I've mentioned often both in this journal and my last how it took a while for Frank and me to conceive the first time. Yes, once we found out what the problem was, the solution was easy and resulted in the pregnancy of our twins after only two cycles. But I will never, ever forget the turmoil that I went through for nearly three years before giving in to the fact that conception just wasn't going to happen on its own. After the first year, my heart began to get heavy with jealousy over the pregnancies of others and fear that it would never happen for me. Now, I'm the one who is the pregnant one and has a friend without a much-wanted pregnancy, and it feels weird being here on the other side of the fence.
Much of the story of finding out that my sister was pregnant is actually pretty funny in retrospect. My family often jokes about it now. It was the week of Thanksgiving in 1999, and we were headed on the 20 hour drive from here in southern Georgia up to Chicago to spend the holiday with family. We now call it "The Road Trip from Hell" because it was full of snafus which were both irritating and funny.
At that time, Frank and I were still living with my mother and sisters, so there were five of us making this journey. The Road Trip from Hell snafus started with my youngest sister, Danielle, who at the time was twelve. The trouble started before we even pulled out of the driveway at O'dark-thirty in the morning on the day before Thanksgiving. Dani had woken up with a nasty case of the bubble guts and was feeling quite nauseous. Mommy asked if she felt up to making the road trip, and Dani assured her that she did and was really looking forward to the trip. Just thirty minutes down the road, that nauseous feeling had gone into full blown "countdown-to-gastric-eruption" mode.
Now, Danielle is one of those people who tend to panic when she knows she's going to throw up. A couple of years before, she had eaten far too much at her class Halloween party and came home gagging. In the process of her puke-panic, she managed to pull down the shower curtain in my mom's bathroom and burst Chanel's lip when she tried to yank on her for help. She also managed to completely miss the toilet because she was trying hard NOT to throw up and was nowhere near the target when her body took over.
So when Danielle started gagging on this particular road trip, it was nothing short of hilarious. She was sitting in the passenger seat as Mommy was driving. Frank and I had already drifted off to sleep as it was well before 5 a.m., and we woke to hearing Dani yell (as she was crying), in a very choked and strained voice, "I'm gonna throw up. I'm gonna throw up...Oh God....I WANNA GO HOME...I WANNA GO HOME!" and was making all of the disgusting gagging and "vomitotious" sounds associated with the deed. What was really funny was that she was yanking on Mom's shirt so that Mom was being dragged down and to the right towards Dani, so much to the point that she was practically choking and was finding it hard to drive because she was trying to keep Dani from pulling on her. Chanel managed to place an empty paper bag in between the two front seats, and as if on cue Dani's stomach let go. Thankfully this time, Dani did hit the target, but she continued to choke Mom, cry, and moan about wanting to go home. Everyone (except Dani) was laughing hysterically. Mom managed to pull over at the next gas station, and after Dani spent 20 minutes in there (now spewing from both ends), we were ready to continue our trip.
Somewhere in Tennessee and about 8 hours into the trip, phase two started. This time it was Chanel, who at the time was 17 and a high school senior. All of the sudden she got the bubble guts, and before too long she was moaning with nausea and was puking too. With Chanel and Dani sick, tempers were flaring and there were many arguments to be had between the two of them. Many hours later, and somewhere in southern Illinois, phase three started when Mom and I both began to feel nauseous, but neither of us had the spewing. The trip getting to Chicago was truly miserable, though it did have its funny points.
Early the next morning on Thanksgiving Day, I was jarred awake by my stomach telling me to get to the bathroom. As soon as I made it there, I did start to throw up. Even though I knew that it was likely to be just the same stomach flu that Mom, Chanel, and Dani had, I still uncontrollably allowed myself to get a little excited in the hopes that it was morning sickness. I was in the midst of one of my long, drawn-out cycles, was already somewhere around cycle day 70, and was stubbornly holding on to the hope that a pregnancy could possibly result from a cycle like that. After throwing up I felt better, but still couldn't enjoy too much of Thanksgiving dinner that evening. By the next day, I was perfectly fine, as were Mom and Dani.
The one person not better was Chanel. We all thought that the flu had just hit her worse than it did us. We returned home that Saturday, and by Monday morning Chanel was still no better. Frank was off that day but Mom had to work, so she scheduled a doctor's appointment for Chanel and asked if Frank could take her, which he did.
I made it home that evening before Mom did, and I asked Frank what the doctor had said about Chanel. I could tell that something was wrong from the expression that Frank had. He said, "Sit down, Kym," and my mind started reeling with worry over all the things that could have been wrong. In that flash of time, not once did the possibility that she could be pregnant cross my mind. I think that was a subconscious defense mechanism, because on the evening before I had asked Chanel if she thought she might be pregnant and offered to buy a test for her. Chanel said "No, I couldn't be pregnant," but looking back on it I'm sure that she was afraid of that all along.
Snappily, I told Frank to just tell me what was wrong, and I could feel the hot tears already burning the corners of my eyes. When he told me that she was pregnant, I pulled my hand away from his and ran to the bathroom, where all I could do was throw myself on the floor and cry. For all it was worth, it's probably best classified as an infantile temper tantrum. No longer could I hold my feelings in check, and my own sister being pregnant was far too much for me to bear. To add insult to injury, before I left the bathroom I realized that my period had started.
Was I being punished for something? What in my life was I doing wrong that God didn't see fit to grace me with the gift of motherhood? I knew that God didn't operate that way, but I couldn't stop those thoughts from coming and at that point, no longer cared, anyway. Admittedly angry with God and not understanding His will, I still asked for His guidance through the ordeal. Most of all, I asked Him to keep His arm around my shoulders and His hand over my mouth. I knew that I had to be supportive of Chanel and not let my anger at the situation get displaced on her.
As much as I prayed for that level of patience, it was so hard to do, and I wasn't successful all the time. Though the thought of what I didn't have was ever-present, I did have a lot of good days where I wasn't adversely affected by it too much. But there were lots of hard days, days when I could hardly get myself out of bed and function as a normal person.
To try to make the best of the situation, I tried to live it vicariously through her. I couldn't get pregnant for whatever reason, but with a pregnancy in the house, maybe in the meantime I could settle for at least getting to be close to the pregnancy and support my sister through it. I knew that she needed me, and I had to put my personal feelings off to the side to be able to do that. I took Chanel to many of her prenatal visits as Mom had an hour drive to work and rarely made it home in time to take her. I gave Chanel my stack of pregnancy magazines to browse through. I bought her maternity clothes and helped her get things ready for the baby's arrival. I planned and hosted her baby shower, at which I presented to her the stroller travel system that Frank and I bought for her. I felt the kicks through her belly and laughed with her as we watched her baby performing uterine aerobics. And at night, after all was said and done, I cried.
Night time was the worst time because I had some distance from it, even though on the other side of the house Chanel was deep in pregnant slumber. I took those times to selfishly allow myself to feel the sadness and the anger, to cry and get it out of my system so that I could make it through the next day.
Much of the anger that I felt was irrational. I knew that Chanel did not get pregnant on purpose, and I knew that it wasn't a personal attack on me, but sometimes that's what it felt like. Some days in the cycles of trying to conceive were harder than others -- negative pregnancy tests, cycle day one, another young teenager at the high school telling me that she was pregnant, or someone asking, "What's taking you and Frank so long to have babies?" or some question equal to that. On days like those, the stoicism that I tried to have was crumbled and I collapsed under the weight of it. The anger and resentment would break through, and so would the guilt of having those feelings.
One day I nearly lost all traces of sanity in a mad rage, and it was over the most stupid of things. This is another one of those things that was pathetic at the time but we joke about now. I was never really possessive of the food that I bought since I usually bought groceries for the entire house, but occasionally I would buy something with the intentions of it being specifically for me. Once I bought a package of seasoned and marinated chicken breasts, and I had it in my head that when I got home from work I would have those for dinner. I was actually craving them; you know how it is when you just have to have something. I headed straight to the kitchen to start cooking, only to find that Chanel had already prepared both chicken breasts and had just started eating one of them.
Normally something like that wouldn't have irked me too much as mistakes do happen, but despite myself I could feel my temper begin to rise. I told Chanel politely that those were intended to be mine, and asked if I could at least have one of my chicken breasts. Chanel's prissy response (which really was prissy as Mom heard it and agrees): "Well, no...because I need my protein for my baby." If there ever was a moment that I wanted to wring her neck over the pregnancy, that was surely it. Chicken breasts? Under normal circumstances I would have just called her a cow as any big sister would have done, told her she owed me, and then headed to the store to buy more chicken. But in that instance, all I could do was fight back the tears and a load of choice expletives and storm off to my room where I spent the rest of the evening fuming.
In another example of irrational anger, I even got ticked off at my dog. How completely pathetic is that? With Chanel finding out that she was pregnant a few days after Thanksgiving, my feelings were still pretty raw when Christmas rolled around. A few days after Christmas, I decided to buy myself a Kwanzaa present to console myself over not being pregnant. Frank and I went to the pet store, and I picked out the cutest little full-bred rat terrier puppy. Her beady eyes anxiously followed me around the store, as if she was pleading with me to take her home. I dropped a good $350 on her, and bought her a tiny little pink dog sweater and a fake-diamond studded collar. She was my "baby," and I named her Spunky because of her perky personality.
Shortly before Chanel delivered TJ, we discovered that Spunky had managed to get herself pregnant, much to my dismay. For a while, I absolutely HATED that dog -- how stupid to hate a dog, but that's how infertility irrationality can get to a person.
I'm certainly not saying that all feelings that stem from not being able to have a baby when you're surrounded by pregnancy are irrational. The irrational thoughts are actually an effect of the infertility; the sadness, hurt, anger, and resentment that stems from the situation are all very valid, and those emotions are present even when the thoughts that lead to them are perfectly rational and sane. I've been on that side of the fence before and it's not easy. And to close with another trite adage, I have this to say: the grass is NOT always greener on the other side; it's just as hard on this side of the fence.