“Three boys,” Kayla said. “It’s my mother-in-law’s revenge for ripping her baby boy from her womb.”
The entire room stared down at the floor. They had asked, so Kayla responded. Honestly. Some jaws dropped, genuinely shocked and dismayed.
So many people with so many serious problems these days. Terrorism, tsunamis, the Pope just passed, and that poor bulimac woman with the feeding tube. And she was complaining about the gender of her children. Know your audience, as her mother always warned. Others were laughing to themselves with all too much empathy, feeling the same way about their boys, girls, or pet goldfish.
But Kayla had the routine down pat. It was her daily shtick. Without missing a beat, she tossed her thick, jet- black hair and added her disclaimer. “Not that I’d trade them in for 10 girls, my diamonds. But, come on.” Dreams of Lilly Pulitzer dresses and Alice in Wonderland were always dancing about in her head.
But she thought her desire was more intense. More meaningful. To whom would she leave her grandmother’s estate jewelry? With whom would she spend holidays and special occasions? With whom would she form the unbreakable bond that you can only really have with a good mother, sister, or daughter? On an even more intimate level, who would comb her hair, take her to the bathroom, and pluck her eyebrows for her when she was past the point of independence?
She always felt as if someone was missing in her life. Her stomach would hurt when she saw mothers and daughters walking the streets, arm in arm, hand in hand. Sisters chatting over lunch made her feel empty. She was desperately seeking that bond. But she was not prepared to voice those concerns out loud yet. So she settled for the basic, shallow route. Receiving the obvious response.
“That’s disgusting,” chimed in an obviously older, grey-haired woman, three months pregnant with a female twinset. “Healthy. That’s all that matters.” Kayla shook her head and rolled her eyes. But to that, most of the room chimed in, agreeing.
“Everyone wants what they want,” said a woman pregnant with triplets, gender undisclosed. Causing the older woman to interrupt.
“You get what you get and you don’t get upset,” she started her diatribe about how obvious it was that Kayla was just myopic and self-absorbed.
“You’re unfit to parent a caterpillar,” she huffed.
The master of ceremonies removed her thick, oversized, faux-Chanel bifocals and waved them in the air, signaling that each member was obligated to express her honest emotions. “It’s a painful, difficult process for most of us. Every couple, every person has her own reasons for starting this process,” the master noted before even introducing herself at their first meeting. “If you criticize, if you interrupt, you destroy the integrity of this support group.” The twelve steps for the fertility challenged.
Each member was assigned a seat and a number. No names during group, to protect privacy. Some faces were shockingly recognizable. The actress from that popular NBC sitcom. You’d think she’d hire a private therapist rather than exposing herself to a group of potential sycophants. Then there was the News One weatherperson. And the infamous advertising uberchick. The thinner than thin one with the really great highlights. She was always seen on Page Six. All convincing themselves that the numbers made them anonymous. All convincing themselves that they were an everywoman with fertility issues.
For 45 minutes they went around the room, taking turns detailing the trials and tribulations of achieving and maintaining a pregnancy. Number eight, the 40 year old woman in her third trimester who was told, after eight miscarriages and six years of failed in-vitro, that she’d never be able to carry a pregnancy. The slightly calmer woman, number 13, who despite gaining 55 pounds before conception from using clomid, pergonal, and finally succumbing to IVF, was past the critical first 12 weeks. Number four who was in the sixth week of her first non-ectopic pregnancy in three years. The women who were so wound up from hormonal treatments, that they would walk into the room crying and out of the room screaming at their husbands, mothers, friends, and subordinates on their cell phones.
About 30 percent of the room was childless. Many more were suffering from secondary infertility. Kayla’s left eye would twitch as she listened, often trying to block out the noise that was the other group members. The voices in her head constantly replaying her own fertility trauma. First, her doctor diagnosing the cause of her infertility. Stress. “Well you’d be stressed too if you spent the past year trying to get pregnant, and you couldn’t even get your period!” she retorted to her first of many ob/gyns. And then another round of bloods, just to make sure. This time under the watchful eye of Dalia’s super-spouse.
Her WASPiest friend Laura, pronounced Laaraa, single and five months pregnant after missing a single birth control pill, shaking her head in utter frustration and disbelief, “All you nice Jewish girls. Wanting your babies, and you can’t get pregnant to save your life.”
And her Jewish conspiracy friends who blamed the mass levels of infertile Jewish girls in their late 20’s and early 30’s on gases and chemicals released into the air throughout the Holocaust. “You know how things skip a generation,” they argued to a baffled crowd.
Kayla closed her eyes and saw herself. Lying in bed. Lying in puddles of bright red blood. Staring at sonogram machines after nine, ten, eleven weeks of pregnancy, looking at hearts that were not beating. Staring at sonogram machines after 17 weeks of pregnancy with the fetus that was not developing properly. Her doctor’s voice echoing in her head, “The fetus is not viable. The fetus will not survive more than one month outside the womb. The heart has not formed properly. There is something wrong with the lungs.” Echoing as these people were telling their own tales of childlessness.
Now it was her turn to speak, to vent to the room. So Kayla stood her ground. She was not there to pacify or protect the delicate sensibilities of infertile women. No one had done that for her the last five times that she attended these sessions. She was there to listen and to express to people who might have gone through similar experiences. Because her closest friends didn’t get it at all. And her husband just wanted her to appreciate what she had. “Whatever is meant to be will be,” he mandated, like the voice of an 80-year-old rabbi.
So here she sat, attempting to justify her desperate yearning for number four. To justify a fourth round of hormones, needles, and outpatient surgical procedures. She knew that she was amongst the lucky ones. If not the luckiest. Three diamonds. In the rough. How could she complain? How could she still shed tears every time Hall and Oates’s “Sara Smile” came on the radio? Or bitterly rue her friends with girls as they complained about the “incessant whining” they endured. And with a full house now, how could she even contemplate the emptiness of her home after three boys escaped to college in 10, 15 years? Yet she came back to the room one more time. Because someone was still missing. “So why on earth are you here?” the master finally asked, with the emphasis on “are.”