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*

Help. I’ve Fallen, and I Can’t…. Oh, F*@k It.

The dark days, the maddened grasping obsessive days, the Catbox days have arrived.

I have managed to stay out of the crazy place for much longer than in previous months. The writing is helping – in addition to hearing from other awesome women going through the same thing, it’s been a way of focusing all the helplessness and rage into something that connects me rather than isolates me. My husband has read each post and looked at me with new admiration and understanding, which has helped me feel so much less alone in this insanity. People have reportedly learned things here, so I’ve been able to feel useful in all this impotence, which, for good or ill, is the only way in which I can see any worth in myself. All the unspeakable silence and shame is lifting. It’s fucking awesome.

But here I am, right smack dab in the middle of the Catbox.

Just in case you need a refresher, the Catbox is the beastly, insufferable state one occupies in the final four days before taking a pregnancy test.

Just as Schrodinger’s cat is both alive and dead, simultaneously and with equal statistical likelihood, until such time as the box is opened and one possible reality collapses into the other, the final four days before testing are a barbaric thought exercise in which one is both pregnant and not pregnant, full and empty, positive and negative. After you’ve been doing it a couple of years you lose the ability to comprehend or translate the signals your body is sending, so that some parts of your anatomy are screaming joyously that you are all kinds of knocked up, while other equally legitimate and strident bits are solemnly pronouncing your uterus empty, empty, empty like the garbage cans after curbside pick-up.

My nipples, for instance, are planning the baby shower. End of September. It’s a Libra. We’re so happy.

My lower back, however, knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no chance in an infinite number of hells, and that my period is lurking right around the corner. Walk it off, bitch.

Either one – either one – could be telling the truth. There are no statistically reliable methods by which you can eke even the merest shred of valuative differentiation between the two. It is maddening beyond even my power of speech.

Today was the first day that I really started to creep into the cray-cray. I find that I am unable to pay attention to what people are telling me, which is kind of an insurmountable challenge if you are a fucking therapist. In the past it was the hope that drove me insane – it’s poisonous, a cloying toxic miasma that can smother the oxygen right out of the air if you’re not careful. Now I generally banish the hope before it even starts, because it is just bloody well easier that way. Or it would be if it weren’t for my accursed fucking body shooting up these obnoxious little flares to just throw the whole planned hopelessness thing off the rail completely. It’s not over till it’s over. And you just so badly want it to be over, even though you know that the grief will come, all the terrible grief and numb disappointment that floods your body when you finally see the blood.

At least you have an answer.

These are the days when the fierce rejection of this month’s hope begins to go global, when the knowledge that you are barren and will never conceive seeps a little deeper into already porous bones. It’s something you just know. And at the same time, with the same fierce rejection, you know that it will someday happen. How can you know both these things so surely? How, in the face of this insane duality, can you know anything? Ever?

I am certainly not going to be consulting my nipples for any kind of clarity. They are over-zealous fucking reactionaries and I am totally over their bullshit.

I Own A Uterus, And I Have Some Opinions. Deal With It, Y’all.

This is going to be an unapologetically feminist post. I have no wish to offend anyone, but neither do I wish to hedge on what was intended as a full examination of what this whole infertility thing is like. And because this whole infertility thing sort of involves my body, which, by dint of having breasts and a vagina and a uterus and stuff, is female, and because this country that I proudly call home has recently made quite a name for itself with its rather patrician and obsessive concerns about this body, I must at some point come to a discussion of how living in said country affects my thoughts on the whole infertility thing. So, caveat emptor and shit.

Ok, here’s the long-ass details, and we’ll work up to the feminist diatribe in a sec.

I have pretty standard employer-provided health care, and in this country I am lucky as hell to have it. It does not cover “fertility treatments”, which is pretty normal. Having been diagnosed with endometriosis 7 years before we started trying, I knew that we might face an uphill battle. So when I began to have erythema nodosum outbreaks alongside early pregnancy symptoms, I started to get a little freaked out. It seemed like my body was actually rejecting its own pregnancy hormones. We went to a fertility doc who specialized in endometriosis and methodically cherry-picked the services that we thought would be the best bang for our buck, primarily focused on trying to figure out what was happening with my hormones. I couldn’t go to a reproductive endocrinologist because that would have been considered a fertility treatment and therefore hundreds of dollars just to get in the door, so I was sent to a general endocrinologist who had a very difficult time figuring out why I was there if I didn’t have diabetes. Then I got sent to a rheumatologist because, um, you know, inflamation and stuff, and he had a similarly difficult time figuring out why I was there if I didn’t have arthritis. Neither the rheumatologist nor the endocrinologist believed me about the erythema, so I had to wait till the next outbreak (aka, next almost-pregnancy) and then go to a dermatologist for a biopsy. Despite my pleas that I was training for a 5k, he melon-balled a nice big hunk out of my leg and confirmed what I had been telling them for months. And then all three of them individually looked at me with that special kind of frowny, knitted-brow half smile that only confused male doctors can pull off and said – I kid you not – “Huh!”

We are still getting bills for this stellar medical sleuthing. Gregory House, where were you when I needed you in my pants?

Then, after giving up completely on dudes in doctor coats and seeing a naturopath for a while (which, ironically, WAS covered, because I work for a progressive mental health agency with an alternative health sub-plan, and because the naturopath had suffered infertility and billed services as pain management for the endo), I finally had a positive test. That was the first chemical pregnancy. When my lines started to get faint I was told that the health care system did not consider it an actual pregnancy until 12 weeks, so they couldn’t authorize any kind of hormone treatment to save it. It was the same with the next pregnancy, which lived to 11 weeks. I got bills for all the ultrasounds and testing because it wasn’t yet considered a “pregnancy” covered under my prenatal care. Even the drug that pushed the dead fetus out of my body cost more than my normal co-pay.

Just a few months later, after yet another chemical pregnancy, the debates about “Personhood Amendments” started. These were laws that were aimed at defining human life at conception, the minute a sperm fertilizes an egg. Unimaginable sums of money were being funneled into political action that would criminalize as a murderer any woman who chooses to terminate a pregnancy, with potential for actual jail time. Todd Akin joined the already charming conversation with his stunning grasp of the female anatomy, and we were blessed with the term “legitimate rape”. My empty uterus and I sat with slack-jawed, stunned horror while exclusively male politicians weighed in on the exact spiritual chronology of a pregnancy, after months of being told that my pregnancies weren’t fucking pregnant enough to deserve medical attention. The fact that these were generally the same exclusively male politicians who were threatening women’s health care everywhere from private corporate insurance to cancer screenings for low- and no-income women just made the whole thing a disgusting absurdity.

So, here it is in the quick n dirty. If you DO want to be pregnant, it’s 12 weeks before you can get help. If you do NOT want to be pregnant, it’s pretty much as soon as the sperm enters your immediate airspace and then you can’t have any help at all. Regardless of your personal stand on abortion, you have to admit that this is a hot fucking mess. If life is so bloody sacred, then we should be able to get help with infertility. If it’s not sacred enough to assist a first trimester pregnancy when a woman wants desperately to keep it, then “personhood” is a despicable farce. Really, gentlemen. Shit or get off the pot.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? It’s the gentlemen (discrete cough) who are deciding this. Here I sit in this fertile/infertile body, both fetishized and threatened simultaneously by the self-same powers, clinging to my once-a-year vote to elect mostly men to sitting bodies of mostly men to decide this shit for me. For me in this body. This body that has carried life and willingly given it up because the father was an emotional and sexual abuser, that has carried life and had it evaporate away without explication, that has carried life and watched it slough off into the toilet water when no one would pay to save it. This body that put off childbearing until possibly too late because there is no such thing as affordable, adequate childcare in this country so that if you choose a career it means choosing against children, even if your career is to serve children. This body that has borne the weight of misogyny, rape culture and ignorance just to stand at these crossroads and plead for help from the very men who would condemn all the choices that came before.

It’s possible that I am just infertile. It’s possible that no amount of money or choice or freedom will make a life take hold in my belly and grow strong and true. It’s possible, and if so then I will deal with the blame cell by cell, atom by atom in my own dreadful reckoning. But it’s also possible that my womb is held hostage by an indefatigable patriarchy against which I have only the barest defenses. The real stone-cold bitch of a kicker? It’s that there’s no way for me to know, because I am as much at the mercy of my body as my body is at the mercy of the patriarchy.

How’s that for a pickle?