This essay is from from Belle Boggs touching new book, The Art of Waiting.
I visit my reproductive endocrinologist’s office in May and notice, in the air surrounding the concrete-and-steel hospital complex, a strange absence of sound. There are no tall trees to catch the wind or harbor the cicadas, and on the pedestrian bridge from the parking deck, everyone walks quickly, head down, intent on making their appointments. In the waiting room, I test the leaf surface of a potted ficus with my fingernail and am reassured to find that it is real: green, living.
My name is called, and a doctor I’ve never met performs a scan of my ovaries. I take notes in a blank book I’ve filled with four-leaf clovers found on my river walks: Two follicles? Three? Chance of success 15 to 18 percent.
Doing whatever it takes to have a baby has come to mean in vitro fertilization (IVF), a procedure developed in the 1970s that involves the hormonal manipulation of a woman’s cycle followed by the harvest and fertilization of her eggs, which are transferred as embryos to her uterus. More than 5 million babies worldwide have been born through IVF, which has become a multibillion-dollar industry.
“Test-tube baby,” says another woman at the infertility support group, a young ER doctor who has given herself five at-home inseminations and is thinking of moving on to IVF. “I really hate that term. It’s a baby. That’s all it is.” She has driven 70 miles to talk to seven other women about the stress and isolation of infertility.
In the clinics, they call what the doctors and lab technicians do ART—assisted reproductive technology—softening the idea of the test-tube baby, the lab-created human. Art is something human, social, nonthreatening. Art does not clone or copy, but creates. It is often described as priceless, timeless, healing. It is far from uncommon to spend large amounts of money on art. It’s an investment.
All of these ideas are soothing, whether we think them through or not, just as the experience of treating infertility, while often painful and undignified, soothes as well. For the woman, treating infertility is about nurturing her body, which will hopefully produce eggs and a rich uterine lining where a fertilized egg could implant. All of the actions she might take in a given month—abstaining from caffeine and alcohol, taking Clomid or Femara, injecting herself with Gonal-f or human chorionic gonadotropin, charting her temperature and cervical mucus on a specialized calendar—are essentially maternal, repetitive, and self-sacrificing. In online message boards where women gather to talk about their Clomid cycles and inseminations and IVF cycles, a form of baby talk is used to discuss the organs and cells of the reproductive process. Ovarian follicles are “follies,” embryos are “embies,” and frozen embryos—the embryos not used in an IVF cycle that are frozen for future tries—are “snowbabies.” The frequent ultrasounds given to women in a treatment cycle, which monitor the growth of follicles and the endometrial lining, are not unlike the ultrasounds of pregnant women in the early stages of pregnancy. There is a wand, a screen, and something growing.
And always: something more to do, something else to try. It doesn’t take long, in an ART clinic, to spend tens of thousands of dollars on tests, medicine, and procedures. When I began to wonder why I could not conceive, I said the most I would do was read a book and chart my temperature. My next limit was pills: I would take them, but no more than that. Next was intrauterine insemination, a less-expensive, low-tech procedure that requires no sedation. Compared with the women in my support group, women who leave the room to give themselves injections in the hospital bathroom, I’m a lightweight. Often during their discussions of medications and procedures, I have no idea what they’re talking about, and part of the reason I attend each month is to listen to their horror stories. I’m hoping to detach from the process, to see what I could spare myself if I gave up.
But after three years of trying, it’s hard to give up. I know that it would be better for the planet if I did (if infinitesimally so), better for me, in some ways, as a writer. Certainly giving up makes financial sense. In my early twenties, when I saw such decisions as black or white, right or wrong, I would have felt it was selfish and wasteful to spend thousands of dollars on unnecessary medical procedures. Better, the younger me would have argued, to donate the money to an orphanage or a children’s hospital. Better to adopt.
The thirty-four-year-old me has careful but limited savings, knows how difficult adoption is, and desperately wants her body to work the way it is supposed to.
Excerpted from THE ART OF WAITING. Copyright © 2016 by Belle Boggs. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.