It was around the 16 week mark when I first started to believe that I was actually pregnant. We had finished my daily injections and although my rear end was frozen in a painful state of shock from the large needles that carried progesterone in oil directly into my muscles, I was beginning to think that maybe the last three years weren’t just a prolonged dance with trauma. Maybe I was really growing a baby.
Despite my best attempts, I was doing a poor job at hiding the “new developments” that my body was publicly broadcasting. Soon, we would be able to share our news for real and I would be able to wear an outfit that didn’t resemble an oversized twin set from Ann Taylor.
Clients and staff at my Pilates studio could barely hold a conversation without letting their eyes drifting to my belly, then to my chest, then to my belly again. One client even announced with a gleeful squeal “Oh Jenna, you look chubby! This must be good news!” “Chubby,” in my opinion is a word reserved for puppies, Mr. Checker, and at best, babies with thigh rolls. It was all a lot to process.
During the IVF cycle that brought us to this point, my hope was at a deficit. I was tired, heartbroken and in need of a major break from the weekly and often daily doctor’s appointments. Even though I was still working a 50 hr week and running my Pilates studio full-time, I had a hard time recalling what I had done before getting pregnant was my full time job. I had started to lose the ability to hide a cringe when I saw a pregnant belly or new born. The hurt that my eyes transmitted from my heart to my brain was overwhelming.
Early in that cycle, I did anything to keep my mind off of the numbers and injections. In one instance, I offered to help as a chaperone at a friend’s dance studio’s recital, thinking it would be a good time suck, but not truly realizing that I was walking into a vortex of young children. I made it through the performances unhurt and unscathed. After the show, however, as the parents gathered in the lobby of the theatre, congratulating their little stars, I noticed a newborn baby sleeping in a car seat/stroller combo nearby. I sidled over the stroller, daring myself to peek at the little face and hands. I still don’t know if I was testing my resolve or just a glutton for punishment, but I needed to look – just for a second.
A friend who had been watching the scene from across the room came quickly to my side, leaned in close to me and whispered “Take her. Just go. I’ll create a diversion.” We both dissolved into uncontrollable laughter, causing the baby to stir. The absurdity of her suggestion was both ridiculous and relieving. It was in these totally hilarious, yet awful moments that I felt truly seen. She wasn’t trying to fix the situation, but she was naming it for what it was. Pure, comedic desperation. And the ridiculous thought of us hijacking a baby provided relief – even if just for a second.
Unlike other girls in my support group, we were not lucky enough to have embryos to freeze and keep to use again in another cycle. Our last cycle had resulted in one viable embryo and those chances felt too slim to even consider the possibilities. Still, we would see it through. And then I would take a break.
They say never to take a home pregnancy test while going through fertility treatments. They say to leave it up to the lab. One thing to remember about women who are hopped up on hormones is that gentle suggestions to not buy pregnancy tests typically result in a cabinet full of pregnancy tests. My situation was no different. I had a whole arsenal of things I could pee on to ruin my day. Ovulation kits, PH kits, pregnancy tests – you name it, I had it. So, after two weeks of waiting until the next doctor’s appointment, I caved and I peed.
The first line was faint – way too faint to make any sense of. I waited until the next day and took another test. Less faint, still inconclusive. On the third day with the third test there was a darker color. I quickly took a picture of the three tests juxtaposed and texted it to my friend. “You’re fucking pregnant!” She wrote back. Maybe…
Another rule of fertility treatments is that nothing, and I mean nothing, is for sure. This series of tests could have been a fluke, a false positive or a cruel joke of my body. It wasn’t until my nurse called me to confirm the first round of tests had shown growth hormone that I felt the tiniest bit of hope.
The 10 weeks that followed were in a word, weird. Two more blood tests followed by two more ultrasounds had confirmed that something was growing. The relief of each positive result, however, was quickly replaced with anxiety surrounding the next step. Fertility doctors and nurses are very careful about not using language that suggests any hope. They understand there are no guarantees. The best way I can describe what I felt during the early weeks is to ask you to hold your breath for as long as you can. Right before you have to either inhale or pass out, there’s a moment. That moment – the in between one – is how it feels during the first trimester of pregnancy after infertility.
The other weird part is the way the journey at the fertility clinic abruptly ends. Generally speaking, if you become pregnant, you hang around for blood tests and ultrasounds up until the 5 week mark. Then, all of a sudden, the place you have frequented for the past three years – spent more time at than any other doctors office ever – let’s you go. Graduates you. “Make an appointment with your OBGYN” they said. I hadn’t been to a “regular” doctor in three years. I didn’t even have an OBGYN. All I had left was a shell of the body I first walked in with, complete with a tiny new cluster of cells inside and absolutely no clue what to do next.
I had made an appointment for our 8 week check. This was the appointment where we would hear the heartbeat and get more confirmation of a pregnancy. It was either this, or, we would find out that it didn’t work and I would take a break. When I was at the fertility clinic, I felt like I was part of a sisterhood. We were in it together, albeit for different reasons, but together. At the OBGYN’s, I felt like an outsider. I knew I didn’t belong in the same waiting room as those “other” pregnant women. I felt like I had cheated a system and was about to be found out by the authorities. Pretending in various waiting room conversations that I had become pregnant by “normal” methods was exhausting. I felt like the word fraud was broadcasting over my forehead. I just needed to get past this appointment and then I would take a break.
I secretly wished that I could go to the appointment by myself so I could nonchalantly text my husband later that it was a false alarm and just get on with my day. I didn’t have the energy for anymore bad news. I thought about the home tests and the blood tests and all of the times I had been convinced that I was pregnant only to find out that the opposite was true. I desperately wanted to avoid the next stages of trauma that so many of my friends had experienced. I knew it would break me. So when the doctor said “can you see?” I answered “No, it’s ok. It was nice to pretend for a while.” Then she tilted the screen down and said “No – look. This is your baby.” Even then, I was skeptical. I could see the shadow-y cluster on the screen, but was unconvinced of its existence. Then, as my son’s tiny heartbeat became audible through the machinery that was monitoring my bloated belly, I began to believe. It was like hearing a foreign language for the first time. I felt guilty for not believing more from the beginning. I felt tired from the journey. I felt sad for my friends who were still on theirs at the clinic. I felt petrified for the next steps. But amidst all of the chatter and anxiety in my head, I also felt peace. That this was a moment I had never experienced before. That I could truly hear and see evidence of him. He was the only one who had the fortitude to stay. During that cycle, my fortitude had waned…a lot. He was beating for both of us. This is what hope and trust felt like. I wanted to feel this way forever.