This is an extract from my unpublished memoir – The end of the red thread
They have toys in the waiting room of the Fertility Centre and you’re emotionally caught between feeling upset and reassured. A sob and a sigh get stuck in your throat. Nothing comes out.
They have baby photos on the wall too, a collage of cute little faces, a montage of miracles. They’re the success stories, the failures aren’t on display. Filed away instead in doctor’s dossiers and in the sad recesses of patients’ hearts and minds.
Catalogued under “sorrow” within their souls.
They call it a Fertility Centre, although I’ve always referred to it as the Infertility Clinic. While it’s infertility we suffer from, its fertility they offer, so I should really use the positive name. I’ve always tried to think of the glass as half full, and I did my best to bring this optimism with me as we walked through the door that first time.
Aside from the baby photos, a diagram of female anatomy and the infertility brochures on a revolving stand (so many brochures, so many potential problems!) it could have been any normal waiting room in a small doctor’s surgery.
But it wasn’t.
We took our seats alongside several other couples and the little room was soon full of hormones and hope. We sat there, mostly silently, and the tension in the air was thick enough to slice – great big cake wedges. If you listened closely you could hear the heartbeats of the others in the room, echoing the anxious pounding in your own chest, the smell of their fear mingling in your nostrils with your own. The scent of horrormones, a term I will hear later, and laugh, and then cry. It’s primal, pungent.
An information evening, informal, even social, is how they billed it. Meet other couples in your situation, find out about solutions, but don’t worry about facing your problem.
Optimism on sale. Babies on special.
“Would you like an orange juice, some crackers and cheese?” the clinic staff offered.
“No thanks” I nodded politely. A baby will do just fine, I thought.
We’d been asked to come to the information session to go over the operations of the clinic and the procedures it proffered. You smile empathetically at the other couples, but you don’t really look into their eyes, lest their pain is reflected in your own. And you imagine, when you hear the statistics, that they’ll be the ones to meet failure (because some people must fail, according to the stats).
You convince yourself that your simple problems will surely be solved and you’ll enjoy early success. After all, some of these women looked a lot older, I observed, and so did their husbands. Who would know, they could have blocked tubes, or one ovary or any number of problems and not be “normal” like me. Their odds must be slim compared with ours, I selfishly reassured myself.
It’s a weird feeling. Before we visited the Infertility Clinic (I mean Fertility Centre) we were still a normal couple, trying to fall pregnant, albeit taking a while to go about it. But as we left the clinic we were suddenly an infertile couple, lumped in with the others in the waiting room wearing desperation on their faces. All wearing the stigma of infertility like a prison uniform. Branded. Burdened.
I’d be guessing now if I tried to describe those couples in the waiting room that day – fraught faces that I remember only as if in a nightmare.
I do recall that one woman was quite overweight, as I know I wondered whether that might have been a factor in her infertility. Otherwise they were merely couples A, B, C, D & E (which would have made us couple F, for FAIL).
And how would they have described us?
They would have seen a still young (almost 29 year old) woman with a face that a make-up artist once described as perfectly symmetrical, but for the dimple on my left side, so I smile a bit skewwhiff. Back then I had no visible wrinkles. Of course it didn’t matter what I looked like on the outside, not if my reproductive insides were ugly, defective somehow.
But just so you can picture me – I’m 5’5 tall, with light brown hair which I colour blonder, a medium build and a fair to medium complexion (ie Caucasian).
At thirty-seven Jon’s face was nicely crinkled, telling a story of working outside most of his life under the hot Australian sun. But the wrinkles that ring his grey-green eyes and hug the corners of his generous mouth, dance a jig on his face whenever he gives his trademark cheeky grin, which is often.
At the time Jon was greying a little, but mostly losing it. Hair that is. Receding from the front while a shiny spot grew on top. Eventually the hair would be gone and the spots would join up to create baldness.
Aside from the top of his head, hair seems to grow at will elsewhere on his body, with a plush pile carpet on his chest (although thankfully only the odd stray has sprouted on his back).
Jon is fit, with a strong barrel chest and broad muscular back and aside for those love handles, has an athletic body of someone ten years younger.
How do I describe my husband, the man I need as completely as I once did the warmth of my mother’s womb. He’s my best friend, my soul mate. He makes me laugh with his silly smiling eyes. He’s a big kid and fills me with his sense of fun and mischief. He’s kind and caring, even when others don’t deserve it. He’s strong, but gentle and the most thoughtful person I know. He loves me passionately and (nearly always) unconditionally.
I knew, almost straight away and with a certainty as absolute as life and death, that Jon was the man I wanted to be the father of my children.
If I took off my love-misted glasses for a moment I would describe a man whom anyone would find affable and generous of spirit. There’s no malice in his mischief and plenty of pleasure to be had in his pranks. Humour bubbles along under a mere veneer of sobriety most of the time, with a joke or stupid comment never far from wise-cracking the surface. A “stirrer” would be the Australian slang description most apt for Jon.
Perhaps people of austere dispositions might find his joking tedious and there are certainly times when more seriousness would be prudent. It’s the important phone numbers that he writes down on the back of the phone bill envelope, which he leaves in the pocket of his work shorts when they get thrown in the wash. It’s the absolute last moments when he rings to make a booking and is lucky enough to jag a flight, restaurant table or whatever it was he was after, only to smugly tell me there was no need to panic.
Yes, there are times when Jon drives me mad with his lack of adult planning and organization. But those times are far surpassed by the frequent occasions when the child within him lights up the lives of those around him. (Although I really should add that he sulks after arguments and is slow to forgive and forget. He’s pretty hopeless at managing money. And he snores.)
To be honest, we make married love (well we are married). Comfortable, contented copulation. Like the snug softness of warm socks on a cold night. As simple and natural a pleasure as the ocean slowly swirling sand in and out between your toes.
We soothe each other with our love, find solace in each other, humour, happiness and a sense of peace.
But sometimes we ride a perfect wave. Then it’s joy for the body and food for the soul. And if IT is close to the right time you convince yourself that such love surely has to find expression in new life.
But IT doesn’t.
So you revert to scientific methods. The temperature/sex charts, checking for ovulation signs and somehow still trying to make IT spontaneous. But science doesn’t seem to work. (Champagne and oysters and weekends away and sexy lingerie may soothe a bleeding soul, but they don’t make babies either.)
And so IT becomes less frequent (mark of the X’s on the chart just to look good) and you find yourself wondering where all the passion and romance has gone. Why IT has become IT.
And you cry. And your soul bleeds.
And then, maybe, you have to face IVF.