Alice Domar (author of Conquering Infertility) suggests writing for 20 minutes on the most traumatic moment in the infertility saga. So here goes:
Every time I think about this, my mind skips right to the end, so that’s where I’ll start. It’s 5:00 a.m. in a shabby corner of the Washington Adventist Emergency Room, curtains pulled halfway around my “room,” where I’m sitting on a gurney I’ve been on since 11:00 the night before. Two nurses come in, one starts to put in a second IV. I ask her why she needs another one, and she tells me they need a second IV for the operating room. That’s how I learned that my pregnancy—my third pregnancy, quite possibly my last pregnancy—was over. Ectopic. A pregnancy that was startling in the first place, considering our sperm quality that cycle, that was high-risk because of my growing fibroid, that represented our last hope before I resorted to either major surgery or adoption. There were all kinds of fertility issues that should have stopped this pregnancy, but it ended because our perfect embryo decided to implants in a fallopian tube. What are the fucking odds?
I freaked. My shock at this news was surprising. Six hours earlier I had called my husband, working in New York that week, and told him that I was having steady and severe pain on one side, that I was about to call my doctor, and that I was sure she would send me to the emergency room for a possible ectopic pregnancy. When I arrived at the ER, I told them I thought it was an ectopic pregnancy. When I was with the radiologist—who was pissy with me because she had to be woken up in the middle of the night for the call—I deliberately did not ask her what she saw, because I didn’t think she was nice and I wanted someone else to tell me about the bad news.
But when those nurses said “surgery,” and I realized what that must mean, tears spurted out of my eyes so fast and hard, my heart pounded, and my whole body started shaking. “Didn’t the doctor tell you?” the nurse asked, immediately concerned. “No one’s told me anything,” I managed to choke out. Minutes later, the doctor was back in, confirming what I had known all along. Yes, the pregnancy was ectopic. No, there was nothing that could be done. I would be in surgery before my husband even made it home on the overnight train from
The nurse trying to put in the IV, who looked about 18, was making a mess of it. She missed the vein twice, then started pushing fluid in. A huge welt rose up under the skin, and I hollered, just to get her to stop. It hurt like hell, but I didn’t really care. I just kept crying. She asked if the pain was that bad, but I was beyond answering. The older nurse had to explain to her that it was the “emotional pain” I was dealing with. The young nurse, incredibly sweet, tried to comfort me. “I’ve had three tubal pregnancies,” she told me, “the surgery doesn’t even leave a scar—it’s nothing.” I didn’t bother explaining—how can someone who can get pregnant simply by having sex have any idea what I was going through? How could anyone who’s never faced infertility know what’s like to see another pregnancy circling the drain?
It’s those last 20 minutes in the ER that I remember the most. I’m haunted by it. Learning that my pregnancy was over, sobbing uncontrollably while they checked with the surgeon to see if it was early enough in my pregnancy to end it with a shot instead of surgery, calling J on the train somewhere in Delaware and telling him it was over, that I’d be home before he even hit DC, rolling onto one side so the nurses could give me the intramuscular shots that would dissolve the embryo, getting dressed and walking out into the misty dark, driving home in those zero hours when no one is out yet, ready to just get home and take my percocet, because now I could take whatever I wanted to kill the pain, my baby was doomed anyway, even if it didn’t know it yet….
Damn it. I’ve tried so hard not to think about that little cluster of tissue as a baby. It isn’t, you know. I don’t believe for a moment that it can know what’s going on before it at least develops a brain. But I felt so sorry for it anyway, that poor little cluster of cells that had tried so valiantly to grow into a baby. It wasn’t defective. It was growing, just like it was supposed to. It just wandered into the wrong place. So I had to kill it. I don’t even know how long it took to die. I imagine it was pretty quick—within a day or two the pain in my side was gone, which meant most of the tissue swelling my tube had dissolved. I’ve had miscarriages before, but this was different.
Infertility is very isolating, even when you’re happily married to a great guy who’s really there for you. Miscarriage, especially early miscarriage, is even more so. So I’ve felt alone a lot the last two years. But that night I really was alone. Alone, scared, helpless in the face of fate.
So there you have it, Ms. Domar. Twenty minutes on my most traumatic night. And yes, it made me realize some things I hadn’t thought of. Maybe this will help. Maybe I can stop being haunted by it.