This post was so long, I had to split it in half! Here’s part two.

“Try” to get pregnant? Isn’t this like “trying” to gain weight? Sure, a hyperthin celebrity actress might try to get fatter for a plum, Oscar-worthy role, or a pathetically skinny teenage boy might try to bulk up with protein shakes and raw egg smoothies, but for the rest of the human race, gaining weight is hardly something to be pursued. No, it’s something mildly inconvenient that happens naturally when you stop paying attention (and p.s., only white folks really seem to pay attention, as “everyone knows” a black man can appreciate a woman with some meat on her bones).

So with getting knocked up, or so I figured. Pregnancy was one birth control slip away, assuming you were using birth control at all beyond the withdrawal method (and again, white women seemed to be the main ones taking drastically responsible measures like getting on hormonal birth control; always a regular condom user, I went on the Pill for the first time in my life at age 30, and only so I wouldn’t be bleeding on our honeymoon). Imagine my surprise when pregnancy didn’t automatically follow our first month of unprotected sex. The betrayal! As it turns out, a healthy woman my age, with a healthy partner, has only a one-in-five chance of getting pregnant in any given cycle. I wish gaining weight were that tricky.

So, anyway. Still waiting. There should be some news either way by July 10. If that seems like a long time to you, imagine how I feel.

This post was so long, I had to split it in half! Here’s part one.

Based on various physical signals that I won’t detail here, I’m pretty sure I ovulated this week, most likely Wednesday. Which means that I have begun what those in the TTC know call the two-week wait, 2WW for short (there is more esoteric jargon involved in this baby-making process than in any dull academic tome, and believe me, I am well-acquainted with dull academic tomes).

Now, despite my new ob-gyn’s lack of interest in the months of basal body temperature charts that I brought her a few weeks ago, I know from these long months of charting that my 2WW is usually considerably less than two weeks long, because my luteal phase (LP) tends to be around eleven days rather than the fourteen days that is considered typical. You’d think that would make the wait a little less excruciating, but each month it still ends up being the longest eleven days of my life. Even worse is when I miscalculate my ovulation date, or when for some other reason my LP stretches out an extra day or two, leading me to think I might be pregnant–only to end in my period, again.

But I have to say, this “baby wait” stuff is wholly unfamiliar to me as a black woman (dare I speak “as a black woman” on this blog? Take it with the caveat/disclaimer that I know my experience is only my own, and does not necessarily apply to any and all black women out there). The concept of “trying” for a pregnancy was not something I really understood until recently. Up until last year, pretty much everyone I knew with kids got pregnant by accident, and usually at the most inconvenient time or with the most incompatible partner possible. Even the married or almost-married people I knew who turned up pregnant were surprised by it.

As such, it never occurred to me that black people “tried” to have kids. Although I know a few black women who’ve had abortions, I know twice as many who were surprised by a pregnancy and decided to keep the baby, whether that baby arrived in the middle of our senior year of college, in the middle of a doomed relationship, or in the middle of complicated career plans. Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising–African American culture tends to see children as gifts from God, new life as something to be embraced, not necessarily planned. Much of this is surely the longstanding influence of Christianity, but part of it may go back even further, to traditional African notions of kinship, in which children are viewed as literal wealth.

Blah freaking blah. Sorry, I seem to have lapsed into college professor mode without realizing it–end historical lecture. Whatever the lurking sociocultural reason, in my 20s I didn’t realize there were scores of women out there working at getting pregnant.

Maybe because of that whole myth of black hyper-fertility that I mentioned a few posts ago, TTC without success has led to some interesting reactions from friends over the past eight months. Some of you are probably wondering why my friends even have the opportunity to comment–why did I tell anyone we were trying in the first place? Believe me, I ask myself the same question fairly often.

But I tend to be pretty open with my close friends about what’s going on with me. TTC is one of the bigger things that’s been going on with me this year, so it’s tough not to talk about it at all (although I’ve managed to avoid telling my mom directly, because I don’t want her to worry–I think she has an idea of what’s going on, though). And ultimately I’ve only told six friends: two from my circle of academic friends, two from my circle of old college friends, one who is both an old college friend and an academic, and my best gay (male) friend. Does that seem like a lot? At the time, for a talker like me, it seemed like the bare minimum.

There are a number of downsides to telling people we’re trying, though. First, there is the problem of Womb Watch. This starts out fairly innocently, when you’re only a few months in. Once I told her, one of my girlfriends began every phone call with “Are you calling to tell me you’re pregnant?” Naturally, this started to become less charming when the answer kept turning up no, month after month. This is also the reason G and I have decided our parents can’t know yet–they are hardly clamoring for grandchildren, but we hate to get our folks’ hopes up every cycle, only to have them dashed again. This is pretty bad for our own hopes too, but that’s for another post.

I also seem to have overestimated my six friends’ discretion, as a recent birthday dinner with another college friend began, “So, I hear you guys are trying to have a baby!” Turns out, she did not hear this from any of the friends I’d told directly, but rather from a guy at the periphery of our circle that I haven’t talked to in at least a year. I’m still trying to trace this leak back to the right source, although as G says, our presence in the rumor mill might be the natural consequence of spilling the beans at all. If I don’t want people to “hear,” I probably should have kept things completely to myself. Wait, so you’re telling me I can’t have it both ways?

Another downside to telling friends is the “helpful” comments they sometimes make. I’m not the first infertility blogger to make a list of these, and I surely won’t be the last. But let me share some of the stuff I’ve heard from well-meaning people: “Have you tried ___?” In the blank, insert anything from the obvious: ovulation predictor kits? (the answer is yes) to the obscure: evening primrose oil to “regulate your cycles”? (also yes) I’ve also been told, after I made the mistake of expressing a bit of ambivalence about the adoption option (to a friend whose child is most certainly NOT adopted), “Well, you’ll feel differently if you’re not pregnant in a year.” Thanks for the vote of confidence, girlfriend.

Then there’s the ubiquitous, “As soon as you stop thinking about it, you’ll get pregnant.” Otherwise known as, “Just relax!” Now, the “just relax” advice does not (yet?) make my blood boil the way that it does some infertile women, but I do still find it annoying. Not only does telling me to relax, to stop thinking about it, to just enjoy myself, rarely result in immediate results (“Oh, you think I should relax? Thank you for telling me that! It’s like a weight has suddenly been lifted–I’m now so relaxed I could probably conceive without even having sex!”), but it also ignores the possibility that something could be medically amiss with G or me. More annoying still is the way that “just relax” implies that I and my overanxious nature are the only thing keeping us from getting pregnant. In other words, it’s all my fault.

Then again, maybe it is. I have had a stressful year. Some studies have shown that the stress hormone cortisol can adversely affect ovulation, others that women who engage in mind-body stress relief techniques have a higher pregnancy rate. Still, being told to relax seems a lot less helpful than being handed a gift certificate to a spa, or some chocolate. Or better yet, a good bottle of wine. Now that’s a friendly tip I can use.

Today I’m feeling optimistic about our chances of getting knocked up. Who knows how long this feeling will last, but I’m enjoying it while it’s here.

Why the optimism, you ask? Well, I don’t really know. It could have something to do with going to the doctor yesterday for my annual physical and discovering that I had “only” gained six pounds since the last exam (actually a year and a half ago, in January ’06). I had expected her to give a much higher number, probably because this past school year has been so stressful on its own–nobody told me that life gets busier after tenure–and trying, unsuccessfully, to get pregnant added a second huge layer of stress.

I don’t think of myself as an emotional eater, but one reaction I have to stress at these levels is an almost rebellious desire to spoil myself (only child much?). Logic, and a working knowledge of human dietary requirements, would tell me that it’s really not in my best interests to “take care of myself” with sugar and butterfat instead of salads and exercise, but the stomach wants what it wants. So I walked into the doctor’s office with a feeling of real dread–I knew I was about to hear the truth about my sporadic exercise and luxuriously fatty diet. I nearly jumped for joy when I learned that the damage was “only” 6 pounds. Six pounds is reversible. Based on past experience, I am betting I can get rid of six pounds in a week or two.

Does this have something to do with making a baby? Not really, but it is a reminder that things are sometimes not as bad as they seem. What if this month, or next, is our month, and all of the angst of the past eight cycles has been worry over nothing? That’d be a lovely happy ending. And today it seems more possible than ever.

A little bit infertile.

June 26, 2007

Finally, and about a decade after everyone else I know, I’ve been drawn into the world of blogging. Not that I imagine many people will be reading, especially as I am a complete novice at this, but I think I probably should start by introducing myself.

So, hypothetical reader of mine, let me answer a couple of your questions. Who am I and how did I get here?

Well, I’m a college professor in New York City, recently tenured (yay!). I’m also an African American woman, very happily married since 2005 to an African American man whom I’ll call G. G is, like me, a Ph.D.–even without taking into account his good looks, amazing sense of humor and truly charming personality, there’s no arguing that by women’s magazine measures, I’ve hit the mating jackpot by finding a black man who has the same level of education that I do. Not to mention the same political values, and the same quirky combination of lapsed Afro-veggie-hippiedom and guilty buppie materialism (although I think G is a little less guilty about that last bit than I am). Fact is, on that fateful 2002 day in May that we met, I found my soulmate, and I feel incredibly lucky to be his wife.

On to the “how I got here” part: G and I have been trying to get pregnant since October of 2006. We’re on cycle 9 right now, hence the question mark and the parentheses in this blog’s title, as I don’t really know whether we’re infertile (we are young, and in spite of a few bourgeois authenticity issues, I am reasonably sure we are black). There’s certainly some chance that if we don’t get lucky in June, we’ll fall pregnant next month, or in August or September. Still, there are no guarantees, and as the months pass I’ve begun to feel less and less optimistic and more and more ambivalent about this whole thing.

I’m 32 years old. I’m starting this blog in part because I need to talk about this stuff somewhere, but also because as of yet nothing I’ve seen online about infertility reflects my experience. There are many, many infertility blogs out there, but of the ones I’ve read, none seem to be written by African American women. Maybe this is because, as Linda Villarosa notes in this old article from Ebony magazine: “Traditionally, we Black women have been thought of as the world’s best babymakers. The myth is that pregnancy is so easy for us, that we’re so fertile–and we’ve bought into the myth of our abundant fertility. But the myth that we are hyper-fertile, hyper-sexual, is left over from slavery days and bears no relation to reality.”

It’s a myth, all right, but one that still has a lot of power. I know I never expected to have a whit of trouble conceiving–and my many, many black friends with beautiful kids who resulted from “oops” pregnancies certainly made it look easy. Just before we started trying to conceive (TTC), I remember sitting around a table at the birthday dinner of a friend of mine (herself the mom of an “oops” son), with about six other black women. The possibility of G and I getting pregnant came up, and I said something like, “I hope we don’t have any trouble conceiving–I hear some women really struggle.” A chorus of voices assured me that no, infertility was a “white woman’s issue,” I had “nothing to worry about.” And I was pretty certain they were right. Now I see that certainty as naive (and a little bit bigoted). And really wrong, since some statistics suggest that in fact, black women are 1.5 times more likely than white women to be infertile. Who knew?

Anyway, back to why I started this blog: in my searching for info on black women and infertility, I also read this 2004 article from Essence. Essence went into some detail about how many middle-class black women these days are delaying TTC to their late 30s because of their careers. And they’re discovering, like many of their white counterparts, that trying to get pregnant at age 37 or 39 is not as easy as they expected. Well yes, that makes total sense, but it doesn’t really make me feel any better. We started TTC when I was 31 years old, practically an infant myself in career girl terms. I am incredibly lucky that I got tenure at age 31 and professionally felt free and clear to start trying, with almost no concerns about a baby slowing down or stopping my career progress. Plus, I’m young and reasonably healthy, with clockwork menstrual cycles and ample “childbearing hips.” A lot of good it’s done me.

So, G and I have three and a half cycles to go before we can officially be considered “infertile.” I’m very interested to see how things progress from here, and I’ll definitely keep you posted on whether a little bit infertile becomes a whole lot infertile–or even a tiny bit pregnant.