I’m on my way to an infertility support group and I hate what I’m wearing: jeans and a button-down shirt. I should have worn that vintage pink dress that makes me feel like Baby the night of the big show. This isn’t the kind of infertile I wanted to look like. I have been feeling this way a lot lately. I cut my hair, shorter than I usually do, but still it isn’t enough. I wish I could unzip my skin, opening a seam from the top of my head to the backs of my heels, and step right out of myself. Everything about me just feels wrong from the outside in. Or maybe it’s the inside out? I don’t know anymore.
I survey the other women every morning at the fertility clinic, take note of their shoes, their purses, their tops, and their skirts, and despite the fact that we are all battling the same thing, they all seem right in a way that I am wrong.
When our ultrasound numbers are called, we form a single line behind the technician, who asks each of us, every morning, one after another, if we’ve “gone to the washroom.” It feels odd every time to be asked out loud, as a grown woman, if you’ve recently peed. It always seems more incongruous to ask this question of a woman in heels. I’m embarrassed for the ones in heels especially. But we are asked all the same, I in my slip-on Chucks, and they in their impressive pumps. Do these women really have transvaginal ultrasounds and then put their heels back on? I wonder. I’m impressed by their sartorial stamina.
I should have worn the pink Baby dress.
I usually make it a personal policy not to participate in anything that requires a name tag, but I fear I have exhausted my family and friends with the incessant discussion about the state of my fertility. I thought a support group would remind me that I am not the only woman in the world who can’t get pregnant, despite all the lovely women I see on a daily basis pushing strollers, doing whatever it is people who can have babies do.
We sit in a circle in the waiting room of the clinic, and I wonder if we will go around and say our names and declare our infertility: “Hello. My name is Wendy and I’ve been infertile now for two and half years.” The moderator begins with some introductory thoughts on infertility and how this is a safe space to discuss our feelings. I feel a rising wave of panic as she speaks. I look around and study the faces of the other women. They all look like versions of me: 30-something, tired and frustrated and confused and sad. I want to take comfort in our mutually sad experience, but I also want to back away, my arms covering my face, and say, “No, no, I am nothing like you!” Because fertility treatments might fail them, but they are eventually going to work for me, aren’t they? This latest cycle I am in the middle of is going to work. Isn’t it? It has to. It must. I’ve read the statistics now about the success rates for IVF and, looking around the circle, I’m acutely aware that some of us are going to be on the wrong side of the numbers. But not me. It can’t be me.
The moderator’s words fall at my feet as I’m busy appraising each woman, wondering who among us will be the first out of the group to get pregnant. I wonder if they are all playing the same game, and I hope so much they think it’s me. I want it to be me, to never have reason to come back here again. But it’s not me; it’s the woman sitting beside me.
“I’m pregnant!” she announces. There is a chorus of limp congratulations. She tells us how the doctor, whose waiting room we are meeting in tonight, said she would definitely need assisted reproductive technology to have a second child, a notion she rejected in favour of meditation and fertility yoga. So there she went, rejecting medical intervention, meditating, and yoga-ing, and now she’s pregnant. She’s f-cking pregnant.
The moderator says we are allowed to feel a little stung by this news—but not really, because this woman has been coming to group for a while now, and even though she already gets to be a mother, it took her a long time to get pregnant the second time. So it’s okay. It’s okay that she didn’t need to subject herself to the torture of fertility treatments. It’s okay that she miraculously got pregnant on her own and came to share the news at an infertility support group. She’s come, she says, “to give the rest of us hope!” Oh, and incidentally, she has started an infertility yoga practice if any of us would like her business card.
The conversation naturally moves on to the benefits of meditation and yoga and acupuncture, and the conclusion is that these things can’t really hurt; they can only help.
I clear my throat. “I’m having a really hard time knowing just what to do with myself,” I say. “Every single decision feels weighty and suspect. I want to try yoga to relax myself but then I’m scared of bending and twisting and damaging my few growing eggs. I tried acupuncture but it made me nauseated and then I worried about taking Gravol. This woman I know sent me an email warning me about a link between infertility and eating GMO foods, which I thought was crazy, but then I found myself spending a mortgage payment on f-cking kale and kale-related products at the organic grocery store. I rest because I am so tired from all the medication, and then jog around the block because I’m worried about blood flow to my uterus, and then I don’t know what to do with myself so I strike f-cking warrior pose just to do something, anything. I don’t know how to live anymore! I don’t know what to do with myself anymore! I want to be a mother so badly I don’t know how to be in the world anymore!”
My voice cracks and I’m breathless, my chest heaving with all my pent-up frustrations at having to live as if I’m pregnant even though I’m not. I feel panicked and sorry for swearing in front of the conservative-looking woman sitting beside me. I blink back my tears.
The women look at each other in silence. Then, finally, the moderator nods her head.
“It can all be very confusing, can’t it?” she says.
And then someone asks about taking Coenzyme Q10 and whether it can really rejuvenate your eggs by 10 years. I’ve been taking it myself for almost a year and still have the crappy eggs of a 35-year-old. I don’t say this, though, to the woman who asked about it, because she looks so very hopeful and at least 40 and she has no children, so I agree with everyone, that, yes, Coenzyme Q10 can’t really hurt; it can only help.
The group ends with each of us saying something we hope to do over the next month: try a new restaurant, go back to the gym. “Have a baby,” I joke, when it’s my turn. No one laughs. As I grab my coat and purse to leave, peel off my name tag from the shirt I don’t like, a woman approaches me.
“I appreciate what you said,” she says.
I apologize for saying “f-ck” so much.
I like her. I hope this works for her. I hope she gets pregnant.