Infertility Part I: Damaged goods
This is part of a series. You can read Part II here.
The first time a doctor said I might not have children, I was a few hours old and had just come out of surgery for double hernias. The doctor--I imagine a stoic white man who looks only at his clipboard, not at my mom--told her that an incision on a body that small is delicate. While they'd saved my life, she needed to prepare herself for the possibility that I might not ever have children.
The next time, I was in my early 20s with an erratic and painful period that roared from my body a couple times a year, clearly announcing something was wrong. One morning I woke to piercing stomach pains, the dawn light slanting through my boyfriend's blinds. I stood, woozy, and could feel the warm rivulets of blood streaking down my thighs. I was embarrassed by the blood, so I snatched my clothes and ran out of his house, blackish droplets on his floor.
I thought I was having a miscarriage. I asked an ex to take me to a Catholic hospital I thought would see me without insurance. A stern, ruddy-cheeked woman with a flat face leaned over me, blocking out the florescent lights overhead, to tell me that promiscuity led to these kinds of woman problems, and that I would regret this later in life when it was difficult for me to conceive.
My body was a foreign land, a country whose language I didn't speak, no truces possible with such a distance between us. It revolted with chronic rashes, hidradenitis suppurativa, cylces that lasted 398 days followed by bloodbaths. I trudged to doctors as they poked and prodded and pulled and speculated. No one seemed interested in telling me what was wrong, only in prescribing birth control pills to make it stop.
At a new office for my annual, a doctor with spiked hair tapped her nails on the counter as she checked off a list of symptoms I'd brought her. It was the first time anyone had ever mentioned PCOS. In a breathless torrent of all the things that would go wrong -- beards and ruptured cysts and baldness --she also said I'd have a high rate of miscarriage, if I could conceive at all. I didn't look at her as she told me all this. I was staring at the wallet-sized portraits of at least a hundred babies wallpapering the walls.
I thought of my mother then, back when I was four or five. She was slumped at our tiny kitchen table with her head in her hands and sobbing after rotted milk had plopped into my bowl of the last of our cereal. The next week, I was on a flight to my grandparents' because my mom couldn't afford to feed me.
Whatever was wrong with my body, at least it wasn't a baby I couldn't feed or emotionally handle.
Around 30, this all changed, just like my mother always said it would. That mythical biological clock struck 12 and tolled its arrival all fucking day. Suddenly I found myself reaching for a friend's new infant when I'd recoiled before if it so much as wrinkled its nose. I passed women on the street with babies curled in their arms, and this cellular, primitive longing to feel the denseness of my own child struck my chest. It was a pulling down, a physical weight that burdened my body.
It didn't take long for me to earn my PhD in internet fertility, with a special concentration in insulin resistance and hormone disruption. I returned to more doctors, armed this time with questions about diet and food allergies, questions outright dismissed.
It would take another two years before a new doctor made made the connection between my symptoms and my system as a whole. I was dealing with multiple manifestations of autoimmunity, which coupled with PCOS, meant that my body rarely, if ever, ovulated. An easy fix, she said. She sent me home with a prescription for Clomid and told me to relax, the most common and infuriating advice women receive when they're trying to get pregnant. I was still a newb in the whole process and hadn't yet had 50 people say the same thing to me, so I didn't kick that perfectly nice doctor in the shin.
Instead, I took my little pill kit home and thought how wonderful it would be to get this done in the first month. That, of course, didn't happen.
Part II comes out next week and is all about confronting a reality we can't change. Oh, and the stupid shit that comes out when we don't know what to say to others.