Fiction: Names Changed

by Sarah Callaghan

Blank page syndrome – 2nd May 2002
It’s a new year, and more importantly for me, an anniversary. Yup, as of today I am officially infertile.

And, not one to let such a momentous occasion pass uncelebrated (un-mourned?) I’ve decided to join the ranks of the infertility bloggers and rant and moan with the best of them.

The important information is: I’m 29, married and having lots of sex. My husband Abe is great — if he wasn’t we wouldn’t have lasted this long. And two years ago we chucked the birth control pills in anticipation of having the pitter patter of little feet round the house in a year or so.

We’re still waiting.

Myths and legends – 11th May 2002
I went to a very strict religious school. Sex education mainly consisted of separating the girls and the boys and telling the girls in no uncertain terms that sex=pregnancy=a very bad thing. I, of course believed every word of this. I was paranoid about birth control. For years I was never even sure if I even wanted kids.

And then I met Abe, and kids became something I wanted to have.

It came as quite a shock to me to realize that it could take awhile to get pregnant. I had it buried in my head that once would be enough (thanks Hollywood and all those stupid books where it does).

Like so much in life, it depends. Everyone has stories, and no one reports anything other than the extremes. It’s either “first and only time — bam!” or horror stories about 20 failed IVF cycles and then a miracle.

Is it too much for me to hope for a miracle?

Something in the water – 28th May 2002
I work in a female-dominated office. At the moment there are — count ‘em — three other women in my section all knocked up. Coffee-time conversation is dominated by baby talk, birth plans, the works. The older ladies go misty-eyed with recollections of their grown-up kids as babies, and the younger ones are all lost in a nice estrogen-induced broody haze.

I swear, it’s like being locked in a henhouse, all that clucking.

But, hands down, the absolute worst part of it is when one of them turns round to me, with her hand proudly on her bump, and tells me “It’ll be your turn soon Sarai. I’m convinced there’s something in the water!”

And then I have to go hide in the ladies room for a while.

Dear Universe, thanks very much. – 3rd April 2002
One of the knocked-up trio (Eve) has just announced she’s having twins. And is complaining bitterly because she’s already got three at home under 5.

I think I just might hate her.

Welcome to the pity party – 9th April 2002
I was hoping for irony to kick in, and the mere fact of starting an infertility blog would magically make me pregnant. Guess what — no such luck.

To add insult to injury, I’ve been suffering through a week of exhaustion, nausea and achy boobs, all pregnancy symptoms, and have been fanning the hopes that this might be it.
It’s not.
I feel like I’ve been run over by a bus, then had my stomach used as a punching bag by an over-enthusiastic boxing club. But that’s just physical. I don’t even want to think about what’s going on in my head right now.

If you value your life, don’t approach me without sacrificial chocolate and wine.

If you need me, I’ll be sulking over here and popping hardcore pain relief pills.

Of all the things people say … – 14th April 2002
… telling me “just relax and it’ll happen” is the worst.

Double points if I’ve never met you before.

Triple points if you do this in the checkout line at Walmart. After complaining about how your adorable little baby, asleep in the baby carrier, is a real handful. And moaning about how you just have to hold hands with your husband to get pregnant (newsflash — it don’t work like that).

Note to self — it might be hard to resist, but next time, just stfu about how adorable some other person’s baby is.

Waiting rooms – 3rd May 2002
I’ve spent a lot of time in waiting rooms. It’s OK for Abe, his test is easy. Sure, there’s a bit of embarrassment factor and ick, but it’s nothing that teenage boys all over the world don’t do any time of the day. And he got his results back quick. (They’re normal, by the way.)

Lucky me, I got to have blood tests, more blood tests, ultrasounds (also known as dates with the dildo-cam), and, on one noteworthy occasion, I lay in the stirrups sedated while they squirted fluid into my fallopian tubes. Which was possibly even less fun than it sounds.

Geez, you couldn’t make this insanity up, could you?
And after all the needles and pills and hormones and scans, do they find anything? Have I got polycystic ovarian syndrome?

How about endometriosis? How about premature ovarian failure? Pelvic inflammatory disease? Cushing’s syndrome?

Go on, take a guess.

Not a chance. Undiagnosed infertility it is then. Lucky us.

Keeping a balance – 13th May 2002
Some days are easier than others. Some days I can shrug off the constant, gnawing hollowness in my gut, that aching, wanting. Some days I can think things like how great it is to be able to stay up until 3 a.m. and then lie around in bed until noon at the weekends. How great it is to be able to book a holiday at five minutes notice, and within a day be off someplace warm and sunny. How good it is to be able to do all that grown-up stuff, have that freedom.

Other days, most days, I’d give all that up in a heartbeat, just to hold a baby, our baby, in my arms.

Dear Sister-in-law … – 6th June 2002
I know you’re busy with the new baby, and yes, she is adorable. But we’re going through some stuff at the moment, and it might be nice to get a bit of family support instead of being told “oh, but [sister-in-law] needs us so much more than you do.”
I know you’re proud of your new kid, but honestly, new photos of her emailed to everyone in the family every single day of the week? Every time I see them, it’s another punch in the gut reminder of what you have and I don’t.

Stop it. Please.

[no subject] – 2nd July 2002
Is everyone in the world getting pregnant except for me? The pregnant trio has now become a quartet.

Horrified – 14th August 2002
It was the regular bi-monthly group meeting yesterday afternoon. We were all there, and I found myself sitting next to Liza, one of the pregnant trio. It was all pretty normal, up until I heard a gasp from Liza. I looked over, and she was ghostly white and clutching her bump. She got up slowly and made for the meeting room door. The meeting carried on without her, and I thought nothing of it.

Nothing, until I looked at the chair she’d been sitting on, and saw the blood.

Liza’s always been good to me. I abandoned the meeting and went to look for her. I found her in the nearest ladies toilet, slumped on the floor of a stall.

I couldn’t take it in for a moment. There was blood everywhere. Her skirt and legs were soaked in it, and she was in agony. Thank God I had my cell phone in my pocket — I rang for an ambulance. The woman on the other end of the line was calm and collected, but warned me that all the ambulances were out on calls. She told me what to do, which was not very much.

It took two hours for an ambulance to reach us. By the point the EMTs arrived, I was sitting with Liza, her blood all over me, my arms around her. Both of us were staring at the tiny, perfectly formed, dead little baby Liza was cradling in her arms.

Too many – 16th August 2002
Of the pregnant quartet, only Eve hasn’t miscarried. She’s been whisked off to hospital. No one’s taking any chances with her. Of the thousands who were pregnant on that horrific day, only a handful kept their babies.

I know I was jealous of them, but God, I never wished for anything like this!

Someone has a sick sense of humour  - 31st August 2002
They’re calling it Herod’s syndrome. The slaughter of the innocents. Well, it’s appropriate enough, I suppose.

Eve has been moved to a naval hospital outside D.C. where they have better facilities. The news is reporting that dozens of other women have also been moved there. Her husband says she’s fine, it’s only a precaution because the medics don’t know what they’re dealing with yet. Still, it’s got the henhouse all a-flutter.

Dark thoughts– 5th September 2002
At least I’m now in the majority.

The precious few  - 23rd September 2002
Eve had her babies yesterday at 36 weeks. Two little girls, each weighing in at around 4 lbs. All completely normal and the right weight and born at a reasonable time for twins. She’s still in D.C. but her husband emailed us some photos this morning. There was practically a riot when they arrived, everyone wanted to see them straight away.

(I still maintain it’s masochism on my part, but I ached to see those pictures too. The wanting hasn’t gone away. More’s the pity.)

The photos are making the rounds of the office, and it seems that everyone is clinging to this birth, hoping this might be the start of things going back to normal. I’m going to play along, but deep inside, I don’t know if it is.

I’m so hoping that I’m proved wrong.

Not alone – 24th September 2002
I found Liza crying in the ladies room yesterday. She just looked at me and said:

“I know I should be happy for Eve, but all I can think of is how unfair it is. She has five. Why couldn’t I have just one?”

I gave her a hug and told her I understood. Oh God, do I understand.

It’s ironic – 19th October 2002
I gave up all hopes of getting pregnant after that horrible day. So I derive a grim amusement in hearing the women in my office earnestly discussing cycle lengths and artificial reproductive technologies. The temptation is to spout off with all my hard-earned infertility research. But I hold my tongue. I don’t want to out myself as someone who was infertile before.

That’s a pain I really don’t want to share.

The department of health is considering registering all women of childbearing age and mandating regular reproductive checkups. Fertility tests will be made freely available, as will any and all treatments. I’ve got a head start on that front, anyway.

There’s legislation going through to ban all forms of birth control. The women’s rights and pro-choice lobby are fighting it, but the people are scared. There’s been a handful of new pregnancies in the past few months, not enough if we want to avoid a demographic time bomb.

(A part of me is yelling “where’s the mandatory tests for men?” It takes two to make a baby, but once again, even now, it looks like fertility is still very definitely a woman’s problem.)

Me and Abe need to decide what we want to do. Whether we want to hide behind our infertility diagnosis, or get on the rollercoaster of IVF, now that the government is picking up the tab.

No news, bad news? – 21st October 2002
We haven’t heard anything from Eve in a couple of weeks. It’s not that surprising, with the twins and the other three, they’ll be kept busy. But no one’s heard if she’s home from D.C. or not.

There are rumours that all the new mothers are going to be moved to a place somewhere in Montana where the government can keep them quarantined. No one wants them to catch Herod’s, and seeing how we don’t know how it spreads … I can see the point of the quarantine, but heaven help the families that’ll be torn apart because of this.

I have no words – 29th October 2002
If you had faith in human nature, given the current situation, you’d think that a pregnant woman would be treated like the Virgin Mary. You’d think that she’d be the safest person on the surface of the Earth because in her womb rests a hope for our salvation as a species.

You wouldn’t expect her to be kidnapped on the door of her OB/GYN’s office, held as a hostage at gunpoint for 13 hours, and then get shot by the SWAT team in a botched attempt to rescue her!

So what if she was from the wrong side of the tracks? So what if she was a hooker? So what if she got herself knocked up by a gang boss?

SHE WAS PREGNANT!

She and her baby did not deserve to die simply because some terrorists decided they could make a fast profit by selling her body and her ability to bear children to the highest bidder! And as for our protectors, the police, the army? Where the hell were they?!

They’re where they always were when women were getting beat up, raped, murdered. Waiting for a crime that’s more important — something that’s been done to a man.

Maria Hernandez — you and your little baby are with the angels now. Forgive us for failing you.

Too far – 30th October 2002
How dare they?!

They’ve sent the army out to round up all of the pregnant women and take them into “protective medical custody.” “Protective medical custody”, my finely shaped rear! We all know what that means, don’t we?

There are trucks outside right now, soldiers knocking down doors. What have we come to in this country where martial law gets used as a cover to abduct women from their families, simply because they’re pregnant? I don’t care if it’s for their own good — we’re supposed to be a free country! What happened to the right to choose, dammit?

From the looks of things, I’m not the only one to feel like this. They’re throwing stones at the soldiers. People have got guns out. It’s going to be nasty.

Break stuff – 31th October 2002
I haven’t been out on the streets. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, it’s that I don’t feel it’s right. And no, it’s not safe, either. If violent riots could have made the lives of women safer before now, then I’m sure that they’d have happened.

But, oh, I can so understand that rage. That anger. That grief. I’ve felt it every month for the past two and a half years. I never got to have my riot. That sounds awful.

Breathing again – 1st November 2002
One thing’s for sure. Unless they find a cure, the world as we knew it is never going to be the same.

Can it get worse? – 10th November 2002
Secondary Herod’s syndrome. It’s the end of our hopes.

There was a big press conference this afternoon, aired on every channel. The government said they took the women into care last week for their own safety but it was done so quickly (and badly) because they think there’s another medical threat coming.

For possibly the first time ever, the government was right. Who’d have known that Herod’s Syndrome was just dormant in the women who stayed pregnant? Now it’s reactivating again and it’s killing them.

They call it secondary Herod’s, and it seems to strike without warning, at any stage in the pregnancy, even labor. And it’s 90% fatal.

The doctors are baffled, and to be honest, I’m terrified. Getting pregnant has been my one aim in life for years, but now it’s a death sentence. That’s it. Game over for the human race.

Here comes the science bit – 11th November 2002
OK, so the brainy medical types have decided that Herod’s is an auto-immune problem. Basically, the mother’s immune system decides that the baby is not part of the mother at all, but is instead an infection that needs to be fought off. It’s a nastier and more extreme version of Rh disease.

They think now the problem’s been identified, they can start working on a cure. But they still don’t know why it hit every pregnant woman on the same day.

(Maybe the nut job conspiracy theorists are right, and it was a bio-weapon attack …)

They still don’t know what causes secondary Herod’s, but they are assuming it’s some kind of virus. They’ve said that if a pregnant woman is treated early enough (in the first few weeks) that they can improve the survival rate to 20% or even higher. Those odds are bad, but they’re good enough for some women to want to risk it.

The question is, even if I could, do I want to?

The fertile few – 12th November 2002
Eve’s not coming back. No surprise there — as one of the handful who are immune to Herod’s, she’s just not safe. Plus, she’s going to be busy churning out as many kids as she can. Well, she always did want a big family (and I am so going to Hell for that comment).

They’re saying because she successfully delivered already that she’s probably one of the 10% who won’t get secondary Herod’s. That’s some good news.

The rumor is that Leah in Finance is pregnant. It’s not been confirmed, but she didn’t come into work on Monday, and everyone in the department is running around trying to pick up the slack. It’s either that, or she’s been kidnapped (oh God, please not another one), but I would have expected more cops around if that was the case.

Confirmed – 14th November 2002
Yes, Leah’s pregnant. She’s been taken to a secure maternity unit, she’s too precious to be let work or even be in public anymore. We’re allowed to send cards and messages, but only her immediate family are allowed to visit. There’s too many risks, they say, especially with secondary Herod’s.

I hope she and the baby are going to be alright. Regardless of what happens, her life is going to change completely.

More dark thoughts – 19th November 2002
There are times, like when I’m bleeding away my last hope for a baby for this month, that I’d be willing to be locked away in a maternity unit for nine and a bit months, simply to have a baby in my arms at the end of it.

The Show – 6th December 2002
I know it’s the biggest thing ever. But I can’t bear to watch it.

Is she trying to live up to her name?  - 4th January 2003
Eve’s pregnant again. Her twins are 3 months old. The younger women at work are alternately thrilled and jealous. The older ones, the ones who have kids, they’re mainly worried.

Me too. I’m no doctor, but I know that being pregnant and giving birth is hard work. Especially with twins. Three months doesn’t seem like enough time to recover before having another.

She’s got the best medical care the government can buy. I’m sure the doctors won’t let anything happen to her. And she mentioned something about a government incentive plan- have more babies, get more money. It’s a nasty idea, but at least it’s honest. And we’ll need all the kids we can get soon enough.

Time to get off the rollercoaster – 19th January 2003
You know what? I’m sick of it. I’m sick of living my life in two week intervals, sick of counting the days. Sick of having well-timed sex, of peeing on OPKs, of obsessing about every twinge and ache and symptom.

I’m normal now. Even if I don’t feel like it.

Can it get worse? – 24th January 2003
We just heard. Leah and Eve are both dead, along with their babies. Secondary Herod’s Syndrome. They’re saying now that if women come in for treatment as soon as they find out they’re pregnant, there’s a 25% survival rate. Leah left it too long.
And Eve was a surprise to everyone. She wasn’t completely immune after all. If secondary Herod’s can miss you the first time but get you on the second pregnancy … oh God!

The office is devastated, the henhouse reduced to tears. And all I can think of is Eve’s baby girls and how they’ll never know their strong, brave mother.

A glimmer of hope  - 16th February 2003
Thank you, Veronica Ward, thank you.

I watched you on the TV last night as you presented your triplets to the world. They looked so tiny, to be carrying the weight of all our hopes.

You show us that secondary Herod’s might not be a death sentence after all, even without medical treatment. You gave us hope that there might be a way for us to get past this, to conceive and carry to term.

Thank you.

They are lying  - 18th February 2003
I can’t believe it! I won’t believe it! I’m not going to let go of that precious bit of hope that Veronica Ward represented.
So what that the president just gave a press conference denouncing the Veronica Ward video as a “cruel hoax” paid for by one of the cable news networks. I don’t believe him (and it won’t be the first time a politician has lied on camera).

I saw the expression on Veronica’s face as she spoke. No one is that good an actress. No one can fake that kind of joy. No one.

Politicians lie, film at 11. I wonder, what else are they lying about? What else are they hiding?

Decision made – 26th February 2003
We’ve decided. If women who had no problem getting pregnant before now can’t do it, even with the help of the best of medical science, then what chance have I got? And there’s the increased risks from secondary Herod’s. Sure, if you get medical attention quickly enough, they can manage it, stop you from dying in childbirth. But there’s no guarantees, especially since it can kill you the next time around. So they’ve got the survival rate up to 30%. That only matters if you can have children to begin with. Most can’t, not anymore. And some of us never could. I never could.

I’ve accepted that it won’t happen. It sounds so simple to say, but believe me, to get to be able to say that was unbelievably hard. Good thing I was able to replace the fluids lost by crying with wine. At the end, I’m sure I was crying pure sauvignon blanc.

Besides, I don’t know if I’m cut out to be the mother of a new generation. I’ll leave that to the beatifically maternal ones like Veronica, wherever she is now.

So, seeing as I’m now the same as everyone else, and the world has joined me in becoming infertile, I guess this blog is a bit redundant.

Take care of yourselves, everyone.

[no subject] – 13th September 2003
Oh my God. I’m pregnant!