Expectations: Running on Fumes


We keep trying. What else is there to do? But the longer we wait, and the longer Charlie endures the various intrusive procedures involved in IUI, the more exhausted and desperate for it to be over we become. Our sex life takes a downturn; meanwhile, my stress level, always higher than that of a normal person, climbs and climbs. I hate the helplessness of standing on the sidelines watching Charlie become more and more dejected, but there’s nothing whatsoever I can do. This whole process is out of my hands.

We have to skip insemination for a month, because the snatch wand shows no follicles large enough to produce a viable egg. The next month, our reproductive endocrinologist increases Charlie’s Clomid dose. Within a few days, Charlie has giant, itchy, red hives all over his body.

“I think I’m allergic to this medication,” he tells the RE.

“That’s impossible,” she says, and sends him to his primary care physician to get it checked out.

Charlie’s PCP (let’s call him Dr. Awesome) is friendly, reassuring, and generally fantastic, and we wish he was the one overseeing our attempts to conceive. He scratches Charlie on the back with a retracted clicky pen. Almost immediately, red hives form where the pen was.

“You have dermatographia,” Dr. Awesome informs Charlie. Dermatographia, which means “skin writing,” is an allergy-like reaction to being scratched. When Charlie has an itch and scratches it without thinking, it results in hives, more itching, and more scratching, a vicious cycle that has kept Charlie tossing and turning every night for a week.

“Why did this start happening when I increased the dose of fertility meds?” Charlie asks the RE.

“There’s no reason they would be connected,” she says. “It’s just a coincidence.”

“Dermatographia can absolutely be triggered by dramatic changes in your hormone levels,” Dr. Awesome responds when Charlie follows up with him. “It’s not common, but it happens. This was almost certainly caused by your medication.”

“Will it go away?”

“Maybe, maybe not. There’s no way to tell.” (Spoiler alert from the future: It hasn’t yet!) Dermatographia is thus added to this list of “things Charlie gets to guilt trip our future child about.”

The next month, when we go to the clinic for insemination (I continue to tag along for all of these visits even though my presence is totally unnecessary, because I would hate to tell our future child that when he or she was conceived I was at the movies) there’s another lesbian couple sitting in the waiting room. We smile at them as we check in, nudging each other surreptitiously the same way we always do when we encounter fellow queers in the wild. Look! We’re not alone!

A few minutes later, another couple walks in. Once again, it’s two ladies. We didn’t realize that reproductive endocrinology clinics had Gay Days. One of the couples is a pair of Power Dykes in androgynous suits; the other two are Crunchy Dykes in long skirts and Birkenstocks. Charlie and I, with my half-shaved head and his fauxhawk, are representing for the Punk Rock Dykes to round out the quorum.

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see both of the other couples reenacting the “check this out” nudge that Charlie and I just exchanged There’s no one else in the waiting room. One of the Power Dykes catches my eye.

“This is funny, huh?” she says.

I laugh and nod. “Do you think they scheduled us all on the same day on purpose?”

“It’s gotta be a good omen,” says one of the Crunchy Dykes. “Lots of good lady-power vibes!”

She’s probably right, I think. I entertain a brief fantasy where all of us end up pregnant after our visits today, and we get our babies together for play group while the six of us drink mimosas and discuss The Fosters. Would it be super weird to ask these women for their names so we can be Facebook friends? Yes, I decide, it would indeed. I’ll just comfort myself with the knowledge that when lesbians get together, shit gets done. Somebody’s definitely getting knocked up today.

When we walk into the lab with our frozen sperm sample, the technician with the cool glasses chain is visibly disappointed to see us. “No luck, huh?” she says sadly but kindly. “I really thought last time was going to work.” It’s nice that at least one person involved in this process is sympathetic to the stress and sadness that goes along with not being able to conceive unassisted. Upstairs in the clinic, no one ever tells us they’re sorry it’s taking so long.

Once again, our RE is not present for our appointment; this time the insemination is administered by a friendly gynecologist. She’s very personable, but, it turns out, not terribly skilled at this procedure. Charlie winces as she pokes around, trying to get the catheter past his cervix. Finally she has to call a nurse over to press on Charlie’s abdomen, which seems to rearrange things enough that she’s able to get the catheter properly situated, and the rest of the insemination goes off without a hitch. “Stay there for ten minutes or so, and in two weeks…”

“Take a pregnancy test, yeah, we know.”

The two-week-out date, when Charlie will either take a pregnancy test or get his period, happens to fall on a weekend when my mom has invited us to go hiking in the mountains. It’s a gorgeous late-summer day in the Rockies, warm but not too hot, and it’s nice to distract myself from all this fertility drama and work up a sweat. I’m feeling optimistic again, which I really should have figured out by now is like wearing a giant cosmic “KICK ME” sign.

At the tail end of the hike, Charlie’s period arrives. We have a three-hour drive home in which to wallow in our disappointment. Sitting in silence, my hand on Charlie’s leg, I try to think of something comforting to say, but come up empty. We’re both thinking the same thing, trying desperately not to say it. It’s the flip side of “It has to work next time.” It’s, “What if it never works?”

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