“Do you want a countdown, or do you want me to stick it in without warning?” Ben asked.
I scrunched my eyes shut, trying not to picture him standing in front of me, syringe at the ready. I hated the first shot of a new cycle; it always seemed to hurt worse than any other shot that came after. I couldn’t even bear to do it myself.
“Give me a countd—ow!” I cried as he jabbed me with the needle. “Damn it, Ben.”
“Sorry,” he said. “Hold on, almost done.”
“I wanted a countdown.”
“I know you did, you always do. I keep telling you, it’s better if you let me surprise you. There, all done.”
I righted my clothing and rubbed the now-sore spot on my stomach. “Ouch.”
“You’ll be fine. Give it a minute.”
“You couldn’t have given me even a little warning?”
“I did give you a little warning, El. You knew I was ready.”
“Yeah, yeah. Ouch, though.”
It felt so strange to be doing this again. The shots, the monitoring, the…science. Starting over again from scratch. Well, almost from scratch. We knew the protocol we’d used last time had worked, and we were going to follow the same regimen. The dosing of the meds would be the same this time as it had been last time. Presumably, I would respond as I had last time, and make a few super awesome eggs, and they would fertilize properly, and then grow and grow and grow until we had a baby.
“What are you thinking, Elise?” Ben asked. “You look all pensive.”
“It’ll work. It worked last time.”
“I know. I don’t know how calm I’m going to be once it does. Like, do you think you’ll be able to enjoy the ride?”
“The pregnancy ride? I don’t know, El, I think that for a while I’ll worry. But the longer things go on, the calmer I’ll be. Eventually you’ll get used to it and feel safe. Everything will be okay eventually.”
“Well, when’s eventually?”
“I don’t know. But let’s at least wait until we’re pregnant before we start worrying about whether we’re going to be scared while we’re knocked up.”
“What’s an HSG?”
I looked at Paige’s text, unsure of how best to answer. “Want to meet for lunch? I can explain while we eat.”
“Is it gross? I don’t want to talk about something gross at lunch.”
“Okay. Yeah, let’s meet at the Bread Basket at eleven thirty.”
I set my phone down and turned back to my spreadsheet. I hadn’t lied to Paige. A hysterosalpingograph wasn’t gross, exactly. Pretty painful. Generally unpleasant. She wasn’t going to like what I had to tell her.
“They do what?” Paige said, pausing with her fork halfway to her mouth.
I glanced around at the nearby tables, checking for children of the elderly. It looked clear. Luckily the restaurant wasn’t crowded, and there was plenty of space between us and the nearest people who might overhear.
“The inject some dye into your vagina and use an x-ray to watch where it goes. It’s uncomfortable, but you sleep through it.”
“That sounds unpleasant.”
“Well, yeah. All of this is unpleasant, Paige. And you know, pregnancy and labor and parenthood all have their unpleasant parts.”
“Right. But what’s the plus side to this test?”
“You’ll be able to see if there’s anything wrong with you. You know, clear tubes, normally shaped uterus. There’s no point in throwing perfectly good sperm in there if your fallopian tubes are blocked and the egg can’t get where it needs to go.”
“You’ve had one?”
“Two. When we first started treatments and then again when my second IUI failed.”
“And you didn’t have anything wrong?”
“Not that they ever saw. The jury’s still out on what’s wrong with me.”
“The tests are stressing me out.”
“Well, sure they are. If they point to a problem, you have that worry, ‘Oh, no, there’s something wrong with me.’ If you get the all clear, it’s like, ‘Well, then why am I not pregnant yet?’”
“Is it weird that I want there to be something wrong with me too? Like, obviously there’s an issue on Jake’s end, and it’s been hard on him. It would be easier on us if we were both broken.”
“Neither of you is broken.”
“Sure, I know. It would be nice to take some of the pressure off of him though.”
“I get it. We know that there isn’t an issue on Ben’s end, so it seems obvious that it’s something with me, even if we can’t point to exactly what it is. I’m sure Ben would want to take some of that pressure off of me.”
“It will be nice if the solution is to get a donor and then we do an IUI and right away we’re pregnant. But it will also sting a little, don’t you think?”
“It might. You might also be so excited to have a baby that you don’t even care how it happened.”
“I do really want a baby.”
“So you’ll get the test, and then you’ll be able to move forward with confidence.”
“Oh. Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that. It will mean once less thing to worry about.”
“The fewer things we have to worry about, the better,” I said. “Life gives us plenty to worry about.”
“Can I worry now?” I asked.
It had been a long few weeks. All the injections and all the monitoring had led to the retrieval of seven mature eggs, four of which fertilized and divided properly. Two had been transferred; two had been put on ice to wait for another try – optimally for a sibling for this one. Or two. Now it was official: the blood test had come back positive. We were pregnant. Again.
“No worrying,” Ben said. “Happy thoughts. One month down, eight to go.”
“When you put it that way,” I said, “it sounds like we’re practically done.”
We were, unfortunately. We only made it two more days.
“So,” Dr. Gray said, and I knew it wasn’t good news, because why else would she call when a nurse could do it as well?
“The numbers didn’t double.”
“No,” she replied, “the numbers didn’t double.”
“Are they close at least? Are they still going up?”
“Damn it,” I said. “What now?”
“You’ll stop taking the progesterone. And then you’ll stop being pregnant. We call this a chemical pregnancy. I’m so sorry. We’ll have you come in for repeat betas until you zero out, and then we’ll talk about the next step.”
“Do they still sell babies on the black market?” I asked.
“I’ll look into it,” she replied. “I’m sorry, Elise.”
“I know. Me too.”
I hung up the phone and looked over at Ben, who had been listening and therefore had an appropriately disappointed look on his face.
I shook my head. “No.”
He gathered me in his arms, and we cried together, mourning another loss, another setback on this miserable road.
It was a very unpleasant weekend full of bleeding and cramping and hating that this was happening again, and yet so, so different from losing Daniel, who had been so real to me. I’d seen him, had felt my body changing with the heft of him. This was…so different. Gone before I could get attached. I’d barely had a chance to know that it was there, if indeed there had been something there, and certainly hadn’t begun to think that this would eventually be a child. I hadn’t even had a chance to think like that. And so I was sad, and I was in pain, but the emotional pain wasn’t what it had been before.
“I feel like a monster,” I said, as Julianne, Paige, and I sat down in our armchairs at our usual coffee spot. “Shouldn’t I be…sadder? I mean, I’m sad, but I’m not inconsolable.”
“Well, some say that it’s a bit of perspective,” Julianne said. “You knew you were pregnant for two days. That’s nothing, really. Of course you hadn’t bonded with it. Would you be grieving more if this had been your first? Maybe.”
“How can it be normal to lose a child and then not grieve though?”
“Do you think of it as losing a child this time? Honestly?”
I paused. “No. Losing a pregnancy. Losing potential. But I don’t think of it the same.”
“That’s fine,” Julianne said. “You lost something the size of a poppy seed. Which is, like, seriously small.”
“How do you know these things off the top of your head?”
“Do you know how many times I’ve downloaded and then deleted the phone app that tells you what fruit your baby is the size of? I have the first trimester pretty well committed to memory.”
“That’s so sad,” Paige said, tears welling up in her eyes.
“Oh, please, no.”
“I’m sorry, I’m really emotional lately.”
“This is what happens when you pump someone full of hormones,” Julianne said. “You need to get yourself together, Paige.”
“I’m sorry,” she repeated, and dotted at her eyes with a napkin. “It’s that you guys deserve to be happy. It’s so unfair that you lost your babies.”
“We’re really okay, sweetie,” I said. “I mean, right now anyway. You don’t need to cry about it.”
“But your babies,” Paige squeaked out, and then the tears really started to flow.
“Shh,” I said, passing her another napkin. “You’re making a scene.”
“Hormones,” Julianne said again. “People are starting to stare.”
“God, I hope you have a baby soon,” I said. “If this is what you’re like normally, I’d hate to see you pumped full of even more hormones.”
“We’re going to have to use a donor. For the sperm,” Paige said with a sniffle.
“The numbers are bad, like, really, really bad. The doctor says that we’d basically have zero chance of ever conceiving with Jake’s sperm.”
“Holy cow,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“When everything came back clear on me, we thought we’d at least get a chance to try with Jake’s. He’d been taking these vitamins or something. It was supposed to help. But it didn’t.”
“I know this isn’t optimal,” Julianne said. “Donor sperm is a low-level intervention. At least it won’t cost that much?”
“I had hoped that the doctor could fix this. Fix us.”
“Sometimes the fix is donor gametes,” I said. “Sometimes the fix is adoption, or IVF. Sometimes there is no fix and you don’t get a baby.”
“That would be so sad,” Paige said, and I was sure the tears were about to start again.
“Distraction time,” Julianne said. “What about you, Elise? What are you and Ben going to do?”
“I don’t know. We did freeze two embryos last time, but I don’t know if I can do all this again,” I replied. “You?”
“I think I’m done,” Julianne said. “I don’t think I can do this whole bullshit science thing anymore. My eggs were all garbage last time. Twenty follicles and only four embryos? And none of them wanted to stick around? I’m throwing in the towel. No more miscarriages for me.”
“Are you giving up on having children?” I asked.
She shook her head. “Nothing that drastic. I think we’re going to start the adoption process. It’ll take approximately the rest of our lives, and all of our money, but we’re willing to be patient.”
“I could see stopping treatment too,” I said. “It’s too frustrating when things don’t work out.”
“But your frozen embryos!” Paige protested. “Are you going to abandon them?”
“Their brothers and sisters didn’t really pan out,” I noted.
“I’ll do one more cycle,” Julianne said. “You use up the baby popsicles, and I will do one more IVF while we look into the adoption paperwork.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. “Don’t let me force you into something you don’t want to do.”
“We’re still covered for one more cycle this year on our insurance,” Julianne said. “Thank God. I suppose you never know when this time will be the time.”
Paige lifted her coffee cup. “Here’s to good luck on our next round.”
We clinked our cups together and sipped our coffee.
Good luck, I thought. Clearly we needed it.