Vagina: The Owner’s Manual.

Woke up Friday morning to a BFN and felt such overwhelming hopelessness and void (I actually allowed myself to believe I was prego, like a total moron), the kind that no amount of therapy can quench. And I say that as a therapist.

Struggling for some sense of forward motion and agency, I decided to ring up the old Fertility Doc. I’m ready to get a bit more proactive again, after taking about 7 months off from any kind of assisted conception treatments. I just got sick and tired of being a giant roiling vat of insane hormones and weepiness. I haven’t seen Dr. S since June, right after the Big One when I went in begging for something that would knock me up instantaneously, so that instead of having to actually feel the bone-breaking loss of miscarriage I could just pretend it was one extra long pregnancy with a little break in the middle when I’d be able to drink. You get a little crazy after a miscarriage. Don’t judge.

I was unprepared for the surprise spanking I got. As I mentioned in the previous post, I opted to go rogue for the insemination in July, and it appears that he was not a fan of that decision. There was a lot of talk about “maybe it’s time to let go of some of the control” and “I know you like to do things by your own ideas and all, but…” Several times he called me “independent”, and it was clear to me that this was not praise. I had no idea what a thorn in his side I had become.

It’s an odd place to stand. On the one hand I felt like saying, “Um, listen up Dr. Pushypants. It’s actually MY VAGINA we’re talking about here, and I sort of enjoy getting to make decisions about it based, yes, on my own ideas. That I come up with in MY head. Which is just up the road from MY vagina.” The man was literally peeved at me for making my own reproductive decisions without him. I’m sure you’ve all noticed a decidedly feminist slant to my writing, so you can imagine the kind of “say what?” that was happening for me. At one point he suggested that I relinquish control and allow him to “push my ovaries a bit”. I mean, what the fuck do you do with that?

On the other hand, I am mortified and saddened to admit that he actually knows more about my vagina – or more broadly, the various hormonal choreography that affects the functioning of my vagina and uterus and other associated business – than I do. And that, frankly, feels like more of a pressing feminist issue than the grumpiness of a mildly judgy fertility doctor who is, after all, just trying to do his job.

And this brings me back to all the things I never knew about when we started this mad adventure two years ago. Two years ago I was 35. I had owned and operated this very same vagina and uterus for 35 years, and I thought I had a pretty good understanding of how they worked. As it turned out, I had been missing like two thirds of the manual. I had a basic sense of the rough schedule – ovulate, fill up, flush out, ovulate, rinse, repeat. But I’m pretty sure that despite living in the most technologically advanced nation in the most technologically advanced period of human history, any 14th century midwife could probably have schooled me on the all the stuff that was actually going on in there.

What do you remember about sex ed? I wrote my master’s thesis on sex education in the United States, so I’ve actually spent quite a spectacular number of hours thinking about what I remember. Mainly I remember fear. I remember dread and anxiety and a creeping unspoken sense that this thing I was walking around with could basically explode at any minute if I didn’t absolutely ensure that no boy ever got near it. We must have received some kind of information about the mechanics of reproduction, but it was almost entirely drowned out by a kind of apocalyptic warning siren that was constantly going off – ALERT! ALERT! VAGINAS HAVE BEEN SHOWN TO BE LINKED TO TEEN PREGNANCY. PLEASE PLACE YOUR VAGINA IN THE PROTECTIVE HYGIENE RECEPTACLE PROVIDED FOR YOU AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS SEMINAR. THANK YOU FOR NOT PROCREATING.

And I grew up in a liberal, highly educated town. We protested outside the high school for a program that would allow nurses to hand out condoms and safe sex material, and we got it because the majority of parents were totally behind us. In my freshman year our female principal resigned to focus on choosing a sperm donor and becoming a single mother. And that information wasn’t just whispered in staff rooms and parlors, she gave a speech at an assembly about it. And we applauded. From a superficially feminist perspective, we were loaded for bear.

So then how exactly did I reached the age of 35 without having any idea that, for instance, your cervical mucus is essentially a hostile sperm-killing agent throughout the majority of your cycle, but changes completely and turns into a biological Slip N Slide right before you ovulate? Or that your temperature drops dramatically on the day you ovulate and then rockets up the chart afterward, dropping again only when you begin to menstruate? This shit is seriously amazing. Our bodies are seriously amazing. Why don’t we learn about this until we’re forced to by trying to facilitate a process that we thought was not only easy, but downright looming?

I think it’s the same reason that one used to substitute charming little euphemisms like “in a delicate condition” for the word “pregnant” when in polite company – pregnancy involves vaginas and stuff you do with them, and we just don’t talk about that. It’s the same reason that I lurk shamefully into and out of the pregnancy test aisle, holding the label to my side so that no one sees it. When I walk into that aisle, I am carrying shadows of the shame and terror with which I walked into the drugstore at 18, convinced I was pregnant with the child of a foreign exchange student. At 18 I knew exactly what kind of girl bought pregnancy tests. Despite all the Free-To-Be-You-And-Me liberal self-love with which my home community tried to provide me, I had still received the message that sex = shame.

With the result that I now feel obligated to be condescended to by Dr. Pushypants, who possesses arcane and secret knowledge about my ladybits and syringes full of hormones that will cause me to be a traveling crying jag. I am not at all comfortable with this, but he does have one thing right – infertility is ALL about not having any control over things, and clearly it’s time for me to give up even more. *Sigh*

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When You Care Enough To Give The Very Best: Awkwardness, Intimacy and Weird-Ass Ways to Get Knocked Up

The Catbox looms. My nipples are getting all chatty again. STFU, you two.

This will likely be the last shot we’ve got for a while (my husband is in a popular band that tours extensively in Europe and South & Central America, which is often a challenge for the whole timed intercourse thing cause I sort of require his participation on this project), so in typical fashion I’m starting to think about what comes next. What kind of crazy-making, totally abstract, intimacy-robbing fertility treatment will we consider now? Will it include as much surreal hilarity as the last time we tried a non-bonking method?

After the 11 week miscarriage this past May (we generally refer to it as “The Big One”), I insisted that my husband freeze some dudes so that I can keep trying when he is on tour. My husband is extremely spend-a-phobic. We lived the first 8 years of our life together in abject, digging-change-from-couch-cushions-to-buy-toilet-paper, how-many-ramen-packs-can-you-get-for-three-bucks, can’t-afford-the-last-two-letters po’ type poverty, and I think we are both a little kooky as a result. Anticipating this I researched the absolute cheapest way we could get his frozen swimmers into my swimming pool. We decided to bypass the fertility doc entirely. He would leave an offering at the OHSU sperm bank and I would pick it up, take it home and do the bizniss my own damn self.

Boom. Plan, Set.

I started checking out the lesbian fertility sites because when you have to purchase it, sperm is an outrageously expensive and precious substance and you do not want to waste that shit, so those ladies tend to have the best advice for home insemination. The Husband took care of his end of the deal – and frankly that sounds like one of the weirdest experiences any man could have, so let’s hear it for the gentlemen, y’all – and went off on tour, and I waited for game time. About a week before the window in which I was likely to ovulate, I drove to the OHSU sperm bank during a lunch break to pick up my little buddies.

The guy at the front desk went in the back and hauled out this three foot tall, two foot square cardboard box, and set it caaaaaarefully at my feet. He informed me that he would not be able to give me any information on what to do with the sperm once it was…um…decanted. Presumably this was so that I could not sue him if I accidentally used it as eye drops or attempted to inseminate my cat with it. He was however willing to share with me the tremendous danger I would be courting once I opened the canister. The three foot tall, steel canister filled with cryogenic liquid nitrogen that housed my husband’s sperm. He demonstrated how to open it and drew my attention to the billows of vapor that poured out and crept along the floor, calmly letting me know that my hand would freeze off – actually off – if I touched the liquid inside. Using a cloth rag to protect his hand he pulled up a steel rod onto which were clamped two teeeeeeeeeeny little vials full of sperm. Which, in case you were wondering, turns faintly pink when it is frozen. Who knew. Then, with a cheerful warning about the potential explosion that might occur if I dropped the canister, he sent me on my way.

If you are ever in the large and well-appointed lobby of OHSU and you happen to see a mortified-looking woman struggling gracelessly to lug a three foot tall cardboard box with ominous warning labels down from the tenth floor out to the parking lot, now you know. She is carrying sperm.

I was so terrified of blowing up my car that I strapped it into the passenger seat. I drove home from the hospital with a giant vat of liquid nitrogen and sperm, safety-belted into my passenger seat. I took a picture of it, in case we conceived. It would be the kid’s first photo, after all. I brought it home and put it in the living room. I looked at it for a while. My cat came and sat on it. Then I went back to the office.

This was all going down a couple of months after the miscarriage. I was still in this impenetrable daze of grief and rage and disbelief, hunkered down in a kind of emotional foxhole while the rest of the world went on around me. My best friend, who at that point was still living down in California, decided to come up and hang out with me for a week. This was ostensibly to check out the market for a game he is designing (Portland is a gaming mecca, FYI), but mainly I think to make sure I hadn’t fallen so far into the bad place that I couldn’t pull myself out when I was ready to. His trip happened to coincide with the range of days in which I might ovulate. Awkward.

I had sent him a picture of the safety-belted sperm, so he knew the scoop. I was soooooo hoping that it would happen a day or two before, but those little pee sticks kept coming up goose-eggs. The morning after he got in, bingo. I went into the guest room and shook him awake. “I’m going for a run,” I told him, “and then I’m going to defrost some sperm, take a shower, and go fuck myself. Orange juice is on the counter.”

He is a former State Department Search and Rescue contractor and was an EMT in Richmond, CA, the murder capital of the Bay Area. It is really hard to unsettle him.

After the dire warnings of death and dismemberment from the charming OHSU guy, I was scared shitless of the damn canister. We knelt on the living room floor and I tried to remember all the instructions, but I was so nervous I couldn’t pop the little vial off the clamp. I was terrified of either frying off a finger in the nitrogen or dropping the vial, to the point of near-paralysis. He watched me struggle for a few seconds and then without the slightest discomfort grabbed the ratty dishtowel out of my hand, popped the vial off the rod, and handed me my husband’s sperm. One of the weirder moments of my life.

My husband skyped me right when the timer was going off and the dudes were thawed. “Sorry, honey, I gotta go. Your sperm is thawed. Bye!” Technology, man. Making Awkward happen in new and innovative ways, every day.

As it turned out my first time pitching was a success, although not one that resulted in a baby. That was the third miscarriage, a chemical that lasted about a day. Still, though. I felt pretty smug. And it provided a Hallmark moment that is downright unique in 24 years of knowing my BFF. Intimacy comes in odd shapes sometimes.

See y’all in the Catbox.

 

 

 

 

 

Faith, or Something Like It.

It’s the calm before the storm. Catbox onset in T minus 9 days. Right now I’m just thinking about stuff, chilling with my husband and my mammals, and bracing for impact.

Not a whole lot to report. Life moves on, my job continues to bust my arse, my friends and family continue to be awesome and I continue to not be knocked up. I took the Similac samples into the office and left them in the Outpatient suite with a note asking people to donate them to families that needed them. At this point the only one that’s left is the giant tin of special food for “Fussiness and Gas”. I guess it’s a little awkward to offer that to someone, like when you offer someone a piece of gum and they’re like, “I’m sorry, I had liverwurst and camembert for lunch.” People can get the wrong idea.

The Husband was quite chuffed about the positive feedback I got on his ruminations about hope, desert islands and the nature of desperation. Aside from the hefty ego boost that this engendered in an already smarty-pants man, it also started me thinking about the place of faith in this insane process. We are, as previously stated, atheists. I’ve done a lot of processing around this, and in fact my first blogging effort was an account of my experience as an atheist member of a singularly amazing non-denominational church back in San Francisco, Glide Memorial. It would take a lot of explaining to get to why it made perfect sense for me to be a visible and vocal member of the church and why it was so powerful to be there, but this blog is not that one, so I’ll let you check it out if you’re interested and save the character space. Suffice it to say that I have thought a lot about translating ostensibly religious ideas and experiences into a humanistic and non-theist framework and I find it kind of fascinating.

I really enjoyed Yet Another Bitter Infertile’s post today dealing with issues of faith/non-faith and infertility. She does a great job of politely explaining why faith-based platitudes are no more helpful to some of us than “Just relax and it will happen”. As atheists we occupy a unique shit-hole when it comes to tragedies like deaths, miscarriages and infertility. We don’t have a larger context in which to put this stuff to bring some kind of comfort to it. We can’t look to a bigger plan and find peace in the idea that everything happens for a reason. It’s no more awful for us than for people who believe in a higher power. It’s just more senseless.

But we find reason to hope in each other. I found reason for hope in my husband’s words, in the biological imperative of staying emotionally alive in the face of crushing heartbreak. You keep doing what you do. You keep hold of the barest shreds despite their thinness. You do it because the people around you encourage it of you. You do it because the dearest longing of your heart demands it of you. At the end of the day, it’s not so different from faith.

All that being said, I do find it tremendously moving and heartwarming when people take time in their devotions to think about me and my husband and the empty place in our lives. Good thoughts are always welcome.

Brief Bidness Break

Ok, a couple of blog-bidness items. First of all, somehow I got cited on this amazingly awesome clearinghouse of blogs written by women who are dealing with ladybitz issues, and then they were kind enough to put me on their blogroll. So here is the link to that amazingly awesome site. I am totally blog-challenged and have not yet figured out how to get back to the page where I can add links to other blogs on my homepage, but I am working on that. In the meantime, peruse and enjoy.

Second, I am TOTALLY OVERWHELMINGLY STOKED by the response I’ve been getting to this blog. I know, it’s probably not all that unusual, but the fact that people I don’t know in countries I’ve never been to are reading this makes me feel like Sally Field on uppers. Tonight I looked at the list of countries where people are reading this and I very nearly fell off the couch. What UP, Montenegro? Talk to me, South Africa! Seriously, y’all. This shit is downright surreal.

Maybe there’s more of an interest in New Guinean shark-fat enemas than any of us ever realized.

I’m Going for the Tote Bag – Making Sense of Absurdity

Crap. Fuck fuck fucking shit crap arse. I’m pretty sure I miscarried again.

I won’t bore you with the details because I don’t want this to be a diary of all my temps and fluids and ovulation predictor kits, but suffice it to say that I strongly suspected it 3 weeks ago and an extremely late ovulation kind of puts the seal on it for me. If you recall, I heroically battled my urge to take a frillion pregnancy tests and therefore had no confirmation, but the only times I’ve ever ovulated this late are when I’ve miscarried. That plus all the other signs and portents adds up to yet another early miscarriage. So that’s 4. Awesome. I’m so close to getting my frequent miscarriage card. I think you get a tote bag and fat discounts at the boxed wine factory when you hit 5.

I wanted to write the other day, last Friday when I came home to find a sample pack from Similac on my doorstep. Just sit with that for a minute. It included about twelve different pamphlets for “the new mother”, and four types of powdered baby food for the newborn infant who in no way exists at all in my home at this time. I did the math and realized that it must have been somehow related to the baby we lost in May, who, had it been born on the outside of the due date range, would have been a week or two old at that point. Somehow my pregnancy got sold to some marketing list somewhere (I’m looking at you, WhatToExpect.com) and the result was some very poorly vetted research that wound up as a box full of baby juice on my front porch. For my dead baby. Probably not the cognitive link they were hoping for: Similac = my dead baby. Pretty much forever. High fives and High Lifes all round for the online marketing department.

I wanted to write then, and I tried, but I ran up against two major blocks. One was that I was actually not utterly destroyed by it. I had an hour or so when I felt like I’d been kicked in the solar plexus and essentially wanted to give up and raise ferrets instead, but it passed and I was able to move on. I took a picture of the box and posted it on Facebook, and all my fierce beloved warrior women crowded the ether with their righteous anger on my behalf. It was awesome. A devout Christian woman whom I love most deeply (and who appears to love me equally despite my staunch and unrepentant atheism) commented that she was thinking some VERY bad words at Similac. That’s like some nuclear shit, yo. You don’t want to mess with a godly woman when she’s protecting her sisters. Another dear friend did not deign to feck about and deployed the word “douchenozzle”, which is not to be thrown around lightly. And that’s just a sampling of the inventive invective. I have some seriously savage and articulate GF’s. These women gave me the tremendous gift of validation, raised their voices in an outraged clamor and because they did, I didn’t need to. So I didn’t need to write.

(After checking through the 20+ comments on that post, I must correct the language above. It was not only women. There was one man, a creative and perennially smart-arsed artisan cheese maker with whom I once haunted the back parking lot of our high school, who commented and deserves to be noted here. He made me nearly pee my pants by reporting that he’d heard Similac pairs nicely with ice wine. Ice wine. Well played, sir. Well played.)

The other obstacle to writing was that I couldn’t find a larger meaning for the experience. So far in this blogging experiment I’ve gotten comfort from being able to pull all this heartbreak and insanity into a pithy little point, a message that makes sense of my despair. How do you make sense of something so absurd? All of this is absurd. My cups of pee; my obsessive nipples; the way that sex, which we have traditionally had in quantity and ever increasing quality for nearly 11 years now, becomes this occasionally onerous task and gives rise to questions like, “Should we fuck?” or “Have we done it enough or do we need to keep doing it?”, both of which are in the running for Least Arousing Come-on Lines EVER. It’s all absurd to a degree I never would have imagined.

And what, really, is the point? If I am a walking garbage disposal in which tiny little sparks of life are caught and then spat out with the rest of the trash, no matter what I do, what is the fucking point? Where in the hell do you find meaning in that?

Tonight, after getting the positive ovulation test at 21 days that confirmed, in my head at least, my fourth miscarriage, I wanted to give up. I want to give up. I want to storm out of the room I share with this fickle imaginary child, slam the door, scream that if it doesn’t want me then I don’t want it, and fuck it all anyhow cause I don’t care anymore. I don’t want to care anymore. I want to hurt its feelings and make it know how badly it’s hurt mine. I am sulking at my unconceived child. How evolved is that.

As I snarfed and snotted all over my husband’s sweater this evening he put some words to this absurdity for me. If you’re stranded on a desert island, he said, you can’t know if there’s a plane coming today, or tonight, or this week, or this year. You can’t know but you can’t just lay down and die. So you make your big-ass “HELP” sign, every night, without fail, and then you just have to lie down and get some sleep, because there’s no way you can make that plane come. If the plane comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. The only real failure is not making that sign, because it’s the only thing you have control over.

I kind of really wanted to suggest that if we ever have a boy we should name it Wilson, but he was in a moment and I didn’t want to distract him. And he was making a hell of a lot of sense.

Anyway, it’s nice to be back.