Expectations: The Gambler’s Fallacy

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Intellectually, I know that our odds of conceiving are the same every time we try it–that a long series of misses doesn’t make success any more likely. But it feels like, after months of disappointment, the next insemination attempt just has to be a sure thing. If the odds of getting pregnant in any given cycle are about one in six, and we’ve already tried five times to no avail, then the sixth time has to be the charm! Especially since we’ve got medical technology on our side.

Well, it doesn’t actually work like that. It’s Friday and I’m having lunch with my mom and brother when I get a text from Charlie saying, “I got my period.” My heart sinks. I hate how familiar that sensation has become–it really does feel like something physically dropping inside my chest.

“What’s up?” asks my mom. I force a smile, say “Nothing,” and try to find the thread of the conversation again (my other brother may have a new girlfriend, but he hasn’t introduced her to any of us, probably because he is rightfully embarrassed that we are his family). My mother knows we’re trying to have a baby, and obviously she’s noticed that it hasn’t happened yet, but I don’t feel up to discussing the fact that it isn’t going well and we’re starting to get worried. It feels too vulnerable; I’m afraid I’ll start crying. (I will definitely start crying.)

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Our initial cockiness somewhat bruised, we reconsider whether an X-ray of Charlie’s uterus might be a good plan, just to be on the safe side. The hysterosalpingogram has to take place between the 7th and 10th day of the menstrual cycle, so we were told that if we wanted to schedule one, we should call on day 1–i.e. today. Charlie gets on the phone with Reproductive Endocrinology.

“We’re sorry,” the RE receptionist says, “it’s too last-minute. We can’t fit you in.”

“Wait a second,” Charlie says. “You can’t schedule it until the day my period starts, but today is the day my period starts and I’m too late to make an appointment?”

“That’s correct,” she says, because apparently if you have a keenly honed sense of irony you do not seek a career in Reproductive Endocrinology. (Spoiler alert from the future: We recently learned that our medical provider’s RE department is being dissolved. We are not sad about this.)

Eventually they are able to fit Charlie in for an appointment–in a clinic 45 minutes away, at three in the afternoon on a work day. But whatever. It’s all worth it if we end up with a baby. That should be our official family motto, along with a house crest of an ovulation predictor kit and a jar of semen.

We spend the rest of the weekend wallowing in our disappointment, watching Juno, as usual, and drinking a bunch of sangria on our front porch, since Charlie’s two-week abstention from alcohol is over. I hadn’t realized just how high my hopes were until they were dashed. At the same time, I’m trying not to let my sadness show because I want to be encouraging. Charlie is crushed, and I need to be the stable, upbeat, supportive one, which is not exactly my natural state.

The hysterosalpingogram is extremely uncomfortable for Charlie, but otherwise uneventful. Nothing is out of the ordinary. Still, the procedure wasn’t necessarily a complete waste of money–our RE says that the incidence of pregnancy is slightly increased the cycle after having one, for reasons that are unclear. So we await our next attempt with unchecked optimism. You’d think we would know better by now.

The second IUI is similar to the first: frozen sperm, a long trek to the lab, twiddling our thumbs waiting for the sample to thaw. Our usual RE isn’t there, so another doctor performs the insemination. He is quick, efficient, and friendly–he even says hello to me and shakes my hand, an anomaly in the field of assisted reproduction, where the person who isn’t trying to get pregnant may as well be invisible. After the insemination, he reminds us to wait two weeks, then take a pregnancy test, as though we might forget.

The two-week waiting period is, as usual, interminable. Charlie can’t drink, and out of deference I’m not imbibing either, no matter how much the incessant thought of “Did it work? Are we pregnant?” makes us both crave a beer. We obsessively monitor every change in Charlie’s health down to the tiniest cough–some studies show that getting a cold around the time of ovulation can increase the odds of pregnancy! We tell each other over and over that we’re not going to get our hopes up this time, but let’s be honest: our hopes are sky-high.

At a week and six days after the IUI, we’re having dinner with my dad and his fiancée when out of nowhere he says, “Don’t you two want kids? When is there going to be anything besides a fence running around your yard?”

Charlie and I stare at each other. My dad doesn’t know we’ve been trying to conceive, although we’ve mentioned before that we hope to have a baby “sometime,” but he loves babies and lives in hope that his children will reproduce. As the eldest, his hopes are currently pinned on me. I’m sure he would be supportive, but with the moment of truth just a day away, I’m terrified to jinx us by saying the wrong thing. So I give him my usual line–“hopefully soon”–and the conversation turns to other topics.

The next day, my father’s fiancée calls to ask if Charlie and I want to go shopping. Unfortunately, she gets ahold of us only a few hours after we realize that Charlie’s period has started, so neither of us is in a great mood.

“I don’t think we can,” I manage to say.

“Okay,” she says, and out of nowhere I start crying. (This is a lie: it’s not out of nowhere. It’s out of the fact that I am the crying-est person currently alive in the world.)

“What’s wrong?” she asks, shocked. I explain that we’ve been trying to have a baby for almost a year, that it’s been exhausting and expensive and totally disheartening, and that we just found out it didn’t work yet again.

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“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry,” she says. “I’m sure us asking about it yesterday didn’t help. Is there anything we can do?”

“There’s not much anyone can do,” I say. “We just have to keep trying and hope it works one of these days.” Then I get off the phone and we go back to our regularly scheduled weekend of self-pity and the well-worn, increasingly desperate-sounding mantra: It will work next time. It has to.

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