of cancer too. The human body is annoyingly ambiguous.
Much unfortunate Googling ensued, and I learned that it’s not so much the number as whether it doubles every couple of days. Size doesn’t matter. Mine doubled. Then it didn’t. Then it did again. Then everyone said, well, it’s really about whether you get a heartbeat at your first ultrasound. The limbo ripped me to shreds. I nearly ripped AK to shreds. Every nurse I saw was poker-faced. Keely, whom I’ve come to call my email doula, was the one person to be like, “Congrats! You are pregnant, mama!”
I held onto that and slowly I came to believe it. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I started bleeding. I thought it was all over. I left work like a crime scene and drove to my doctor’s office, where it became clear that my first ultrasound would not be a scene of AK and I holding hands and cooing over our baby’s heartbeat. It was one of aloneness and terror…but there was a heartbeat. And another.
“But wait,” I said, “my HCG was so low. I totally dismissed the idea of twins.”
“You get high hormone levels with fraternal twins,” explained the nurse. This was the same nurse who had a Hello Kitty tattoo on her neck and a history of losing faxes, so I wasn’t sure whether to trust her. But for once what she said made sense: “With fraternal twins, there are two placentas. With identical, there’s only one.”
In the space of an hour, I went from thinking I was having zero babies to knowing I had two, with good heartbeats. My doctor put me back on bed rest for the bleeding, which was much less fun when unplanned. AK and I celebrated—two little boys! or two little girls!—and fought about whether it was okay for her to go to the movies while I lay around angry and helpless. We talked, not for the first time, about couples therapy.
The bleeding stopped, then started again, then stopped again, though the heartbeats continued. My doctor was worried that he couldn’t see two amniotic sacs, and more Googling revealed that there are more types of twins than you could imagine (look up “half identical twins” and “chimera” if you really want to trip out), and that the ones who share a sac are in trouble. The treatment involves months of in-patient bed rest, daily shots and a C-section at 32 weeks. If you’re lucky. I imagined reams of disability paperwork and slept much less than any pregnant woman should.
When at first the babies had appeared so close together my doctor half wondered if they were conjoined, AK had said, “Hugs, guys. We just want you to be hugging.” Now we revised it to waving.
My doctor referred me to a guy with an extra fancy ultrasound machine—sometimes the membrane between the sacs just didn’t show up on regular old $30,000 machines. A specialist among specialists. Everyone raved about this dude.
We visited his office on Thursday. He did indeed have a screen that would make any sports fan drool, and when the cheerful technician inserted what Keely has accurately dubbed the dildo cam, it immediately showed two sacs. She left the room to get the doctor, and AK and I cheered and giggled about her Bugs Bunny scrubs.
“Waves!” AK said. “The Squeakies were waving at each other through their little membrane!”
We had nicknamed them after the preemie kitten Christine and Jody rescued near the holidays. Squeaky the cat fought hard but didn’t make it, and I couldn’t help but love him a little more than his alpha big brothers. Maybe it was bad luck to name your fetuses after a dead kitten, but Squeaky was a hero to me. I wanted my babies to fight like that.
The much-lauded doctor came in. And maybe I’m biased in retrospect, but he was a lot less gentle with the dildo cam than my regular doctor, and a lot freer with his hands. But what’s a little molestation in light of what came next—
“I’m a little quieter than usual,” he said, “because while there are two sacs, I’m not getting any heartbeats. And, look, you can see that they’re different sizes. This one has some kind of protrusion. I know it’s not much consolation, but this is one of those natural selection things. And it’s better when it happens early.”
Boom, done, your babies are dead. Feel grateful for the shit they tell you to feel grateful for and get shuffled out the special back exit so you don’t scare the real pregnant ladies in the waiting room. Schedule a D&C. Apologize to AK for calling it an abortion. Learn your insurance considers it out of network. Learn that Planned Parenthood only aborts living babies. Do the walk of shame back to your regular doctor. Cry in the office. Make more people uncomfortable. Get a hug from the acupuncturist, the one person who’s made you feel a little bit human during this process.
And that’s where we are now. We are both so, so sad. And grateful for each other. And still talking about kids. I told AK, “I’m so glad you don’t want to give up.” Because let me tell you how easy it is to click from a fertility message board to someone’s personal blog about how she tried to have kids for 11 years and gave up and moved to Holland. The entirety of some posts is literally “Why me? Whyyyyyyy?”
AK said, “That would seem like the saddest thing of all.”
After months of off-and-on bed rest and no exercise or sex on doctor’s orders, I’m looking forward to reclaiming my body for myself in the crunchiest most 1970s feminist way you can imagine. I want to make my own granola. I want washboard abs that no paparazzo could ever speculate was a bump. I want to run until I collapse. I want to drink and travel.
But mostly, I want a baby. Via AK, via adoption, via dumpster diving, anything. AK and I agreed that it’s hard to be so ready for something that isn’t ready for you. We created a space in our lives, and that space is empty. We have wonderful, supportive families and friends, not one of whom has lived up to the “people act like a miscarriage is no big deal” cliché. But save for a few jokes about two-year-olds and teenagers, not one of them has volunteered to give us an extra kid they have lying around either, and it’s not like we can make one easily. It’s going to be a long time, and it’s going to feel as lonely as the long time it took to get here.
Rest in peace, Squeakies. Know that you were wanted, loved and worried about with a ferocity I reserve for those I care about most. Know that we were ready to give you everything we had. You will always be our first babies.