Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Past

How did time slip past me so quickly? I have stopped paying attention to my face in the mirror, sidle quietly out of camera range, avoid looking closely. Not because I find myself hideous or unappealing, it's not that, but because I half-recognize this adult woman looking back at me, small lines around her peering eyes.

I look so much like my mother once did, the way I remember her as a child, back before her Undoing. She seemed very old to me then.

...



My father, the O.W., shuffles to the door to greet us, his slippers dragging audibly on the thick cream carpet--his lone upgrade since we moved out twenty years ago. We take off our shoes and go inside, hugging him gently, conscious of his new frailty.

He now holds his left arm, bent at the elbow, to his side, the hand twitching rhythmically. He complains about it continuously, the stream of irritation broken only by laments about his depression, lack of motivation, inability to function.

He asks if we two really have the energy to put up the Christmas tree; the annual tree he managed by himself for twenty years, and which his father accomplished solo till the Alzheimers took him away in '89. He wonders how anyone could have that much energy. We say, yes, of course we can do it, we have the energy, it's not a problem, really, don't worry. But he wants it to be a big deal.

We prune the Noble Fir--he likes it thinned out and perfectly conical--then remove the lowest branches and shave the base to the mandatory five-inch diameter. It has been an hour, and he is now too exhausted from watching us to continue.

I go downstairs to the room I shared with my sister from infancy, zoo-print comforters still covering the twin beds, and look around. Her poster with the Siamese cat is still on the closet door, and the little geodes I collected sit untouched on the white wicker bureau. I remember the O.W. (he was just Daddy then) hopping lightly down the stairs each morning with a tiny cup of milky coffee for each of us, his trick knee clicking as he went. I remember the happiness of playing dress-up with my sister in this room, the way she'd neatly part and braid my five-year-old's mop of honey-blonde hair, then demand that my less-sophisticated fingers do the same for her. I remember wanting to be older, so that I could be as capable as she.

...



We are at my grandmother's house. When she eats anything at all, it is never more than a few mouthfuls. She weighed eighty-two pounds when she went to the hospital earlier this year; her bones are revealed despite the carefully-chosen layers. As the pounds and ounces of her tiny self evaporate, day by day and year by year, she becomes even more luminous, more beautiful, and more serene, as though her spirit can infuse its shrinking house with even less effort.

Her mind and opinions are as clear as ever, and she wants us to look around the house and tell her what special things we want when she's gone; she says this without self-pity but with difficulty and self-awareness. I look at this beautifully-maintained room, this room that hasn't changed in twenty-four years, and want to weep. I cannot stand the thought that it will not be here, that she will not be here, one day soon.

J. offers to fix her sagging trellis, the trellis my grandfather built when they moved to this retirement complex in 1980. He offers to fix her kitchen light fixture, which my grandfather built one day when she said she was having a hard time seeing well enough to ice the gingerbread men and reindeer cookies she made every year. And then we try to fix the fountain, a beautiful thing now housed in a kiddy pool in her Southern California concrete atrium instead of the slate-tiled in-ground pond my grandfather had so lovingly created for it when they moved it from Ohio to Houston in the fifties, two decades before he was forced to retire.

...



Now that the tree is pruned and the O.W. has had a night to relax, if not to sleep, we begin work on the Board. My grandfather made it in 1934, the year my father was born, from a collection of motors, pulleys, pumps, a piece of plywood, a music box, a train set and a dozen beautiful German automated toys from the late eighteen hundreds. He created a carnival scene, with the train running round the edge, a zeppelin Ferris wheel, dancers, drummers, windmills, carousels and a miniature version of the fountain, perfectly proportioned. The board has a 5" hole in the middle for the base of the tree.

This year, the fountain has finally corroded beyond repair and leaked, warping the wood underneath. We filled its tiny pool with depressing plastic snow. The little drummer boy stopped drumming, his pulley sliding off after just a few rotations. The train has to be helped around the track where the fountain leaked, because of the warping. I give the little engine a push, and that's enough; the music box, however, no longer plays anything except the first tune, "Carmen", and I am starting to forget the others. Was "Toreadora" on there, or am I imagining it?

When I was four or five, I remember my grandfather filling one of the train cars with candy and bringing it to a stop in front of my delighted self. I ate a peppermint and gave him the butterscotch.

...



My brother, now forty, is gray at the temples and has the soft build of a middle-aged suburban dad. When he was twelve, my father showed him how to run the Board--a rite of passage. (Never run the train when the toys are going; it overloads the motor. Always back off the train power around the second curve, then give it full juice after the third. Be on the lookout for drooping tinsel.)

Perhaps in seven or eight years, my brother can show his son, but it seems unlikely; the Board is aging like the rest of us. I had hoped one day to show my own child--now even more unlikely.

...



My sister, still stunning as she nears thirty-eight, has just realized that she won't have any more children. She has no money to do it on her own, and no love with whom to share a child. Her two teenagers are bigger than she is, and independent. They listen to oldies music--from the eighties--and belt out Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" at full voice. I remember crying, brokenhearted, to that song when my trenchcoated boyfriend left me for a friend. My sister doesn't know what she'll do when they've moved on.

On Christmas Eve, I told her that we were trying, though without any success. She was shocked, had no idea; I thought she had guessed. She cried; I understood. There will be a part of her, a big part, that is happier if we fail.

...



We celebrate on Christmas Eve with my father and the family every year, as when my post-divorce mother was still functional she liked to claim Christmas Day for her own celebration. Until the Undoing, she managed to get a tree--a fourteen-footer in 1979, the first Christmas in her enormous new house, bought with royalties from her new book--and would buy presents. Sometimes, early on, the presents were thoughtful and beautifully wrapped; sometimes, she would hand us hundred-dollar bills instead. One year, she bought us each a set of sheets and a matching towel and did not wrap them. We thought it was odd.

By 1983, she had done away with trees, shopping and wrapping altogether, opting instead to take us to dinner somewhere nearby and offering promises of trips or purchases at a later time. She was very busy with her writing and lecture schedule and didn't really have time for Christmas. Usually, we just asked for money. One time, I bought myself a sweater with the money and wrapped it up in gold paper, then opened it in front of her. Thought she'd get the point, but she didn't.

...



As she devolved and willingly self-destructed, I pulled away. The last time I said more than a cursory few words to her was at our wedding, nearly five years ago. She showed up late, as expected, and dirty, wearing a stained cape with an enormous single butterfly pattern, cut so that, when she raised her arms, she appeared to have wings. It seemed to be part of a child's Halloween costume.

She was clenching her jaw and forgetting to blink. I pretended that I didn't notice. I wasn't sure if everyone else knew what a tweaker looked and smelled like and had her figured out, or whether they just thought she was eccentric.

She gave us gifts, a dozen at least, shoved haphazardly in used gift bags that she had apparently hoarded from years past, and one in a generic black garbage bag. (I remember that you like your gifts wrapped, she said with a secretive twitter.) J. thanked her; I tried not to turn away.

When we opened them, we found that one was a folder full of her "conversations" with a race of ethereal beings she called the "Goneyonders". The bulk of the bags contained an assortment of library books, years overdue, and pieces of thick stained cotton cloth--placemats? Scarves? The garbage bag covered a three-by-five-foot French country print that had evidently spent most of its life on a Motel 6 wall. The gifts were unified by the overpowering stench of cat urine.

...



As we're driving to the hotel from the O.W.'s house on Christmas Eve, close on midnight, J. remembers that we forgot to ask my grandmother if she'd like us to take her home. We call. I assumed she was staying the night at my father's, as she has always done in the past, but J. is right to ask: turns out she's planning to drive herself home to Alhambra, ten miles away, because she doesn't want to interfere with the O.W.'s sleep. She is ninety, her car is twenty, and she shouldn't be driving at midnight. We go back.

I pull past the driveway and J. hops out to fetch her. As I sit there, a battered black car pulls up, and out hops an elderly woman in a white bathrobe. It takes me a minute to recognize her; her thin hair is brown at the ends and white at the skull. She pulls brown grocery bags and crumpled gift bags from her car and scurries to pile them in my father's carport. As she drives off, she looks at me blankly. Her tail lights are broken.

...



Seventeen years ago, before her devolution was complete, we had an intervention for her. We pleaded, we cried, we told her we didn't want to lose her. She was unmoved, though she agreed to go to rehab when we finally threatened to tell her new publisher about the ketamine, the 2CB, the ecstasy.

We sent her in a private plane to a center in New Mexico that specialized in treating the high and mighty. We thought they'd know how to handle her ego. Within two days, she had decided that the psychiatrists were fools, snuck out, caught a $100 cab ride to the airport and was back home. She blithely presented us with overpriced turquoise jewelry and money clips, pricetags attached, from the terminal gift shop. She was surprised and offended when we refused them, and refused her.

...



We do not know what we will do with her. She refuses treatment, refuses the drugs that might help her, craves the ones that hurt her, enjoys her illness too much. Her ego is larger than ever, now that she is destitute and deranged--larger than when she had an entourage, a best-selling book and a million-dollar advance for the next one; larger than when she had the respect of her peers, her husband, her children. She believes that she is spoken to by some version of god, that she is chosen for great things. She thinks we are plebian and intellectually conservative, and wonders how she could have had such boring children.

She has no money anymore, lost her three houses one by one, her car, her friends, her profession. She is being evicted from her expensive apartment, rented with a chunk of undeserved cash from a generous publisher. She has dozens of cats, piles of hoarded junk from thrift stores, garage sales, curbsides. She calls my sister to borrow ten dollars for catfood, buys meth instead.

She no longer cares for other people; we hold no sway. She will not give up control, would rather live on the street than have someone else managing her finances, meager as they are. We offered to pay her rent and utilities but we cannot give her cash, for obvious reasons. We just don't know what else to do.

...



Do you ever feel your memories pulling along behind you, weights on a lengthening string? Moments, images, words just dragging, sliding, leaving little scuffmarks in the dirt?

I never wanted kids, for all those many years, and I had a dozen reasons. I never wanted to acknowledge it, but at the top of that list was that seeing any part of my mother in myself terrified me, and the thought of passing on pieces of her to our child was sickening. Still is.

But perhaps I have been giving her too much power over this theoretical child; the rest of the family is, after all, quite normal--plebian? Intellectually conservative, even?

Please, let it be so.

New Year's Day

J. and I drove back yesterday, a day after the big rainstorm that cleaned all the dust from the leaves and left smooth blankets of snow on the Southern California mountains. I spent much of the drive just staring and thinking, trying to get a mental handle on everything that had just passed.

I don't have the energy to get it all down yet; it's fragmented and gloomy, and I don't know if anyone will want to read it, but I'll write it eventually, anyway. I don't want to have to keep thinking it over in my head, a mental rabbit chasing its tail.

Till then, I am looking forward with urgency to New Year's Day. In some abstract way it does feel like a new beginning, a clean slate. And if my body can be willed into cooperation, it may even be true in a more concrete way.

You see, my New Year's Day--Saturday, CD 12--will likely be spent in Dr. Meow's office, receiving my first IUI. As (good) luck would have it, Dr. Action made arrangements with Dr. Meow's office to handle any IUI's that might come up over the holiday weekend, as hers will be closed. I was relieved and excited to hear it, and feel like I'm finally, finally taking at least one step on the right path.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Over the Altamont and down the 5

To the Comfort Inn we go.

We were supposed to be staying with my father--an arrangement J. and I were uncomfortable with on many levels but had accepted as we want to help him out for the holidays--but have been spared it by the O.W. He has decided that he doesn't have the energy for company, even though he knows we wouldn't be any trouble; his antidepressants aren't doing anything for him, and he has a hard time even getting out of bed, and he just doesn't want to feel bad about having us seeing him feeling bad.

I just wish I could join him for his next appointment with the neurologist and persuade him to start taking the Parkinson's meds, instead of just the standard-issue antidepressants that are so clearly useless to him. Damn the possible insomnia; who knows, the right Parkinson's drugs might even alleviate it. But he's so down that he doesn't even have the energy to imagine taking something else, and dismissed it on the grounds that anything new might make him feel even worse. How do you help someone who's feeling so low that he doesn't even want to make an effort to get better?

The holidays are always a little bit rough, what with the nieces and nephew and sibling in-fighting and buying too many presents and...and...I still love Christmas. The tree, the mechanical carnival scene and little train that run underneath, the cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and my sister's gingerbread tart tatin. The glasses of cheap champagne--Trader Joe's, $4.99 a bottle!--that my father magically manages to refill when we're not looking, and after we've already had enough. My grandmother's delicate thanks for each present and obvious pleasure in seeing her entire brood all busily running around. And watching J. with my family, the way he loves and is loved by this odd little group of people, the way he makes them his own, and vice-versa.

Though I don't celebrate Christmas in any religious sense, I do look at it as a time for reflection, forgiveness and strengthening bonds of friendship and love. It's also, for me, a time to give thanks for the spirit of community--for appreciating the great good I receive from being part of something so much bigger than me. This year, I have discovered and gained so much from your community, your stories, your support, and I want you to know that it has meant the world to me. You have broadened my understanding in so many areas, made me laugh, hard and deep, at times when I felt hopeless, and taught me a lot about both compassion and strength.

Thank you. For everything. It means even more on days like today, when yet another fruitless cycle is confirmed by a negative HPT, a sea of white.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

A man, a plan, a canal...

Double IUI: $800.

Double sperm wash: $540.

Blood test: $95.

Having Blue Shield of California PPO? Priceless.

Till COBRA runs out, at least.

***

Quick update: Since December's IUI never got off the ground, I am cautiously pleased to say that I will have not one but two IUI's in January--one the day of the OPK+, one the day after. Double your pleasure, double your fun. Yee haw.

Dr. Action, whom I met with on Wednesday, was extremely sorry that December's cycle was a bust, though she stopped short of accepting responsibility, and wants me to proceed with vigor: the double IUI next month, and possibly again the month after that. She also recommended that I set up an initial consultation with a full-fledged R.E. (she is not an R.E., just an OB-GYN with some additional fertility training), and provided me with names. Her first recommendation, a man who runs a clinic in SF with a fairly small client base and outstanding IVF success rates--I have named him Dr. Meow, for reasons that may or may not be forthcoming--is taking new patients and could have seen me as soon as next week if I'd been in town. As it is, I have an appointment for January 13th. Can't believe it's happening so quickly.

Though this cycle hasn't officially ended yet, and probably won't for another couple of days, I am now focused on January and beyond. Feels so good to have a plan.

A man, a plan, a canal: Panama! Always my favorite palindrome; it seems quite apt, now. Except the Panama part. Never thought of naming a child after a Central American country, but if I have to, at least it's more mellifluous than Honduras, and shorter than Nicaragua.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Shit Howdy

I firmly believe that nothing good can come from a yellow star. For eBay retailers, the yellow star shows that you're a newbie, a low-volume seller who therefore may not have your act together; for gardeners in some parts of the world, the yellow star is a nasty invasive thistle with spikes; and while I won't even begin to write lightly about that other infamous and horrible yellow star, let's just say that it was a Very Bad Thing.

At sixteen, however, of my very own volition, I branded myself with a big, yellow star, four inches wide and made of plastic. And it was emblazoned, in maroon labelmaker tape:

"HOWDY! My name's Bugs! Welcome to Miller's Outpost!"

With the surliness and desperate desire to be cool that are prerequisites for being sixteen, wearing the Howdy Star was pure humiliation. Miller's Outpost was not, as you might imagine, my first choice for employment. Tower Records, or a vintage clothing store--even waitressing at Bob's Big Boy would have been much cooler. But they just weren't hiring. So I trolled the Glendale Galleria one Saturday afternoon in October and looked for work. Sadly, there wasn't much on offer, despite the Reagan-era spending spree, and I was left with a paucity of options: Miller's, the gravely outdated Custom T Shop or that mall beverage staple, Orange Julius.

The decision was pretty easy, as Miller's didn't require me to wear either a polyester hat and bib or an atrocious personalized tee with my photo and phrases like, "Stay Cool." (And nothing, nothing at all, is uncooler than wearing the word on your shirt--even the yellow plastic repugnance of the Howdy Star.)

The Howdy Star was supposed to be reminiscent of an Old West sheriff's badge; insead, it was more evocative of Bootsay Collins's sunglasses. Most of the other sales associates--long-termers of several months or more--had become thoroughly inured to their dreadful badges, ignoring them entirely, but, as the weeks wore on, the yellow plastic seemed to me to get louder, the "HOWDY!" bigger, and it grated on my nerves every minute of every hour of my shift. When greeting customers at the entrance, or straightening racks of snap-down cowboy shirts, or re-stocking Levi's 501's in sizes up to 58" x 28", it glared at me, taunting me with its uncoolness.

The worst of the Star, though, was when middle-aged strangers would come in, squint at it for a moment, then smile broadly and say, "Howdy, Bugs! Let's see how you can help me!," which I guess they thought was friendly but instead just induced glacial stares and a Billy Idolesque sneer. (Which may go a long way to explaining why I was such a bad salesperson--I didn't even end up with enough sales points at Christmas for the hot air popcorn maker.)

I had recently taken a high school proficiency test, started classes at a local community college and was spending most nights with older friends at their shithole apartment listening to deathrock and smoking anything that could be rolled. I had also just gotten my driver's license, though I was a laughably bad driver inasmuch as I liked to go as fast as my little 1979 Diesel VW Rabbit stickshift would take me. Which was, to the great benefit of the residents of Northeast Los Angeles, not fast.

One day in early January, my brief tenure with Miller's ended rather abruptly when I showed up with cherry-red hair, which my friend Jet--his own locks a glorious blue-black to match his name--had applied somewhat haphazardly after one too many Olde English 800's. My hair had been a dull, streaky platinum-yellow till that point, the accumulated result of many bad home dye-jobs, but as I was worried that people might think the yellow mop was intentionally dyed to match the godforsaken Howdy Star, a change was mandatory.

When I walked into Miller's, forehead still lightly stained with orangeish blotches, the assistant manager gave me one look and took me to the back room, where she summarily fired me. (I knew it wasn't planned since she hadn't made up my final paycheck in advance: $30.80 before taxes--8 full hours!)

Freed from the loathed Howdy Star, I drove my wee Rabbit with inappropriate haste to my friends' place and promptly got very stoned. We then took the Star, which I had forgotten to return, and broke it in pieces, then lit each segment on fire with the bong lighter. The smell was atrocious, but the satisfaction? Enormous.

***

When filing our medical records into a new accordion folder last night, I was taken aback by a small canary-colored highlighter asterisk on an unused referral form from Dr. Useless--one for an R.E. who wasn't on our insurance plan. It said, *For treatment of infertility. Guess I'm still wearing that goddamned badge after all.

Lull

I thought about writing a post, maybe a story from our birdwatching trip, something...but what? And why? I've hit a patch of unfamiliar ennui, of losing touch with ambition, energy, interest. This is uncharted territory for me, and I don't like it.

I think that unemployment is starting to disagree with me, like dairy products--delicious at first, then really fucking uncomfortable.

Maybe this is the signal that I ought to get off my (bulbous) arse and find a new job. And maybe I'd better do it soon.

There isn't a tremendous amount of external motivation for me to go back to work. We are in good financial shape, having been moderately frugal with my generous severance and bonus package, and I could easily stay home for another six or eight months without worrying about the mortgage. But I don't think I can take it, waiting till I'm motivated by fiscal necessity. I think mental necessity will mandate quick action, if the ennui is not to take up permanent residence.

You see, my unverbalized plan, back when I first was preparing for the closure of my company, was that I'd take a few months off and go back to work once I was pregnant, if it hadn't happened before the job ended. I figured that trying to conceive would be easier if I wasn't working. And I figured I'd be pregnant, you know, soon. I knew that the stress of my job was taking a toll on me--not, I repeat NOT to insinuate that it was causing the infertility; I was NOT thinking that relaxation would be my golden ticket--but I did think that I could focus on getting better treatment, better advice, even timing our sex better, when I had more time. And maybe I thought that spending even more time focusing on pregnancy, more time obsessing, would somehow be rewarded. Funny, yeah? But in having the time to obsess evern more, dream even more, I also have more time to feel the disappointment and futility.

Till July, I had never before been without a job. I worked after school every day starting in kindergarten--seriously, I coded response envelopes for my parents' newsletter as soon as I could safely clutch a pen with my nubby little fingers, for which I was paid in ten-cent cans of Diet Shasta Soda--and worked steadily through high school, college and my adulthood. From retail and copy writing to programming and operations and telecommunications and I.T. management, I changed directions a dozen times, but always in midair, never sitting back and reflecting, taking a month or two or six to figure out what was next.

So there had always been an alternate life for me--career, outside responsibilities, outside associates--to complement my life at home with J. And while I can't say I miss much of that other life, there are moments when I feel the urgent need for their distraction, as well as a need for the satisfaction I felt in being fairly successful. I guess that being unsuccessful in getting pregnant is starting to feel like its own dead-end career.

Thursday, December 09, 2004


We are off for a couple of days to the Sacramento Valley for birdwatching. I'm a sucker for anything that glides well--egrets, herons, any kind of raptor (like this lovely but common red tailed hawk that we got friendly with a few weeks ago in Kern County). Oh, and Tampax applicators. They glide well, too. Unlike, well, you know. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Instead?

(Warning: graphic, bloody post ahead. Just for you. Enjoy!)

There's something I would like to know, and it is this: Who would say, I know!, instead of the currently available feminine hygiene technology, I'm going to take a balloon, attach it to a fist-width wire hoop to form a little cup, then shove that up my hoo-ha to catch the drippings!

A hundred years ago, I can see how some poor, frustrated woman, hands chafed from scrubbing rusty stains from her monthly rag pile, might have been desperate enough to give it a shot. Once. But now? In the age of minipads, maxipads, pantiliners and those liberating tampons--with or without applicators!--of gymnasts and swimmers and office workers? None of which require rag-scrubbing? Technology that has revitalized the white skirt and pant market?

Is it the handsome little box with its modern-woman design? The assumption that newer is better? Why INSTEAD?

Perhaps, instead of being so INSTEAD negative, I should look deeper inside the problem and consider whether it might, in fact, lie--at least in part--in me, instead of, well, INSTEAD.

I am a fairly small person. Not very tall--my license says 5'5" but that's a sixteen-year-old's exaggeration that I could not correct without shaming myself to some clerk at the DMV--not very broad, not very big anywhere (except my abundantly round posterior, the bane of my jeans-buying life). Apparently, I am rather small on the inside, too, though I can't say it's ever been an issue before. More importantly, I also have one absolutely fatal flaw when using INSTEAD: short fingers.

You see, to insert the Instead Softcup, one must fold the sides of the "cup" together using thumb and forefinger, and insert it all the way back till it completely covers the cervix. For me, the problems started immediately--and not just because I was attempting to insert the cup pre-filled with precious man-juice, but because the thing is just...just...huge. Not as big as a baby's head, sure, but I can tell you that I would never willingly have put anything else of that circumference up there. Plus, how could I possibly get two of my child-sized fingers in all the way to my cervix? Not. Likely.

But we were desperate, and desperate times call for desperate measures and a certain amount of foolishness, so I soldiered on, poking and prodding and spilling some. And, miraculously, by dint of extreme effort and a variation on the Dead Bug yoga position, I was able to get the thing in place. Whew!

Though feeling a little bruised and battered, I was pleased to notice that I couldn't really feel the cup any longer, much like a properly inserted tampon. Ahh, I thought, now I don't have to worry about it for twelve full hours! Bliss!

For a moment. The next moment, I was struck with the sudden horror of realization: How will I ever get it out?

Let me be clear. At this point, I could no longer touch it, even just the tiniest bit, with my longest finger. Nothing. So I scrambled for the instructions on the stylish-looking little box, sure that they would have some simple answer for me.

Instead? "To remove INSTEAD, simply hook your finger under the rim and slowly pull." They're joking. Surely I'm missing something--that can't be the whole of the instructions. Can't. Be.

Visions of having to explain myself to some twenty-something E.R. resident--"You see, my brother-in-law was there so we couldn't have sex, and we're trying to have a baby, so I figured..."--who then spreads the story around the world till I'm up there with Richard Gere and the gerbil. No. I just couldn't face that. Must pull myself together. Let's see what else the box says. Hmmm. "Pour retirer INSTEAD, il suffit de glisser votre doigt sous le contour et de tirer delicatement." I don't think that would help, even if I did speak French.

So, I decide to go to sleep and face the problem when those twelve hours are up. No sense worrying about it now. After a glass of wine and a good book, I manage to nod off, and the night passes peacefully.

Next morning, however, I'm awakened by tiny cramping sensations in my pelvic walls. Oh, joy. Had almost forgotten. I head for the bathroom, fervently hoping that the device has dislodged itself somehow and I will be able to retrieve it without further ado.

Ha. Hahahaha. Still can't reach it, even with a fingertip.

Suddenly, I am struck with the grim reality of what I must do: Yes. Surely this will work. It must.

Tweezers.

Yes, tweezers.

I take my favorite pair--for eyebrows--and soak them in boiling water for thirty seconds. Then I wash them with antibacterial dish soap and rinse in the boiling water.

The problem with the tweezers, however, is probably not sterility. It is that they are surprisingly sharp. And, when you can't see what it is that you're plucking, it's hard to tell whether you're grasping cup or vaginal wall. Perhaps if I'd had an adjustable light source and a mirror, I might have made a better job of it. As it was, suffice it to say that I didn't. Had to rely on "feel".

When I eventually, through blind luck, tweezered the rim of the cup and pulled--slowly, delicatement!--it felt like the cup was a cheese grater and my coochie a part-skim mozzarella. I shrieked. Clearly desperate and utterly unwilling to let go and try again, however, I just kept pulling, millimeter by millimeter, till it was out.

When all was over, I found myself, a) extremely relieved, and b) trickling a little stream of blood into my underpants.

And then I giggled, thinking, someone out there would be catching this flow in an INSTEAD cup.

For me, just pass the Lightdays, please.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Missed it by...that much

Or, A Lament on Medical Receptionists


I am sitting near our bathroom, waiting. Inside, my husband is trying to ejaculate into a feminine hygiene product. And I ask myself, How did I get here? This is not my beautiful home; this is not my beautiful IUI.

***

Ah, sweet December. Yearned-for, anticipated December. Shiny wrapping, tiny lights, cheery shops stocked with beautiful gifts, the smell of blue spruce, my first IUI.

Or not.

Dr. Action and I started off with a bang: after waiting a few short weeks for my first appointment back at the end of October, I went in with trepidation and the certainty that she would not want to move as quickly as I. But then she sent me home that first day with slips for five tests, no hesitation, and the words I'd been longing to hear: "Unless we find something specific in the tests, I'd suggest moving on to IUI right away."

No, “Give it a few more cycles,” or, “It can take a while for some couples.” No patronizing questions about whether I was charting correctly or whether I had tried propping my ass up on pillows after intercourse. She just cut right to the chase: What you've been doing hasn't worked yet, you've been at it a long time, therefore it probably won't, so let's try something else. A simple IUI to start--no meds, no trigger shot. In and out of the office in half an hour.

Which was exactly what I wanted: seemed like just the thing for us since I ovulate predictably, my tubes are clear, my uterus looks good and my hormone levels are normal but my cervical fluid is absolute crap, while for J, there’s the sub-par morphology, and the pre-IUI sperm wash can help weed out the mutants.

Excited, we rushed out and completed four of the five tests--everything but the Day 21 blood draw--within the first nine days of seeing the doctor: Day 3 bloodwork, semen analysis, trans-vag and pelvic ultrasounds, HSG. I had optimistically thought that we might get to do the IUI straight away after my first tests came back OK, but Dr. Action wanted to wait for J. to see a urologist about the poor morphology. This, naturally, ruled out a November IUI as he couldn't get an appointment immediately. However, he found a doctor quickly--I'll call him Dr. Weinerschnitzel--and I figured, great, there's plenty of time for J. to go in, do whatever might be needed and be ready to go for December.

J. dutifully submitted to the various urine, blood and semen tests that Dr. W. recommended and got his follow-up appointment scheduled with enough time before my expected ovulation to keep us on track for this month. Perfect!, I thought, so long as I don't have an extra-short luteal phase this cycle or an early ovulation next, we'll be in great shape. My LP cooperated beautifully, clocking in at fifteen days. I was feeling just certain that everything would work out.

Though the results of J.'s bloodwork left a little something to be desired (low FSH level in a fully-grown and fully-functioning man is apparently an oddity, and Dr. W. said it "might have something to do with his brain,[?]" but J. was too unconcerned to get details). The morphology problem was confirmed with a second SA, and Dr. W. said we should definitely proceed with IUI right away. That it was our best bet, short of IVF.

So, armed with the confirmation, I called up Dr. Action's office on Thursday morning, as soon as J. had returned from Dr. W., and asked to speak with her. I was told by the Unsmiling Receptionist that Dr. Action couldn't take my call right then but I could leave a message. If I really wanted. So, I did, a very, very specific message including the fact that I needed to speak with her the same day as I would be ovulating soon and wanted to make the arrangements post haste. The U.R. took it all down and even repeated the gist of it back to me before I hung up.

I waited eagerly for Dr. Action's call, cradling my cell in my lap to make sure I didn't miss it. Hours passed. I held myself back from calling again (don't want to aggravate the front office staff--wouldn't want to sound too desperate, right?). Afternoon arrived. I broke down and called again and, much to my shock and horror, reached the utterly unhelpful after-hours answering service. They did not know why they were getting the calls already, as they usually start rolling over at six p.m. Regardless, they couldn't help me, said maybe the practice had just closed early.

Not yet quite panicking, I figured, well, I'll try again first thing in the morning. Maybe she won't be with a patient yet and I can catch her live instead of leaving another message.

So, at 8:00 a.m., I call. I again reach U.R., with whom I had of course spoken at length just the day before. I asked to speak with Dr. Action. And am told by U.R. that she is 1) not in, 2) not expected in, and 3) is, in fact, on vacation until December 13. Stunned and confused, I ask which doctor is covering for her. I am told that nobody is covering.

Since “nobody” covering for one doctor in a practice of seven seems improbable, or even impossible, I ask if she's sure. U.R. says that she was "pretty sure." I ask her to check. She puts me on hold. She cross-connects me to another patient on hold. We are then disconnected. I call back. Am put on hold again.

After holding for eight or ten minutes, U.R. comes back on the line and asks why I am holding. I remind her that she is supposed to be checking to see if someone is handling Dr. Action’s patients. She says, yeah, fine, puts me back on hold. A few minutes later, she says that I need to speak to the Nurse Practitioner. I say I’d love to. U.R. says she’s with a patient and, with unbecoming reluctance, takes a message.

Now truly panicked, I charge up my cell and leave the house for mandatory Christmas shopping. Turn ringer all the way up, just in case. Hours go by. I have moved from panicked to angry. And not having any luck with shopping. Bugger.

Finally, while in distant Concord at the depressing J.C. Penney buying my brother the gift card he asked for “because he likes their nice clothes,” the phone rings. Very, very loudly. So loudly, in fact, that it scares me and I drop the phone on the counter, and it bounces to the floor. Luckily, I pick it up in time. It is now 3:27 p.m. on Friday. I answer. It is the N.P., whom I will henceforward refer to as Nurse Nice.

Nurse Nice is all eager to help, and is, in fact, the one who handles all IUI’s for the group anyway, so she’s clearly the person I should have been speaking with from the get-go. Since I’m still clinging to a few wisps of my infertile dignity, I do not wish to discuss the details of my husband’s abnormal sperm and my lack of cervical goo in front of a cashier and several middle-aged J.C. Penney customers in holiday sweaters. I head for the door just as the cashier completes the transaction and almost leave both the gift card and my Visa behind. Don’t care, as I have Nurse Nice on the phone.

She listens as I explain the situation, tells me exactly what to expect, and advises me to call her—on her direct line!—as soon as the OPK is positive so we can schedule the wash and IUI for the following morning. Thrilling! Yes! Wahooooo! We're on!

As I’m saying my thank-yous and goodbyes, she says, “Oh, one little thing—I’m assuming this is already taken care of—your husband has had his STD panel, right?”

Hunh? Wha? STD screening? What the fuck?

“No,” I say, “I know he’s had all kinds of bloodwork but it didn’t include STD screening. He certainly doesn’t have any STD’s though, and as we’ve been monogamous for nearly eight years and I had a few tests done myself recently…”

“I’m so sorry, but it’s a California law. We can’t perform IUI’s without the partner being tested fully for HIV, Hep B, Hep C…”

Ohgodohgodohgod. No. Noooooo! Why didn't anyone mention this sooner? Why didn't Dr. Action say something to me, and for the love of christ, why didn't J.'s urologist say something to him? Why?

But, Nurse Nice, she has a plan: dash to the office, she’ll give us a slip for the lab downstairs which closes at 4:30. So we race westward, get stuck in traffic at the Caldecott Tunnel, break through on the other side, scream down surface streets and unsafe speeds, find an unbelievable parking space and get there just in the nick of time. Whew! All good. Wahoo and all that.

Jeff gives his blood, we’re walking out, and the lab clerk says, quite casually, “Your results should be ready by Tuesday afternoon.”

Tuesday? Seriously? No! I might ovulate before then! Is there any way to speed it up? No. There isn't. That’s how long it takes.

So, we go home and I start searching the internet for any way to delay ovulation. Any old wives’ tale, any marginally-legal product, anything. And, as you may have guessed, I got a whole lotta nuthin.

But I was still hopeful. I mean, all my body has to do is hold out till after CD 14 for ovulation. I've ovulated as late as CD 18 in the past, so CD 15 or 16 or 17 isn't all that much to ask, right? Right?

Wrong.

OPK+ today at 1:30. It’s only Sunday. It’s only CD 12. Fuck.

To make matters even better, my brother-in-law is here, in our house. Our teensy, tiny house. He’s in the basement for half an hour, but he’s still in our house. You can hear every creak and groan of the floorboards from the basement, and when you're in the second bedroom, there might as well not even be walls. There is absolutely, positively no way for us to have sex with him here, and if we don't have sex tonight, then there's no hope for the cycle at all, even the slimmest glimmer, because J. will be gone with said brother-in-law from 5:00 a.m. till late afternoon tomorrow.

Which is why J.’s in the bathroom, shower blaring, attempting to spooge into an Instead Softcup. Which I will then, by dint of some as-yet-incomprehensible contortion, manage to insert into my cooch. Without spilling.

Like that’s going to work.

Since I need someone to blame right now, I have chosen to blame the receptionist. If she had put me in touch with Nurse Nice when I called the first time, we could have done the bloodwork Thursday and had the results Friday. I would be having an IUI tomorrow morning. I would have more than a tiny, grimy glimmer of hope this cycle. Fucker.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Next

A couple of days ago, I found out about Julie's remarkable crash-landing into motherhood. It colored my whole day, a surreal chiaroscuro of past (dark storm-grays), present (delicate infant pastels) and future (bright Playskool primaries).

I have never been so happy for someone I've never met. Her road to motherhood--no, her boulder-strewn, all-uphill climb to motherhood--is one of the most engrossing, amusing, unfair, heart-rending stories I've ever read. And the best part is, I don't have to close the book with a final bittersweet sigh, wishing for just one more chapter, one more glimpse into the author's bent mind. I just need a little patience, which is easy when one knows that the reward--in this case, a new post--is surely right around the corner. And I wonder, with eager anticipation, what new dimensions motherhood, in all its gore and wonder, will add to Julie's story.

Selfishly, I also wonder whether I will feel just a little more isolated, a little more removed from The Next Step. I am still in the blocks while so many are sprinting down the track. A few, like Julie, have even gotten to the finish line, and are embarking on the incredible endurance race of parenting. I can hardly even imagine the finish line: I don't let myself think on it too often, fearing it might make my unfailingly predictable cycles of want, hope and bitter let-down that much harder to bear. I'm so far away from it that I think just a few yards ahead, my immediate goal no more advanced than a second pink line, a tiny few hurtling steps down the track.

But my imaginings for everyone else? Ahh, for them I can picture every inch of the race, flags waving, trumpets blaring, all shiny-gold and gleaming, and cheer till I'm hoarse.

Hell

J and I took a wee jaunt to hell yesterday. Started at one of the outer circles, a little kingdom of yuppie mothers and small, small clothes. The Stepford cashier gave us a vacant smile as we numbly purchased the Footed Jammies with Bunny Rabbits and the Periwinkle Pleated Dress with Buttons. She thought they were for our own baby and failed to offer a gift receipt.

Then we went deeper: the land of screaming, unsupervised three-year-olds whose parents are overwhelmed by acres of cheap plastic and glitter; Barbies and machine guns, video games, costumes, wading pools. Sullen, unconcerned clerks ignoring our pleas for help in finding the elusive V-Smile system our overstimulated nephew demanded for Christmas.