Did you know there’s such thing as an ultrasound without a fetus? I didn’t, at least not until I saw mine at the Infertility Clinic.
Looking back, it’s clear I should have known this. Obviously I have a uterus whether or not it is occupied. It’s just I’d never considered a blank ultrasound, because it had never occurred to me I might struggle with that sort of thing.
It never occurred that I would struggle to get pregnant, because I already struggled to want to try. Sure I wanted a family, but the idea of babies has always instilled a sort of terror within me; cold chills followed by waves of guilt. It took great courage to go off birth control, a decision I announced to close friends almost as though I had already conceived.
I met those first unprotected months with thrill and dread, waiting for my great fear to be realized, but then it wasn’t.
And then it wasn’t, and it wasn’t, and it wasn’t some more.
And the months went by and the worry began to grow. Cue Google searches and doctor’s visits and the fear you’re being punished for being scared of babies, all until you find yourself headed somewhere you really never wanted to go: the Infertility Clinic.
We wind our way through the sprawling Kaiser campus, with streets named things like “Wellness Way” and “Prevention Place,” and I am confused to recognize the stench of marketing here.
We check in, and I’m forced to say the word, “infertility” out loud and in public. It sounds so damning coming out. Could they not call it the “fertility” clinic? Am I not innocent until proven guilty?
I am handed a pink sheet to take into the waiting room, which I assume all patients get until I look around and realize nope, it’s just the ladies with our pink lady problems! It seems strangely graphic all of a sudden, this pink sheet I carry up into the office where the doc says she’d like to do an ultrasound (seems premature).
And it’s so strange to see it there - familiar black and white sonogram shape, typically appearing as a pillar from heaven shining down on the blessed little alien, only there’s no alien.
“Should we post it on Facebook?” Scott jokes, and I thank the Lord for his dark humor.
The doc shows us charts, discusses stats and theories, but I am having a hard time concentrating because of the shocking décor.
On the wall hangs a massive black canvas depicting what looks like a red octopus with one long tentacle snaking out of it. Several eyeball-looking things float down the tentacle toward an opening, where a baked potato sort of thing exits. A chart beneath the monster informs me these are my Fallopian tubes. Aha!
And listen, I might accept this display as existing for educational purposes, except it is so very art-like in the way it is hung. It’s framed in that new style of home art, where they wrap a printed canvas around a wood frame so the artwork sort of floats, you know what I mean?
I come-to just in time to hear the doc schedule our next visit. We exit her office, past a splattering of baby announcements in the hall that is supposed to make us feel better about spending our first $784 on our unborn child. We leave the Infertility Clinic and I find myself resenting the marketing people – why couldn’t they rebrand this department as something catchy and fun?
The Weight Of Being Empty. What a dramatic title, huh? But see I had to make it overly dramatic because otherwise I don’t know how to convey the depth of my grief.
Because the life of a childless woman is, technically speaking, one of bliss. It means there is no mouth sucking life out of me, nor screams keeping me up at night. It means we can go to movies whenever we want, or to the beach at a moment’s notice. It means double income, no commitment! I feel guilty for being sad about my current situation, especially when I am so often reminded by people with kids to “enjoy it while it lasts” because “life as you know it will end.”
I would like to enjoy this footloose and fancy free time, it’s just that in the back of my mind are all the Sunday School lessons where they said delaying or not having kids is selfish.
I don’t know how to be sad about infertility, because sometimes I am also relieved by it. My sadness is worlds away from the grief of bereavement, where something is taken from you. I am trying to mourn something I never had. I don’t know how to do it.
The pain of infertility is also unique in that it has a rhythm — a looping monthly cycle with ups and down down downs.
Over and over I drive to the Infertility Clinic, clutching my pink sheet, my scarlet letter marking me a woman without child. Each time I notice more and more shocking kitsch. A keychain with a little green dangling sperm. A Christmas card from the local sperm bank with cartoon sperms decked out for the holidays: a Santa sperm, a snowman sperm, a Hanukkah sperm! A mug with the word “LOVE” on it, only it’s spelled out using things like baby feet, hearts, syringes, and – you guessed it – sperms.
Over and over I visit the pharmacy, scoring more strange drugs, more expenses for our unborn.
Over and over I come home to the 2-bedroom apartment we moved into because “I needed a home office” but really we both assumed it’d be a nursery.
Every month it is different but the same. Always we are left fools trying to comprehend this greatest mystery of life, wondering, is the eyeball not floating down the tentacle? Is the potato not being released?
I go through the motions of my fabulous life except as the months pile up, my lack becomes oppressive. My emptiness is everywhere.
It is in the outrageous productivity of my days – that I work, work out, do volunteer work, read all the books (even watch all the shows!) because I have nothing to do but me.
It is at church, where the women around me are tugged on and poked and prodded, their arms full of bright baby bags overflowing with supplies. And all I carry is my cell phone and keys, plus a mounting resentment for a church that taught (still teaches) me my life’s purpose is to bear children.
It is in the super-power I have developed, which is to see babies everywhere I go. I see babies screaming or throwing fits and try to be glad I don’t have one, what a pain!
And no one knows my pain, because this crisis does not come with public drama or Hollywood flair. There was no newsworthy crash or terrible accident. I have no bruises nor scars nor battle wounds; the trauma lies squarely in the fact of my unscathed body.
And the only way to feel seen is to tell people and then humiliate yourself crying. And then hear how their mom’s cousin’s ex drank cactus juice and she conceived! And you say how interesting we’ll try that, but you’re thinking please shut up.
And there is nothing for it but to realize that the sadness has made you a jerk. A jerk who will cry daily and in public. A jerk who could go for a pedicure, right now!
A person who day-to-day really likes her life and is also about to snap under the excess of so much nothing, the relentless negative, the suffocating weight of being empty.