Doctor Four and the Great Fainter


We have wandered down the road of infertility for nearly three years.

The stages of our path mimicked those of grief and we have emerged from those dark early days with hope. I’ve learned to be more open when folks ask those once painful questions.

Plus, we see ourselves as future foster/ adoptive parents, with a particular organization in mind. We just need a schedule to coincide with the classes.

But sometimes, I still get a gentle shoulder pat or a look of pity. But it rarely bothers me anymore. I know mostly what others struggle with in knowing we’re childless has more to do with them than me.

When I quit my job at the County of San Diego a few months back, Brian added me to his Navy health care plan which allowed me to keep my dentist and optometrist (woohoo!), but lose my longtime family doctor, Dr. Roth (boo!).

The process of finding a new doctor gives me hives.

It’s one more person who knows all about my medical history; truly, the most intimate nonsexual relationship we have. I had the same family doctor until I was 23 when I moved to California 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve had three.

But what I found behind doctor door number four has been a pleasant surprise so far.

“You’re 33, healthy and no babies,” Dr. Deckert began. “Let’s talk about that.”

I thought back to my early dark days struggling with depression at discussing this very topic.

“I wish my therapist had been this warm,” I thought.

She asked about all the testing I had been through, which had all come back suggesting on paper I was a Fertile Myrtle. One test, somehow, had escaped me and she wanted to eliminate that factor straight away.

I was game. My heart and mind was ready for whatever this final progesterone test revealed.

Over drinks with two of my close girlfriends, I told them I was going through another test. Their mouths dropped open.

“I thought this was all done,” one said.

Yep, me too.

The morning of my lab appointment, Brian sent me a text message: “Good luck, this morning, Pica.”

I’m notoriously bad at giving blood. The American Red Cross would not take me in a million years; I’m a faint risk. But I find if I tell the nurse I’m a baby upfront, breath slowly and pay no attention to what’s going on, I can get through it fine.

I sat in the chair while the nurse reviewed all the testing my doctor ordered for me. I felt fine and calm until I saw her pull five tubes.

“A lot of testing this morning, huh?” she asked. “Don’t worry. I have a gift from God; I’m the best at this.”

Turns out, God was off-duty during my visit.

First, I nearly fainted followed by an embarrassing bout of shock. She pinned me back in the chair until help arrived. By the time she and another nurse virtually dragged me to a table to elevate my legs, I had sweat through my clothes, my pupils looked like pin tips and all the blood drained from my face.

Eventually, all five tubes were filled while I lay limp and soggy on the table. I sat up very slowly to find three nurses peering in at me from the hall. Like a good little girl, my nurse rewarded me with a chocolate chip cookie and a can of Pepsi.

The next day, I was driving to meet Brian for dinner when my cell phone rang. I answered my silly earbuds headset and it was my cheerful doctor.

“So, I like to see a 10 or better for progesterone levels,” she said, getting right down to business. I took a deep breath. “You’re at 18.5. You have the fertility of a 20-year-old girl.”

I was silent.

“Erica?”

“I’m here,” I said, and smiled. “Thank you for calling.”

She was right. It was good to know. And amazingly, I felt not one ounce of regret at how it all played out over the years.

I called Brian, emailed my girlfriends and then talked to my mom, who had her youngest child at 42.

Later at dinner, a cloud came across Brian’s face. He had been through his share of testing too and this meant more was likely on his horizon.

“So, it’s definitely me,” he said, sounding resigned. My heart broke.

I could see his wheels turning the information over in his mind. Then, the eternal optimist smiled.

“Well, if it has to be one of us, I’m glad it’s me,” he said.

“Oh? And why is that?”

“Well, for one, I can handle needles.”

Released from Hopeless Prison


“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” – The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King

Years ago, I visited a prison as a newspaper reporter to write a story about female inmates convicted of non-violent offenses who assisted the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection during wildfires.

The inmates considered the sentence a gift – a chance to get outside and be productive during their time. One of the girls I met looked to be about 20-years-old with the eyes of a much older, broken woman. Her crimes: drugs, petty theft and prostitution.

I asked what she missed most from home.

“My baby,” she said.

Years later, I found myself in prison.

I committed no crime except the one of expecting life to magically fall in line, and fulfill all my hopes and dreams of motherhood. When it failed to deliver, I played right into the hands of doubt, fear and cripling ego that dealt me a dreadful blow.

After more than a year of riding emotional tidalwaves between feeling fine about being childless and utterly consumed with despair – I hit a significant crossroads: my mother.

As a Christmas gift, I offered to pay for half of my parents plane tickets to come visit with us for a couple weeks. I missed my parents dearly and the time apart during such a miserable life experience left me missing them more than ever.

By that point, I had grown rather accostomed to pretending all was well. Projecting a put-together and well-adjusted career woman as no Meryl Streep performance could measure against and fooling most anyone into either believing the facade or being given reason enough not to ask.

Though I did underestimate my most devoted fan.

My mom saw through the garbage straight into me for who I was. She saw me as a child who allowed time and life experiences to pile a lot of nasty gunk on top of my true self. All those emotional, physical and material changes which may distract, but can never truly alter who we are at our deepest roots.

One day while the house was empty, she pulled me outside to the porch and pointed me to a chair at the patio table. She yanked a cigarette from her pack, tapped it lightly against the back of her hand, put it to her mouth and said: “We’re going to talk.”

She possessed the most unmistakeable and famous of “mom tones.” Even as a child playing as far away as possible from the house in our neighborhood, she would yell for us to come home for dinner. Despite the volume and distance, I could distinguish between “normal mom yell” and “you’re in trouble.”

“What is going on?” she asked. “Do you know what you’re all about?”

Frankly, I didn’t. My emotional state led me to become a work-a-holic prone to superficial distractions. It drained me so that I hardly recalled myself not under deress or strain.

All I could manage in response: “I don’t know. I’m lonely.”

She puffed out smoke and said: “I believe that you are. You need to find yourself and learn what you’re all about again. You need hope.”

Hope.

Powerful, gigantic word when you feel so small; like a field mouse lifting a boulder.

Her direction: Stop listening to all the outside noise.

Seemed outside noise rang in my ears daily. I let my ear be bent by every person on the street who would instantly deem themselves fertility specialists by beginning: “My cousin did this …” or “You should do that …”

“What do you want?” she asked. “You have all the answers to your problems, but you have to love and trust yourself.”

Again. Hope.

Hard to find it when you feel isolated; trapped by the misery of your own design. The silence and shame hung around my neck and chained me down for a death sentence.

“You’re my most put-together child,” she said. “You’ve gone through a Hell of a lot to get where you are. Don’t let this stop you.”

I explained that I did not want to nor could I emotionally handle the trial-and-error process of fertility treatments right now. Perhaps it could be a later option.

“OK,” she said. “That’s a start. What about adoption?”

Adoption. It started an argument earlier in the process when I contacted the county for information. Brian didn’t want to “raise someone else’s kid” and thought I should “make more of an effort to exhaust all other options.”

My mom squashed out a cigarette and began a new one.

“I’ve seen you with kids, Erica,” she said. “A child from you or someone else will be your baby. Talk to him again.”

But what if he still rejects the notion? Where do we go from there?

“You have to be brave – life requires it,” she said. “Darlin’, I didn’t think I’d be divorced from my first husband with two young kids. Shit happens. And as hard as it was going through all that, I don’t regret a day because I would have missed out on your dad. Hell, keep trying doors until one opens.”

Mom knew best: I could give up or I could get up.

After our talk, she made me a lunch that provided solace as only a mom could. We sat at my dining room table talking about other sunnier topics.

I felt the chains loosen and grow lighter, a knot in my chest disappeared and my heart opened.

I felt free.

That night, I told Brian that I could be a better “me,” but I needed him to meet in the middle. He did not object; the conversation had begun.

Two days laters, I took the whole family to a drive-in movie to watch a double feature of “Sherlock Holmes” and “The Blind Side.” The winter air forced us all to stay in our cars – Whitney with me and Brian during “Sherlock” and then she switched to sit with my parents during “Blind Side.”

The second film was based on the true story of a white Southern family who adopts a teenage African American future professional football player. On the way home, Brian said: “That was better than I was expecting. Sort of changed my mind about adoption.”

A lock released. A door opened.

Over the next few months, my hope grew greater and stronger daily.  I spoke to a friend, Barry, about the adoption of his daughter a decade ago through Adoption Center of San Diego and tomorrow, I’ll speak to another friend, Mindy, who went through the same nonprofit for her adoption.

Our orientation on May 13 – once a months away appointment – now happens in just over a week.

Today, its hard to remember the sad inmate my mother spoke with at Christmas. I hope to never meet her again. I hope to never lose sight of my true self. I hope to be a mom this time next year. I hope my baby’s laugh sounds a wonderful as it has in my dreams.

I hope.

The Great Depression


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Following the Great Crash of 1929, American prosperity came to a halt and folks who once lived high on the hog stood in bread lines for rations. Our economic crash caused a ripple effect worldwide and from 1929 until World War II in 1941, it left some countries with unemployment rates as high as 33 percent. Survival. That was all people hoped for in those grim, cheerless days. Whatever work came their way, they took gladly and without contemplation of the pay – money was money.

In Michigan, the effects of the Great Depression continued to affect my mother, who was a child. She remembered Grandma Glasford making chicory coffee by using a stove top pot. She would boil the water, add the chicory and when it was ready, she cracked an egg into the pot. When the egg was cooked, Grandma Glasford would ladle the egg out of the bottom with all the chicory grounds baked in. Eggs they had, chicory was limited and piping hot cup free of grounds – a luxury. When folks face tough times, they’ll do whatever they can to get through and hopefully, with their wits.

After Brian and I found out we were infertile, I fell to pieces. It wasn’t until then that I realized my entire life built up to that expectation. But who expects when things move along so well in life that one day the bottom will drop out?

As I went through the stages of grief, sadness consumed me and the more I tried to ignore my desire to have children – the more it seemed they and pregnant women surrounded me. I felt like I was starving and had not one penny to my name while everyone dined on filet mignon. Time and again, I faced the questions from friends, family and co-workers as to when were going to have children. Inside, I would feel the lump form in my throat as I would casually toss aside the questions.

The more I struggled to keep my emotional well-being in check, the more my deep desires for motherhood rebelled. But I still couldn’t force myself to tell anyone – I felt so much shame. Is a women a woman if she doesn’t have a baby?

Finally, Brian and I decided that it was time for me to see a therapist. We went through the Navy family services and were referred to a counselor in Santee.

The day of my first session, I sat in my office nervously bouncing my leg and wondering what it would be like. I pictured the movie images of lying back on the couch, staring at the ceiling and pouring your heart out. Upon entering the office, I scanned the room and saw no one from my peer group. They all looked fairly haggered, drug-addled and financially desitute. I checked in and sat beside a woman using an oxygen tank to breath. The office sat silent save her labored breathing.

I was called in. The doctor seemed to very much represent the clientele in the waiting room. The room was dimly lit, the blinds drawn and two chairs sat in opposite corners facing each other.  I sat down and suddenly felt very awkward. While I had always had a natural gift for talking with others about their troubles, I found it difficult to open up. The first session progressed more like a tug-o-war than a heart-to-heart. We discussed my depression, our infertility problems and the strain it caused my marriage, but in a very general way. I hardly spoke more than two or three sentences for each of her questions.

I felt lonely. Sitting in a therapist office, telling my secrets to a stranger made me feel more distant from my true self. While she asked prodding questions, I looked at myself from the outside and saw someone I didn’t recognize. For the first time in my life, I felt powerless and afraid. The spark that gave me the strength and gumption to make so many wildly risky, beneficial decisions sat looking for answers from someone who in her early 50s lived alone in an apartment with three cats.

The Rapist (therapist) told me that sessions only work as much as the client does. But after each session, I felt void of emotion, drained of integrity and more lost. The crying jags still continued, to Brian’s dismay, and they happened for a variety of reason: seeing a pregnant woman with children, talking to a friend who “hates kids,” hearing about a girl I know who had two abortions, trying to avoid a conversation that begins “I thought you two wanted kids,” thinking I would never celebrate Mother’s Day or help my daughter pick out her wedding dress, or simply because it was Sunday.

Even worse, I struggled with silence: the inability to tell even my closest friends still plagued me. I felt trapped within circumstances and though The Rapist told me all the answers to my life’s problems resided in me, I still wandered around in the forest of my mind searching for the light.

Some months later, I walked into the waiting room of the unfortunates to see a teenage boy sitting alone. After I checked in, we made the briefest eye contact and I sat down with my magazine. The door of the waiting room soon opened from the outside and a woman in a wheelchair pushed her way in with a relative helping her from behind. The relative told her he would return in just a moment. In the meantime, she was called to the counter. She labored with her right foot, slowly turning the wheels and making her way to the counter.

“Oh my gosh, this is just too much,” she said.

She suddenly stood up and without hesitation, marched up with the counter. The boy and I looked at one another and smirked; we choked down our giggles. After filling out her paperwork, she quickly returned to her wheelchair before her relative returned.

After my session, I walked down to my car and thought to myself: “I really need to get out of this wheelchair.”