Please…

May 30, 2008

…keep Jennifer over at Contrary to Popular Belief in your thoughts and prayers. She recently lost her pregnancy at 17 weeks. I don’t know whether she is hoping for comments on her most recent post, but I know it helps me to know that people are reading along in support, especially when things have taken a painful turn. So in case you’re not a regular reader of her blog I thought I would call it to your attention.

I’m just speechless, and so devastated to hear this sad news.

Take care of yourselves; I will post a longer update on me-land soon.

So. My period was late this month–by only a few days, but it was enough to get my hopes up. Lately I’d been having 23 and 24 day cycles, and by yesterday I was on CD 26 with no blood in sight. No cramps, no spotting, no nothing.

I know it’s ridiculous to start thinking you’re pregnant when you’re not only just on CD 26–which is to say, not even to the number of days of a “normal” 28-day cycle!–but when you’d also only had sex once during the relevant days of the cycle. Believe me, I know it. But you know how it is, dear reader. You start counting back and thinking hmmm…, then the day when your period was expected comes and goes without incident, and all of a sudden that big green light starts flashing in your brain. “MAYbe!–MAYbe!–MAYbe!” says the flashing light. Some other, more rational part of you says “Girl, don’t be ridiculous. Don’t you know how unlikely that is?” But you know, then the squealing “Wouldn’t that be GREAT?! And my due date would be early July, which would be PERFECT” sirens start to accompany the flashing light, and pretty soon rational voice is completely drowned out by the din.

But I finally got a tiny bit of spotting late last night, and it’s now become real bleeding. So today is CD1, meaning last cycle was a 26-day cycle, a longer cycle than I’ve had for a few months. I assume that’s a good thing, although it might also just mean that I ovulated a few days late–I’ve been traveling for work a lot this month, so that might explain my cycle being wonky (although 26 days used to be “normal” for me, so who knows?).

One small consolation for waking up to yet another cycle day 1 is weighing myself this morning and discovering that I’ve officially lost twenty-five pounds. Is that not simply crazy? If you’d asked me six months ago whether I thought I could lose that much weight I would have said no way. I had a real illustration of what that 25 lbs means yesterday, too, because I had been away overnight for a conference panel: coming back from school yesterday, I had an overnight bag with me that weighed around 14 lbs, plus my big black purse that on a regular day weighs around 5 lbs (this is bad, I know) but was probably a pound heavier than normal because I’d put a few extra toiletries in it. That’s a total of at least 19 lbs, maybe 20, that I was carrying over my shoulders.

When I came up the two flights of stairs at my subway station yesterday, I could feel these bags literally slowing me down, causing me to drag my feet and struggle against the weight to pull myself up the steps. And I realized–hey, until recently, I was carrying more than this much extra weight on my body! No wonder I was so often exhausted and felt so uncomfortable in my skin. I’m very glad that there’s so much less of me to love right now.

By the way, shout-outs to a couple of fellow black women dealing with infertility–Kim and Deathstar–who both left comments on my last post and whose blogs I’ve been checking out. Between them, Loren, and the other folks I’ve been reading regularly, I’m going to have to put together a blogroll soon.

The thing is, now that we’ve gotten ten cycles into this TTC thing, I feel I can understand why Mr. Fun and Ms. Wisdom might be avoiding us.

We’re people they told about their TTC efforts early on, when they were feeling optimistic. After all, Ms. Wisdom got pregnant right away, even though that pregnancy ended in a loss–when she told me about it, she had no reason to believe they’d have any trouble getting pregnant again, and staying that way. But since then, for whatever reason, things haven’t worked out. Maybe they’ve had more miscarriages. Or maybe getting pregnant again hasn’t happened easily at all, making that first quick success seem a lifetime away. And either way, every time they see us, they can probably tell that we’re wondering, “what’s happening with all of that, anyway?” Not that we have actually asked.

In other words, maybe they feel we are silently Womb Watching, that the constant undercurrent to our jovial conversations about movies and politics is us thinking, “why aren’t you pregnant?” and them thinking, “please don’t make us talk about it.”

I’ve felt that way about well-meaning people in our lives. I know how that unspoken conversation makes socializing tedious, and for us that’s without the added grief of a past miscarriage.

So this is why we keep trying to make contact with them, in spite of having little success. I want them to know we love them, we are still their friends when they feel like being friendly again–lately I’ve come out of hibernation a bit myself, and it’s been such a relief to find that my friends don’t hate me for being so distant, that they’re still there and still doing their best to be supportive.

And if we ever do get a chance to sit down over a meal with Ms. Wisdom and Mr. Fun again, I may have to break the silence about our own TTC efforts, if only so they know they aren’t alone in the world. They don’t have to spill their guts to us if they don’t want to, of course, but I hope knowing that we’re out here will make whatever they’re going through feel a tiny bit less isolating.

If anyone out there reading has advice on how to broach the subject of TTC and fertility with friends and acquaintances whom you know or suspect are struggling–I would love to hear your thoughts.

So, as promised: I do know two African American women who have struggled with infertility issues. (By the way, this may turn out to be an epically long post. I can feel the words crowding up in there, ready to cover the page in a chaotic jumble. I’ll try to keep them under control, but you’ve been warned)

One of these women, whom I’ll call Dr. Poise (I cannot imagine a more poised, gracious person than this woman), I know in a quasi-professional, quasi-personal capacity. We met in an academic setting as graduate students and have run into each other in similar settings many times over the past ten years or so, always super-friendly but never really getting beyond surface stuff. Then once recently we somehow got into a conversation about TTC–perhaps I was in my complain-to-everyone phase–and I found out she dealt with endo and that she and her husband had been undergoing various medical interventions trying to conceive.

The other woman, whom I’ll call Ms. Wisdom (I’ve always gotten such a wise, peaceful vibe from her) is the wife of a close friend of mine from college, Mr. Fun. They are an awesome couple, but she and I never became super-close friends on our own, probably because we both already had our own settled group of friends before we met. Once, though, a couple of years ago while the four of us were out together, she and I also ended up in a conversation about TTC. At that time G and I weren’t yet trying, but it turns out Ms. Wisdom and Mr. Fun had suffered a miscarriage early on in their efforts and were trying again, without success.

These conversations were such a relief–if not for Ms. Wisdom or Dr. Poise, at least for me. There’s a whole history of African American women’s silence about sexuality issues**, and so silence about infertility, while not unique to black women, becomes a part of that other, historical silence that is unique to us. Maybe this is why I don’t know how to bring the topic up again now that some time has passed.

When I last saw Dr. Poise, several months ago, she was starting an out-of-pocket IVF cycle that sounded like the final effort to conceive a biological child with her husband. But when we exchanged emails about a professional issue last week, her warm note contained no news, and I couldn’t figure out how to ask what the outcome was. I sent an open-ended “how have you been/ what have you been up to?” follow-up, but got no response. So now I wonder–did it work? Is she a few months pregnant? Or was the cycle unsuccessful? Are they frustrated and disappointed, not to mention out many thousands of dollars? There seems to be no way to ask these questions outright.

At least in the case of Dr. Poise, I’ll probably see her again soon enough at another professional event–maybe it’ll be easier to broach the issue in person. Or maybe she’ll be pregnant and showing. In the case of Ms. Wisdom, it’s more complicated.

Like I said, Ms. Wisdom told me about her miscarriage before G and I were trying. And so she doesn’t know that G and I have struggled to conceive. I haven’t had a chance to tell her, either, because she and Mr. Fun have been avoiding us. Every time we call, they sound glad to hear from us, but never follow up with concrete plans to hang out. Or they just don’t return our calls. They decline invitations to our occasional parties. Occasionally we’ll chat with one or the other of them on the phone, and they tell us about their extensive traveling, their heavy work schedules, how busy-busy-busy they are. This has been going on for over a year.

Some of you are saying to yourselves, “Why doesn’t she just get the hint? They obviously DON’T LIKE YOU!” You’re probably right, but the thing is, they don’t *seem* to dislike us, as they are always so warm and sincere-sounding when we do talk to them. And there’s no clear event that I can pinpoint that marks a point when our relationship changed. We used to hang out all the time, really!

Of course, I’m terrified that I unintentionally said something rude or insensitive about TTC or pregnancy or children or miscarriage at some point, and Ms. Wisdom has put me into the category of “insensitive fertile friend” without my even realizing it. If only she knew. If only I had the chance to tell her! But again, I don’t know how to bring it up. The few times we have talked, I haven’t known how to raise the kids issue with them at all. I don’t know whether they’ve decided to adopt, or to remain childfree, or even if she’s been doing IVF cycles all this time.

Okay, I’m cutting this here and putting the rest in another post.

**My inner academic is forcing me to pause here and direct you to some further reading on black women, sexuality, and silence. This article is one place to start. Or you might try this book. And I might need this film for my own collection.

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.