Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Center Will Not Hold


Be careful what you pray for. You just might get it.

Cut to Friday evening, me on my knees in my bedroom, begging God for a sign about whether or not to go ahead with the embryo transfer.

Two-and-a-half weeks post-tooth extraction, my mouth was still throbbing and I was still popping Advil and Tylenol every six hours. I had spent that afternoon shuttling my husband to and from a colonoscopy. It was the final of a trio of appointments he wanted to take care of pre-transfer. The first, with an ENT for snoring, was utterly unhelpful. (Flonase and a wedge pillow? Google could have told us that.) The second, with a urologist, got canceled – after which, his symptoms mysteriously vanished. And now the colonoscopy, which required a brutal combination of semi-starvation and an onslaught of laxatives for 24 hours prior – and after all of which, the results were inconclusive. My husband would have to repeat the procedure in three months.

The night before all this, my baby had woken up crying. She’d been constantly congested for two months, which the pediatrician said was seasonal, then strep. But the stuffiness didn’t subside after 10 days of antibiotics, so I took her to an ENT. He said her adenoids were slightly enlarged, but because he generally didn’t operate on babies under nine months old, we should try a steroid nasal spray instead. That had proved totally useless. Now, she had so much mucous in her nose and throat, she could hardly breathe. This made her panic and cry, unless she was upright, so I spent much of the night going back and forth from the bed to the rocker.

So by Friday, I was overwhelmed and exhausted and just imagining bringing another human being into the world felt absurd at best and irresponsible at worst.

My husband, surprisingly, did not feel the same way. When I picked him up from the colonoscopy, he seemed to not only be back to his boisterous, optimistic self, he also dropped this bomb as I pulled into the driveway: “I’m OK with another kid.” He said this from the backseat of the car, where he was entertaining our restless baby.

Since my tooth extraction, I had felt his enthusiasm for the next baby waning. At one point, I dared him to say I should cancel the transfer, but he couldn’t. (I suspect that’s what he’d prefer but he loves me too much to stand in the way of what I want.) Part of me wanted him to say it because I have been feeling increasingly ambivalent about – and equally unable to cancel – the transfer. It was like being in a miserable relationship and waiting for the other person to break up with you because you didn’t have the balls to end things.

But, now, he was on board with another baby and I was wary. Idling in the driveway – because we’re never alone anymore and have no opportunities to talk about Big Life Decisions – I expressed all my fears, which are primarily financial and/or health-related.

He said he had those fears, too, plus another one: the deteriorating state of our relationship. We haven’t had sex in weeks, and even before that, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed it (second trimester of pregnancy, probably). Personally, I’m at a point in my life where I could never have sex again and that would be just fine with me. The feeling is not mutual, however. Even if we could set sex aside, we barely have any intimacy anymore. No more morning coffee chats, no leisurely walks or lakeside runs, no Sunday church services. The closest we have to "together time" is watching an episode or two of The Office in the evening while rocking the baby to sleep. And because of his snoring, my husband has been sleeping on the couch.

“I don’t think it means anything about us,” he said about our sleeping arrangements. “But I don’t like it.”

I was kind of OK with not sharing a bed with him, because I was still sharing a bed with the baby. I’m a light sleeper, and I can handle interruptions from one bedmate, but not two. The sleeplessness had been so bad before he moved to the couch that I'd made worthless threats to get my own room and let the baby and my husband figure out their own sleeping arrangements.

My husband asked if I’d noticed the distance between us. Of course I had. I just didn’t know what to do about it. We’ve been in crisis mode all month. Just making sure everyone is showered and fed and fulfilling their household and professional responsibilities has been daunting.

“I miss us,” my husband said.

I guess I miss us, too? But more than that, I miss myself. Somewhere in the pain and aftermath of the tooth extraction, I lost who I used to be. Now I often feel like a bitter, angry, singed version of myself, just going through the motions, just trying to get through one more day.

So there I was on Friday evening, on my knees, pleading. “Please, God, guide me. Speak to me. Let me know what Your will is. If I’m not meant to go forward with the transfer, make that clear to me.”

That night, about an hour after the baby and I went to bed, she woke up screaming. It wasn’t a hunger scream. It was a pain scream. I changed her diaper. I tried a bottle. She wasn’t having it. She wailed and wailed. I tried suctioning her nose and got some mucus out, but now she was so upset that the amount of mucus she produced overpowered what I was able to suck out. She started choking again.

I went downstairs, where my husband was retreating to the basement to watch a movie with my younger teen, seemingly oblivious to what was going on. I was going to chastise him for being unhelpful, but when I opened my mouth, what came out was: “I think we need to go to the ER.”

Which we did. We raced to the closest children’s hospital and my husband dropped us off at the entrance. I was asked to fill out a sheet with my baby’s name and her symptoms. I wrote “choking on mucus” in the hopes that it would get us to the top of the queue, but in the grand tradition of emergency rooms, nothing was treated like an emergency.

Though a green stoplight on the wall indicated the wait would be under an hour, I later realized they probably never updated it. The baby was calm for maybe 10 minutes, but then she saw a young dad and his 7-year-old-ish daughter in face masks hanging around the aquarium and she freaked out again. The pain wailing ramped up, and by the time we were ushed to a desk by a triage nurse, the baby was inconsolable. Halfway through the intake (which was near impossible to do through masks and over the sound of crying), the baby threw up a ton of mucus all over my coat.

Finally, we were taken to a room. A nurse came in and said she would suction the baby’s nostrils out. I held the baby’s arms down while the nurse hooked up a loud, scary machine and shoved tubes in her nose. It looked like some kind of torture device. I started crying, the tears dripping inside my mask. When her nasal passages were finally clear, the baby calmed down.

But then we had to wait. And wait. And wait. It was almost two hours before a doctor arrived, and when she did, she performed the usual ear, nose, and throat inspection but didn’t have any revelations. She suggested another nasal spray to dry her up for the night, followed by an X-ray to check how large the adenoids were.

The X-ray was another round of trauma. My husband and I were outfitted in lead aprons. (“Any chance of pregnancy?” the tech asked me. Loaded question.) My husband held the baby’s head and I held her arms. The tech strapped her torso and legs to a plastic board. Then the X-ray tech went behind the wall and took the pictures. The baby was wailing again, and by the time we finished the X-rays, she was all full of mucus because of the crying.

Back to the room we went. I paced the floor, bouncing the baby, trying to get her to calm down. Time moved so strangely. Despite the late hour, I didn’t feel tired, but my husband kept falling asleep on the couch. This made me mad, that he couldn’t even be present in the simultaneously terrifying and utterly bored state we were in.

At the three-hour mark, we still didn’t have a read on the X-ray or a treatment plan. My husband started roaming the halls and bothering nurses until the doctor came in. I was unclear on what the X-ray showed, other than the baby’s adenoids weren’t huge (which we already knew). Still, the doctor said we should follow up with ENT and schedule an adenoidectomy.

By the time we were finally released, the baby was so exhausted she started wailing again. She cried the whole way home. I drove as fast as I could, wondering what the hell just happened. “We sped to the ER to get help and now we’re speeding home because the ER was of little help,” I thought. Other than getting the snot sucked out of her, did we just cause her more upset? Should I have just put her in the bath at home and gotten her to calm down instead? Why can’t I make good decisions? Why does healthcare suck? Why do bad things keep happening? When is this fucking awful year going to end?

I silently screamed, “WHERE ARE YOU, GOD?!” at the black sky.

Back at home, I removed the baby from her bunting. Her onesie was soaked through with sweat from all the crying. I put on her pajamas and I could sense a shift in her, like, “Oh, I’m home. These are my pajamas. I’m going to bed now.” She had a few sips of juice and fell into a deep asleep.

I, however, was wide awake, my mind racing. What did this all mean? Had I asked God for a sign and this is what He did? Practically suffocated my baby? Why didn’t He just make my endometrial lining too thin? Or cancel my flight? Or close my clinic due to coronavirus? Why this heavy-handed, hurting-the-people-I-love tactic?

Before I finally succumbed to a nightmare-filled sleep, I set an alarm for Saturday morning because I had yet another appointment – to get my fucking throbbing mouth checked again. I returned to the emergency dentist who loved trying-to-be-cool country music because he seemed to be the only person who understood my pain.

His take: my dry socket had been very bad, and though it was showing signs of healing now, he was not surprised that I was still in pain. “No one knows how to cure dry socket. We just manage it,” he said.

I explained that I was feeling frustrated and impatient with the pain because I was going through infertility treatment, and had a transfer scheduled soon. I needed to be off pain medications by then. 

“I know this isn’t your area of expertise, but should I cancel the transfer?” I asked. 

The dentist was dumbfounded. He clearly had no experience with infertility.  

“Am I going to feel better in a week?” I asked, trying to phrase my question in a way he could answer.

“I’ve had patients who take up to four weeks to recover after dry socket treatment,” he said. In other words, I was barely halfway through the healing process. “Can you wait a few days and see how you feel and then decide?”

Well, sure, I could. But at this point, the pain feels like a part of me. I’m afraid it is never going to end.

A hygienist walked me out.

“Good luck on your transfer!” she said. “I hope it all goes well!”

“Thanks,” I mumbled, feeling more and more convinced that the transfer wasn’t going to happen.

“Do you have any children now?” she asked.

For some reason, I said, “Yes, two. They’re older.”

I don’t know why I said that. It just came out. I guess I thought if I said, “I have three,” she would look at me like, “It doesn’t sound like you need infertility treatments!” or “And you have to have another one?!”

It struck me that maybe I was being greedy, that no one “needs” four children. And yet, in my head, I’ve conceived of it as: I have two daughters, and now I am going to have two more. In my mind, they come in pairs, not all at once.

That night, the baby once again had trouble sleeping. She kept waking up crying, which made me cry because I was so exhausted. I tried a new electric nasal aspirator and it was useless. My husband ended up rocking the baby to sleep as I lay in bed, worrying. Then I constructed an elaborate pillow arrangement so the baby could sleep with her head elevated but without putting her at risk of suffocation (I hoped). As I lay there, wondering if I would ever sleep again, I said, “Fine, God. You win. I’ll cancel the transfer.”

But then we all slept. And morning came. And here I am – torn and conflicted and arguing with reality again.

On the one hand, adding another kid to the mix right now seems insane. On the other hand, I’ve come this far, my lining is likely raring and ready to go, my travel is all booked, so why not just go ahead with the transfer? It might not work anyway. And if it does, I guess I have nine months to figure out how the hell I’m going to juggle everything?! 

If I do back out, what is my excuse? The tooth or my baby’s adenoids? Am I postponing? Or canceling and asking for a refund? I don’t know if I can tolerate the ambiguity of just putting it off until I feel better. Because who knows when that will be? 

Do my emotions matter here? Because if I cancel, even if my brain “knows” it’s the right thing to do, I will be devastated.

One more question: Is faith in the fearless plowing ahead or in the thoughtful pause?

And how the fuck do I get any answers?

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