The birth story begins, as some do, with optimism. My mom got pregnant with my sister a month into marriage, and conceived me when my sister was 6 months old. Said sister got pregnant within about 4 months of going off the pill. With familial fertility like that, clearly I'd be knocked up in no time at all. Mr. Tangerine and I had been married for 6 years, I was getting laid off from my job and beginning a freelance career, and the timing was perfect for starting a family.
Except...month after month, ovulation predictor kit after ovulation predictor kit, the excellent timing and the de rigueur postcoital assal elevation proved pointless. We began to fret. Perhaps something was amiss in his bits, or in mine.
After about a year, we started conferring with doctors. Mr. Tangerine "collected a sample" at the andrology lab, and the results indicated that his spermatozoa were splendid.
My turn. Blood work showed normal levels of all the pertinent hormones. Could there be a traffic jam in the fallopian tubes, perhaps? Time for the dye test, a.k.a. the HSG, a.k.a. the hysterosalpingogram. Saddle up in the stirrups, let the doctor thread a catheter tube through the cervix, and x-ray the fluid as it whooshes through the catheter and uterus and to the fallopian tubes. Piece of cake, right?
Wrong. Turns out my cervical canal fakes left and goes right (or vice versa), meaning health-care providers always have a dickens of a time getting through it. Except this was the first time anything larger than a sperm ever tried to traverse that route, so the unfortunate OB/GYN didn't know my cervix was tricksy. He put on his lead apron at the beginning, assuming he'd reach the x-raying stage quickly—but no. He was a sweaty, nervous wreck, working under that hot spotlight and feeling the flop sweat as my reproductive parts repelled his efforts. Eventually, the catheter went through, the X-ray movie was made, and my uterus and tubes were deemed normal.
But do you know what happens when somebody picks a fight with your cervix? Ow ow ow ow ow. There's nothing quite like traumatizing your cervix to produce a flow of scarlet blood. There was blood all over the back of my hospital gown...and I had to go down a ways and across the hall to get back to the locker with my clothes. Ladies, you haven't lived until you've strolled a hallway with a bloody hospital gown clinging wetly to your ass. (This experience with the HSG is exactly the reason I haven't opted for the Essure method of sterilization. You have to get an HSG 3 months after the Essure coils are inserted to make sure your fallopian tubes are blocked, and I...have issues with the HSG. I'll pass.)
Anyway, with no information other than that there was no apparent reason we hadn't gotten me pregnant yet, the Tangerines moved on to the reproductive endocrinologists. We did three or four cycles with Clomid and intrauterine insemination. It didn't result in a pregnancy, but there were plenty of good times along the way. For starters, Mr. Tangerine had to "collect a sample" each of those cycles, in the little room with the videos and the magazines. All the men in the waiting room had just masturbated, or were about to; some men were present only by proxy, inside plastic specimen cups. One time, a younger woman made small talk by saying that her husband got "excited" every time he saw the special plastic cup. Thanks for oversharing! Another entertaining aspect was the mood swings wrought by Clomid—PMS on steroids.
Disheartened after several failed cycles, we took some time off from appointments and medications and procedures. And we got pregnant right away, once we stopped thinking about it so much! No, that's a lie. But it's a funny one, isn't it? All of you who have ever run the infertility gamut know what I'm talking about. "Just relax." Ri-i-i-ight. I couldn't have been any more relaxed during the first 6 to 12 months of trying, honest.
Then we started over with a new reproductive endrocrinologist, an aggressive South African with a fantastic accent. At first I thought his suggestion of moving ahead to injectible drugs for a couple cycles, then on to IVF, was too aggressive. But the less aggressive approach didn't get me pregnant, now, did it? No, ma'am.
And so we embarked on a new phase. Buying $700 of hormonal drugs and needles at a specialty drugstore. And shots! Mr. Tangerine gave me shots in the belly every morning before he went to work. Oh, such fun it was. First cycle: failed. Second cycle: deferred an extra month because of leftover follicles from the first cycle; gotta love taking oral contraceptives when trying to conceive! The cycle-two insems were at the end of September in 1999. (So much for having a kid in the 1900s—I always thought it was cool that my great-grandmother had been born in the 1800s, and wanted my kid's future descendants to marvel at the idea of someone born in the 1900s!) Mr. Tangerine collected his sample at home. I tucked the sealed cup beside me while he drove me to the medical office building, and he went on to work and eschewed the whole being-there-for-the-conception-of-his-child business. That's so, like, medieval! Much more efficient this way, no? (Plus it allows the parent to point out the building to the child—"That's where you were conceived, my son"—with none of the awkwardness that comes with telling kids about sex.)
The second cycle seemed to fail, but I jumped the gun in peeing on the pregnancy test stick and got a too-early negative. The first sign I was pregnant was going out to lunch with two old friends on short notice—and totally spacing on the fact that I had a dentist appointment. Many people claim pregnancy induces forgetfulness, you know.
The follow-ups at the reproductive endocrinology clinic showed that, thankfully, just one embryo had taken up parasitic residence in my womb. This is no slam on people with multiples, but as future installments will show, a twin pregnancy would have been a bad, bad thing in my case. But I didn't know any of that yet. I was just delighted to be pregnant and proud of the little ultrasound pictures of my little bean of a 7-week embryo.
Next: Chapter 2, The First Trimester—in which I don't go to Hawaii.