When I returned to the waiting room after the appointment, I was somewhat surprised to see Paige there.
“You actually stayed,” I said to her after taking a moment to recover from the surprise.
“Of course. Julianne will be out in a minute. She’s having a scan, checking on follicles.”
I stared at her, still disbelieving.
“I’m sorry,” Paige said. “You seem…unsure of the situation.”
“I just can’t believe someone reached out,” I replied. “I haven’t had anyone to talk to about this for so long. For a while, people will listen, but three years into trying to have a baby, they start to tune out.”
Julianne joined us in the waiting room a few minutes later.
“I’d suggest hitting a bar,” she said, “but I can’t drink right now. Mid-cycle and all.”
“Coffee is fine,” I assured her.
There was a coffee shop less than a block away. We settled into the couch and chair in one corner, Julianne with a decaf latte and me and Paige with regular strength.
“You’re not doing a cycle right now?” I asked Paige.
“Just monitoring this cycle, to make sure that my body’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing. So far we know that we have some male factor issues, but all the tests on my end are coming back normal.”
“You’ve just barely entered the trenches, then.”
“Oh, yeah, we’re newbies. Julianne has thankfully taken me under her wing, as a wise mentor. Meeting someone who knows better than I do about what’s happening, and what comes next, has been the best.”
My heart ached for a moment. I’d always wanted that when we first started on this infertility track. I’d wanted to have some sort of fellowship, to know other people who were in the same boat. I realized that, of course, it looked like I might be on the way to that now.
“How long have you two known each other?” I asked.
Paige shrugged. “Six months? Maybe not even that long.”
“You seem like you’ve been friends forever!”
“Well, we talk about intimate, sensitive stuff,” Julianne replied. “I mean, you probably don’t even know if any of your other friends are trying to get pregnant. I know Paige’s hormone levels and she knows my follicle counts.”
“How many follicles do you have this cycle?” I asked, realizing that I was genuinely curious to see how they compared to my own numbers on previous cycles. Follicles, hopefully, contain mature eggs, so the more follicles, the more chances for eggs.
“We think we’re looking at probably twenty follicles. Hopefully we’re triggering tomorrow night, because I feel huge.”
“Twenty? Are you serious?”
Julianne laughed. “I’m a good responder. Twenty is hardly the most I’ve gotten at one time.”
“I’ve never gotten more than ten.”
“Remember, I still don’t have a baby. Things go wrong with eggs. You know, a bunch of the eggs will be crap, or some of the embryos won’t divide right. I’m certainly not transferring more than two at a time anyway.”
“How long have you been doing this?”
“Almost four years,” Julianne replied. “Way too long. Luckily our insurance is great, or we’d be in debt up to our eyeballs. Most people don’t have that luxury.”
I shook my head slowly. “I didn’t think I’d ever know someone who’d done this longer than I have.”
“How long has it been for you?”
“We started treatment about two and a half years ago.”
Paige winced. “I hope it doesn’t take us that long. I don’t know how you guys do it.”
“Four years?” I repeated, incredulous. The idea that after four years, they still weren’t parents... What if it took us that long?
“How do you keep going?”
Julianne shrugged. “Every once and a while I feel like I just can’t keep going. I take a month off. I had my most recent miscarriage about a year ago, and quit for two months. Then my sister got pregnant, and it kind of kicked me back in gear. I still haven’t met the baby. We had a bit of a falling out. But the idea of it was hard for me. It’s not only co-workers and strangers in the grocery store who are having babies. My sister can have a baby too. So why can’t I?”
“It’s not that you hope other people are broken too,” I added. “You just don’t want to be alone.”
“Yeah. I was happy for my sister, but I couldn’t be happy the way she wanted me to be. I couldn’t host a baby shower. I was supposed to be having my own shower, my own baby. I don’t hold it against her that she got what I wanted, but I needed to step back from our relationship for a little while.”
“This was my first pregnancy,” I said. “We were so happy to finally be there.”
Julianne placed a hand on mine. “It wasn’t your fault,” she said softly. “I know that’s what you think, because it’s what I think every time.”
“I still can’t believe he’s gone. I was finally getting used to the feel of him. And now I’m back to square one.”
“I promise you, you’ll get there again,” Paige said. “I know I’m not an expert, but I know it.”
“How? How do you know it?”
She shrugged. “Well, doesn’t it make you feel a little bit better to hear that I believe in you?”
I smiled. It did, I realized. It was one thing when our friends and family were sure that this time would be the time we finally got pregnant. But they didn’t know what we’d been through so far. They didn’t know about the shots, and the monitoring, all the intrusion until it didn’t feel like we were trying to have a baby so much as trying to cure cancer. They all assumed IVF was fool-proof, that you mixed some things in a test tube, and twins popped out. These women, Julianne and Paige, they knew what we were up against. They had faith. So how could I not?
“You don’t know what this means to me,” I said. “I felt so lost when I found out that Daniel was gone. I didn’t think I’d be able to get up again.”
“Don’t you have girlfriends?”
“Not ones that know about all this. They were all on their second and third kid when we still hadn’t seen a positive test. They didn’t understand what we were dealing with. No one will talk about Daniel with us. I think that to a lot of people, a miscarriage at twelve weeks is something that you just move on from, that he wasn’t real. We struggled so hard to get there, and he was very real to us. People don’t seem to get that.”
“I get it,” Julianne said. “I mean, I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to think that you’re home free, and then to get the rug pulled out from under you. Every one of them was real to me.”
She turned her right arm palm up. Tattooed on her wrist were three small stars. I stared at those tiny spots and though of how much it hurt to lose Daniel. How much worse must it hurt to go through that three times? How much would it hurt to never be a mother?
“Enough of this baby talk,” Julianne said finally. “Where are you from? What do you do?”
“I’m from Virginia originally. Ben and I met in school there, and I followed him here when he got his teaching job at Illinois University. I work at Advent Books doing marketing.”
“I was wondering where your accent is from.”
“I don’t have an accent!”
I looked to Paige for support, but she shrugged. “A little bit, yeah, you do.”
“I guess I don’t hear it,” I said. “Besides, Ben’s from Boston, so I’m used to, you know, a real accent.”
“Ugh, ew,” Julianne said. “How do you live with someone who talks like that?”
“You get used to it after a while.”
“Never. I would never get used to it.”
“Are you a local or something? I thought everyone in every college town was from somewhere else.”
“I’m from here,” Paige said. “My husband too. We were in the same kindergarten class.”
“You’ve lived in the same place your whole life?” I asked, incredulous. I couldn’t imagine still being in my dinky little hometown.
“Yeah. I mean, I only moved out of my parents’ house when Jake and I got married two years ago.”
I thought my head was going to explode at the idea of being only two years removed from living at home. I had gotten out of the house as soon as I was eighteen. Was Paige younger than I thought?
“How old are you?”
Paige laughed. “Twenty-four.”
“Oh, geez. You’re a baby!”
When you have trouble having getting pregnant, people assume it’s because you waited too long, that you put your career ahead ofhaving a family. I knew that wasn’t true, but seeing someone who was, to me, practically a child herself struggling to conceive knocked me back a little. It should have been so easy for her! She was supposed to be at peak fertility. How was I supposed to conceive when someone eight years my junior wasn’t able to?
“How do you think I feel?” Julianne said. “I’m an old maid compared to both of you.”
“I’m sure it’s not that bad.”
“Advanced maternal age. A couple years into it, too.”
“Well, you don’t look a day over thirty-three.”
“Being in my twenties sucked. I’m totally okay with my age.”
“Have you lived here your entire life too?” I asked.
“Oh, no, only since college. Never managed to leave. You know how that can happen.”
“Well, I don’t.”
“Yes, Ms. Jet-setter, you’ve lived all over.”
“Well, I’ve lived in a few places. Hardly all over.”
“Why did you guys pick Illinois?”
“Um, they offered Ben a job?”
“Clearly you guys are super picky.”
“Oh, yeah, the pickiest.”
Julianne glanced at her watch. “Holy cow, it’s after six! My husband’s going to wonder where I am.”
Ben would be worried about me too. How had I been with these women for almost three hours? We said our good-byes, trading phone numbers and email addresses, and made plans to meet for coffee again over the weekend. I was already excited to see them again.