One year after we married, my husband Brian and I decided to save our pennies for a once-in-a-lifetime trip before we started a family.
I had always wanted to see France and especially Paris. Our favorite romantic film, “Casablanca,” included many important scenes in the City of Lights and I wanted to take an indulgent trip before our lives together focused solely on kids, soccer games and pizza nights.
Brian’s best friend and best man at our wedding, Jim, and his wife, Nicole, had virtually the same family plan in mind. But they had one request: Italy. The following April, we embarked on a three-week trip in France and Italy – flying into Paris and leaving from Rome.
The night before we left, I realized I didn’t have enough birth control for the trip. I switched my prescriptions to mail-order only and the trip had occupied my mind so that I clean forgot to order more. Frantically, I called Nicole to see if she had a spare pack. She didn’t.
“Condoms?” I asked Brian. He laughed.
We hadn’t bought condoms in years. We met eight years earlier just before he left to be stationed with the Navy in Japan. He had been home in San Diego for the last three years and we knew we’d get married – so, birth control it was.
Even still, I ran to the store and found myself staring at a wall of confusing birth-prevention items (If you’re having great sex, who has time to notice your condom glows in the dark?).
The next day, we met Jim and Nicole at the Houston International Airport and out of Nicole’s purse she pulled a birth control pack.
“How did you manage it?” I asked, taking the pack.
Jim laughed and said, “She’s amazing.”
“I went to my pharmacist and said I lost mine,” she said, a twinkle in her eye. “I even looked a bit panicky and whipped up some misty eyes.”
The act worked and we were both set for our three weeks of romantic interludes, when we weren’t splitting rooms to save some cash. Before the trip, my mom made rather frequent jokes that we would come home with a “Paris” or “Venice” baby. But we hadn’t bought our home yet and I didn’t want to move into a house while pregnant. Nicole was a family-planning saver.
The trip through France and Italy exceeded our expectations in all ways; exactly what we hoped for in our final trips as childless couples. When we arrived home, we knew what we faced: parenthood. We were ready for it. Brian and I immediately set to buying a home with three rooms, which was easier with a new job that I had just taken before our trip.
After the open house, where everyone asked when the “family” would fill our home, we started trying. Brian was set to deploy for seven months in about five months and my doctor said that was enough time to conceive, but not so close that Brian would miss the birth. That first month, my doctor told me not to expect a miracle right away. I took my prenatal pills, charted my best ovulation dates, and kept up my healthy eating and workouts. According to my ovulation test, I was ovulating when we tried.
Even though it was early, I was excited and I tested anyway. Next month, I followed all the same routines and got better at the ovulation tests. Again, very excited … tested, nothing. Well, we still had a few more months. I imagined, as I sorted through the pictures from France and Italy, that one day our kids would look at our trip and think: “We were just a glimmer in their eyes when they took this picture at the top of the Eiffel Tower.”
Brian and I assembled a coffee table book of our trip for Jim and Nicole – it turned out beautifully. We sent it to them for a Christmas gift. The next month, I really watched my days and made sure we were trying when we should. Suddenly, it started to seem less like fun and more like work, but we tried to ignore the pressure we started to feel.
That month, I was late and so excited I could hardly think of anything at work. I floated around and smiled for no reason at all. Four days passed my expected start date and then, in early afternoon it started. I pretended it was possible that it was implantation bleeding, but it was far too heavy. I stood in the bathroom stall at work as the tears streamed down my face.
“Cheer up,” I told myself. “You have two more tries.”
The next month, I started right on time. I threw another test in the trash. I was supposed to be in a wedding that summer and the bride kept ribbing me about having to find a maternity bridesmaid dress. At this point, it didn’t seem likely and I started to worry. Brian was gearing up to deploy and was distracted with getting ready to leave. He had a late night getting his paperwork in order at work.
That night, I sat on the floor of my master bathroom surrounded by baby books, prenatal vitamins, ovulation and fertility testing kits, and pregnancy tests and empty test boxes. I feared I was becoming obsessed; I thought of popular culture images, such as Monica on the TV show “Friends” and Charlotte on HBO’s “Sex and the City.” Was I becoming them? That month, my excitement evolved into despair. I realized that I would turn 31 while Brian was deployed that summer. I recalled the day I had told him years earlier that I wanted kids before I was 30. But we wanted everything to be in place financially and avoid raising kids in an apartment.
Did we miss our window?
Though Brian comforted me the best he could by explaining that we had not been trying long, I knew better. The women in my family conceived fairly easily and I had seen the signs of trouble before. My older sister, Heidi, began getting strange looks from family members when she had been trying for just a few months. I recalled overhearing someone say at a family function: “Something must be wrong.”
In her case, she had structural problems that required surgery, but she also had some indications with irregular cycles. In my case, there weren’t any signs and so many had given me such false hope of an easy conception, that I felt defective. As Brian prepared to leave, my stress levels shot through the roof at work and home.
The day he left, I went with my younger sister, Whitney, whose also in the Navy, to say my good-byes. In years past, his deployments tore me apart and I would feel so sad for days. But I felt differently this time. I felt bitter and angry at the Navy, which I endured to have the life that now seemed to evade me. That night I slept alone in our house with three bedrooms – only one of which was furnished.
My two cats, Holly and Violet, curled up next to me as I stared at the ceiling wondering what the future might bring. For the first time in my life, I felt out of control and helpless to achieve my desired outcome. The next week, I was late and it lasted nearly a week and a half – but all the tests came back negative. When it started, I was in terrible pain. My doctor said it could have been stress or perhaps a momentary pregnancy.
Whatever it was, it never happened again.
A small room upstairs had been misguidedly painted blue, while the rest of the house had pleasing earth-tones. Though we intended to repaint the room into a more suitable color, we avoided it perhaps thinking it would only have to be repainted when we made up as the nursery.
After Brian left, I referred to it only as the “blue room” and kept it closed. It came to symbolize all in our marriage that we had hoped and worked for in our lives that remained just out of reach. And I found myself facing a problem I could not solve without digging deep within my soul and putting aside the notions of the life I thought I would have simply because I planned it.
But as John Lennon once wrote: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”