NIAW bJolleljpgEvery needle stings like the first time she heard the clinic’s success rate, burning with intention, then turning into a hard lump that settles underneath her skin and works its way to the back of her throat.

This time, maybe. In her head, she is pregnant already. She reminds herself it’s a numbers game.

She’s gained weight. They told her it was temporary. That was a year ago. She cries each time she has to buy clothes two sizes up. She still eats gelato every night because she read somewhere that full-fat dairy is good for ovulation, and who is she to argue with science?

She’s not a superstitious person, but she picks the same shade of nail polish before every transfer. She wears holes in her “lucky” IVF socks. She lies with her legs up the wall for hours. She imagines the embryo implanting every time there is a twinge in her belly.

She knows IVF is a dark art. It is impossible to predict how anybody will respond. With ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, she looked five months pregnant, which was an awfully cruel joke for nature to play. It took two surgeries to drain all the fluid from her abdomen.

She has come to accept that her body is community property. She lies unphased as her husband, two nurses, a surgeon, an embryologist, and a medical fellow stare intently at her uterus on a wide-screen TV.

She realizes a positive pregnancy test is not a guarantee. She has spent enough late nights Googling “implantation bleeding” and “blighted ovum.” She nods politely when people tell her it was for the best, or that the easiest time to get pregnant is right after a miscarriage.

There are times when she feels like a lab rat, and the fact that all he her husband has to do is jizz in a cup seems patently, patriarchally unfair. When she’s bent over the kitchen table and he’s about to stick a needle the size of his middle finger in her butt cheek, and he says, “This will hurt me more than it will hurt you.” And she wants to hit him, but she starts laughing instead. Because the whole thing is so humiliating, and absurd, and hilarious, and intimate.

There are times when her lab appointment has run long and she’s late for another meeting and her male co-worker asks if she has a watch. And she wishes someone would stick an ultrasound wand up his vagina at 6:30 AM. But she says nothing, because professionalism, and because infertility is not all of who she is.

There are times when a friend or cousin or woman at the gym is laughing that she gets pregnant if you look at her the wrong way. And it sets off this kind of existential drama. About how it’s so easy for some people to have children. About how she spent her entire life trying not to get pregnant, until she couldn’t. About the cult of motherhood. About the ways IVF technology has made her complicit in the policing of female bodies. It is exhausting to try to make sense of it all.

Then sometimes she goes days without thinking about her losses. She is more certain there is nothing she can do to influence the outcome. She can’t decide if this is liberation or resignation.

She wants to cultivate gratitude for the process. This feels impossible no matter how many meditation apps she tries. But there are times. When her insurance gets approved easily. When she is overcome with amazement at the four cells under the microscope. When she recognizes the privilege of having access to this science fiction – that her class and race have put her in a position where conceiving her own children is even a possibility.

She thinks about how health care in the U.S. systematically neglects people of color. She thinks about the lack of access to assisted reproductive technology in rural communities and across the globe. She thinks about there’s no language to speak about her experiences without pathologizing them.

She thinks about these things so much that she wants to do something, because that’s the only way to break the vortex of self-pity.

Every fertility journey is unique, and hers is as of yet incomplete. But sharing these journeys is the first step in changing the culture of shame and silence that exists around infertility. If a single person reads her words and says, “You too? I thought I was the only one,” then she will be glad to have shared her story.

Joelle P.