Adventures in making and raising our test-tube babies

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Blessing 4: The Outer Trappings

As I am an expert in all things reproduction, I can tell you definitively that there are two realms of pregnancy: the biological and the cultural. We'll call them the inner and the outer. You'd think the inner would be more important, since it really is where the baby-making happens, but to someone who has suffered infertility, the zingers really come with the outer.

Several years ago I finally got the chance to try to make a baby, something I'd wanted viscerally for over a decade. So I launched into things blindly, based simply on my gynecologist's advice that I was most fertile 14 days before my period. Up until then, I really didn't know timing had anything to do with it.

And so began a journey of peeing on sticks (two kinds; both expensive), acrobatic maneuvers, charting basal body temperature, and being disappointed once a month. Then came a little more reading about hormones and body infrastructure, the details of the menstrual cycle, and some oral medication. From there we proceeded to invasive testing on both of us, then learning how to get a baby going from outside you. There are shots to the belly and butt (self-administered or husband-administered), reconstituting powdered medication, screwing with your body's own endocrine system, going to get your blood tested and your uterus ultrasounded every day, and finally leaving it up to Dr. Frankenstein to make it happen in a lab.

And that, because I was lucky, was only the beginning. What I thought was going to be a downhill slide from IVF turned out to be a very difficult trek through the desert. I won't say it's been an uphill battle, but it's no waterslide. Pregnancy can mess with your hormones as effectively as hormone shots. And the bundles of joy inside you can make you a constant threat for projectile vomit. In my case, as they subvert all my energy and nutrients, I've been left almost bedridden for months. For my trouble (and the trouble of my caretakers), we've gotten to see them move and develop on the ultrasound, watch my belly grow, and dream about our growing family.

The inner part is a dream come true.

But it's the outer part that I've actually been dreaming of since I was 25. And bizarrely enough, that's the part that feels much more real.

Out there in life, in the grocery store, in the airport, and among your friends, you see pregnancies and babies happen all the time. And for the most part, nobody is talking about the inner realm of pregnancy. Not to me. Certainly not the strangers in the airport.

For over ten years, ever since I felt a tingle in my hand walking down the street in New Orleans and knew that a toddler's hand should be inside mine, I have looked at pregnant ladies with awe and envy. Here's what I knew about them:

  • Pregnant ladies get to buy clothes in maternity stores.
  • Pregnant ladies get to have ultrasounds with the wand on top of their bellies instead of inside their bodies.
  • Pregnant ladies get baby showers.
  • Strangers put their hands on pregnant ladies' swelling abdomens.
  • Strangers ask pregnant ladies, "When are you due?"
As you can see, I developed a very comprehensive understanding of the pregnant experience.

Because I was a girl who didn't really know what ovulation was until 2006, I wasn't expecting any of the inner stuff. But the outer stuff was a different story.

When I learned that I was pregnant, I could barely believe it. I heard it in a roundabout way from the pharmacist, so the news came as more of a puzzle than a declaration. I have thought and said that learning I was having twins, on the ultrasound table holding James's hand, was the happiest day of my life. But truthfully, I think the happiest day of my life was the day I finally had enough strength (barely) to go to the Motherhood Maternity clothing store in the mall.

I had literally been on the outside, looking in, to the maternity clothes shops in malls for years and years. I went in once, very briefly, feeling like a fraud, and quickly walked out again. Lots of times, I stood outside the window, looked at the clothes, and had to fight back tears. When I finally got to go to one legitimately, I squeezed James's hand again. As we got closer to the entrance my nauseated self started hopping with excitement. When we got inside among the racks of clothes, I could barely breathe. I looked around at the other shoppers, with bellies the same as or bigger than mine. I belonged. I wasn't a fraud. I was buying maternity clothes for myself because I was pregnant! (In the end, James bought them for me because I felt woozy and had to go sit outside and eat a granola bar).

Several weeks ago we ventured out of the house to go to an orchard outside of the metro area. We've picked apples there before, but this time we went to just go buy some. Actually, we went just for the drive. When we got out of the car, I was wearing one of my Motherhood Maternity outfits -- the kind that leaves no doubt in the viewer's mind that the wearer is pregnant. The woman selling the apples said, "Oh, when are you due!?" I reeled. I told her March, and she looked surprised. I was so big! I explained that it was twins. She was delighted. I was way more delighted.

Recently my neighbor Wendy came over with her new roommate to visit the pregnant invalid next door (me). She was so excited for me that she asked if she could touch my belly. I welcomed it. She spoke to the babies inside. The experience spoke to my heart.

I was going to wrap up here with my conclusion that -- for all I've wanted an actual baby (or babies!) on the inside -- what really makes me happy is the outer trappings. Those have been what I've known for much longer, and wished for for much longer.

But then, two minutes ago, at 4:42 a.m., I was sitting back, contemplating what to write next, and I had my hands on my belly. I have been concentrating recently, trying to feel the babies move around. Up until now, I haven't felt anything other than my pulse. But this time, I wonder. Maybe it was the glass of water that I just drank. But maybe it was my children.

I'll be damned. They're on the inside.

They really are!


DAVs said...

Yay for getting to go to Motherhood for REAL--and getting those looks and pats from strangers everywhere.
I hope you keep feeling well and start to feel some real baby kicks soon!

Laughing4Heir said...

I'm so glad you're getting to enjoy the party!!