The 7 a.m. line for bloodwork and ultrasounds at the fertility clinic feels like a cattle call for tired women. Or a depressing “2012 Babies or Bust” party I never wanted an invitation to in the first place. We’re just days into the New Year, and have dragged ourselves into the clinic bundled up like Eskimos, only to sweat inside and peel off layers en masse while we wait to be seen. Scarves and hats litter the hallway.
It’s my first day here, but the ladies in line with me are old pros. They can sense I’m a newbie, and kindly show me the ropes: we wait for our blood to be drawn, then cross the hallway to the changing rooms, where the doctor will call us in for our ultrasounds one by one. As I wait and watch those ahead of me, the speed of the process astounds me. Women go into the exam rooms at a brisk clip and are back out in no time, fully dressed. How could there possibly be time to undress and get probed by a foreign object at the rate they’re coming out of that room?, I wonder. The mechanization of the process is as comforting as it is disconcerting. I’m just one of dozens of women going through this today, I tell myself… my situation happens all the time and is easily fixed. But wait… I’m special! I’m different! I’m not just a number! Fix me! Back and forth, back and forth.
There are many reasons why we were all in that line together. Some of us might have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Some might have Endometriosis. Some might have a reversed tubal ligation or a partner with a reversed vasectomy. Some might have a partner with male-factor infertility. Some might have a female partner, or might not have a partner at all. Some others might be like me, with that (in my selfish mind) most maddening diagnosis: Unexplained Infertility. Sometimes I think I’d rather have something specific to prevail over, like a blocked ovary, rather than this mystery nonsense. I know that’s not fair. I also know that in the big head game that is infertility, unfair thoughts abound.
My first impression of the women at the clinic is that I’m on the younger side of the group. There’s a bit of satisfaction in this, I'm embarrassed to admit to myself. There are a couple of women in their late 20s here, but the majority appear to be older than I am. At 33, I must have a better chance at conceiving than the mostly gray 40-something in front of me, I think. My doctors have never been concerned about my age or my eggs. Yet I can’t help but wonder how many children that 40-something already has. Maybe she has one or two at home, with her heart set on another. Maybe she’s remarried and wants a child with her new partner. Maybe if I’m already having problems this young I’m hopeless. Maybe this isn’t going to happen for me. This is a trick of infertility, by the way: in a second, the game changes inside your head. Pros can flip into cons with the blink of an eye. And why am I trying to “beat” these women anyway?, I ask myself. Her pregnancy doesn’t mean mine’s not coming, and vice versa. We all deserve to be pregnant. We all deserve to be done with this.
Before I know it, I’m in the bloodwork chair, where a friendly nurse tries her best to woo my veins. In the coming months, I’ll get to know her well. I’m here for “baseline testing” that will kick off my very first Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) cycle. They’ll be looking at levels of hormones in my blood, and will use the ultrasound to monitor follicle growth once I begin the injectable medications. I'll be back here two more times that very week alone.
In no time at all I’m in the changing room, wondering why in the world someone can’t make paper sheets wide enough to cover my average-sized hips, when they’re calling me in for my exam. The doctor wields the ultrasound wand with all the efficiency of that line outside. He calls out numbers to the nurse, different ones for the left versus the right ovary. I don’t bother remembering them, knowing that I’ll get a call later that afternoon with a detailed analysis. The exam is over before I know it, and in another minute I’m walking out through the ever-growing line of women who are waiting to do exactly what I just did.
I wonder how many women will go through that line at the clinic that morning. And of those of us here, how many will get pregnant this month? How many of us will ever get pregnant at all? Only time – and a lot more visits to this clinic – will tell.