I have an unfortunate ability to get myself locked in small, confining spaces: hotel rooms, closets, bathrooms. It happened some time ago in the narrow back stairwell of San Francisco’s Pacific Fertility Center, where I had planned to freeze my eggs.
Late for an appointment, I hadn’t seen the NOT AN ENTRANCE sign as I scurried up the stairwell, only to find a locked metal door. I ran back down the stairs to discover the door I had come in was also locked. I exhaled, trying to slow my heart down. This was my life. A series of locked doors.
I was 37 and single. I tried to play the dating game like it was no big deal but, too often, I found myself mentally grabbing the unavailable man across the table by the collar and demanding to know if he was my “one.”
“It’s like you’re on an express train towards marriage and kids,” one man told me in a breakup email.
“Can’t we just get to know each other for the next 10 years?” another asked on our last date.
With each closed door, I felt the pressure of time running out. And my body had already shown me it would struggle to hold a pregnancy. It happened the year before, when I discovered I was pregnant soon after breaking up with another wrong man. I promptly un-broke-up with him and tried to convince myself it could work. Until I saw blood and then an ultrasound screen with no heartbeat.
I lay in the hospital bed covered by a thin sheet that couldn’t shield me from what both the nurse and I knew but she couldn’t then say: You’ve lost the baby.
You’ve lost your last chance to have a baby, I heard.
I finally reached a security guard on the phone in the stairwell of the fertility clinic. “Don’t worry, we’ll find you,” he said. When he finally unlocked the door, I wiped my eyes, expressed a quick thanks and scurried past him to my appointment.
The following month, I invested the bulk of my life savings in a box filled with hormone injections that arrived at my doorstep. After 10 days of self-administered injections, monitoring appointments and a procedure, I had 13 frozen eggs.
“Your ships come in on calm seas,” my dad used to remind me. It wasn’t just that my inner seas were calmer after the egg freezing. The whole process required me to think more seriously about the type of man I wanted to be with.
Two months later I said yes to a date with a man I met at a mutual friend’s dinner party: a mature children’s summer camp director who, I soon learned, shared my desire for a family.
We got engaged nine months after our first date and were married a year later. We decided to try for a baby soon after and, each month, were both equally disheartened as pregnancy test after test revealed a single blue line. Negative.
This went on for a year and a half.
When I hit 40, I reluctantly turned to my frozen eggs. I didn’t like the idea of conceiving a baby in a petri dish, and was skeptical they would even survive the whole process. Even with 13 eggs, the statistics showed my odds of conceiving a child were low.
“Could the baby come out with some kind of freezer burn after three years on ice?” I half-jokingly asked our doctor.
My right leg began to shake under my desk the moment I learned some of my eggs had survived the thawing to successfully merge with my husband’s sperm. “You got six embryos,” Joe, the lab technician, reported. “Pretty lucky, I’d say.”
Granted, it wasn’t the conception we envisioned on our honeymoon, but it was a chance.
I sent my husband a text with six hearts. “I love them all already,” I wrote. He called back immediately, his voice soft and shaky: “We got six? Really?!”
Joe later explained that some of our tiny embryos would begin multiplying cells for the next five days in a womb-like environment. The nonviable ones would simply stop growing and any remaining embryos would be sent to a lab for genetic testing.
“We got two!” I squealed in my husband’s ear 10 days of testing later. Two chances.
Nearly two weeks after the first embryo was transferred into my uterus, I stood barefoot on our cold bathroom floor waiting for the result of an at-home pregnancy test. My breath stopped when only one line showed up. “Noo!!!” I whispered. “Noo!!”
But then, behind it, a faint line that appeared to be a second. Two lines equal positive. I took another test. Again two lines.
I walked out to the living room to find my husband. “We got two lines, two lines.” I choked the words out holding up the two tests like gold medals in our own little fertility Olympics. We curled up into each other and I wept.
Ten blissful weeks passed before I saw blood again.
I wailed to my husband from the bathroom as I watched what appeared to be another failed pregnancy attempt bleed out of me. I thought of the years of preparation, the thousands of dollars, all the tests and hormones and hopes and waiting. All for this?
My heart beat wildly.
“It’s going to be okay,” my husband said as he held my shaky hands with both of his. “And even if it’s not okay, we’re going to be okay.”
We were due at the hospital the next morning for an assessment.
I lay in bed that night listening to my husband sleep next to me. I pushed my arm and leg next to his steady body. It took me so many years to find this man. So many years of talk therapy and pillow bashing and wrong choices for me to become the woman who could find enough love in herself to make this love work. He was kind and patient and loved me just as I was. He was the right man. And he was right. Even if my body was broken, we would be okay.
The next morning, as I continued to show signs of bleeding, I determined I would meet the moment. I put on some makeup and a new blouse. As my heels clicked along the concrete sidewalk, the ground felt sturdy underneath me.
I lifted my head as I stepped into the hospital elevator with my husband and watched each number slowly light up until we reached the seventh floor. We sat for 10 minutes that felt like an hour in the waiting room, the screams from someone else’s baby echoing down the hall.
When we were escorted to a sterile white-walled hospital room, I stripped down and lay covered by another thin sheet, waiting for the nurse on duty. My husband played John Denver’s Country Roads in an effort to make me smile.
“Let’s take a look and see what we see,” the nurse said. When, seconds later, she pulled a bloody instrument out of me, I stared at it like a knife that was going to kill me.
It was happening again. I was losing another baby.
She said nothing as she slowly waved an ultrasound instrument over my belly. It beeped through the heavy silence in the room. I turned my head to the ultrasound screen, dreading what it would reveal.
But this time instead of the lifeless screen I anticipated, there was something moving.
“That’s a heartbeat,” the nurse said excitedly. It was attached to miniature arms and legs waving at us. Our baby girl.
It rained the day, 30 weeks later, when our daughter decided she was ready. Water pelted against our window as I yelled through my contractions. Day turned to night and night to morning before, behind my primal scream, I heard a chorus of women around my hospital bed: “One. More. Push.”
And there she was. Screaming her own scream. Her tiny body plopped on mine. I inspected it for arms, legs, fingers and toes, two eyes, a nose, and tiny pink lips. Our daughter.
It wasn’t so much that moment. It was the next day. I was curled up with her in my hospital bed, and felt the weight of her entire body resting, undefended in my arms. That’s when the walls of my banged-up heart gave way.
When one door of happiness closes, they say, another opens.