Carolyn Zinn takes a deep breath and plunges a thick needle into her upper backside.
It's September 2006, and she's at home in Bradenton, standing next to her cluttered oak dining room table, her jeans unzipped, a grimace on her face.
Her glutes are particularly tender. She has to jab herself with the big needle once a day to deliver 50 milligrams of progesterone, a hormone meant to help her become pregnant.
Three times now, Carolyn has failed to produce a baby for her client, Diane, a married mother of one who can't have a second child on her own.
Carolyn was afraid Diane would give up on her, but Diane has given her another chance. In a week, Carolyn will undergo her fourth embryo transfer in six months.
Everyone, including the doctor, thinks the frozen embryos they used before may have been the problem. This time, they'll use fresh ones. Carolyn is hoping the past failures were a fluke of nature, not her body telling her it's time to give up.
This time, she thinks, easing her jeans back up over the sore spot, it has to work.
• • •
It's standing room only in the exam room at Dr. Stephen Welden's fertility clinic in Tampa.
Carolyn is here, of course. Diane and her mother are, too, along with Carolyn's friend Sita Rayburn, the surrogacy matchmaker who introduced Carolyn and Diane.
The last time, nobody expected the embryos to take. This time, there's a sense of anticipation. Diane has gone back to her egg donor, a Tampa woman, and paid $5,000 for more eggs. Today, Dr. Welden will place three fresh embryos into Carolyn's uterus.
They are all chatting when Carolyn says, "If it would have worked the first time, I would be seven months pregnant today."
"I'm positive though," Carolyn adds nervously. "I'm figuring with three embryos, certainly we can get one."
"Three would be a challenge, but that would be great," Diane says.
Diane is always gracious toward Carolyn, but lately she is having doubts. For a while she considered getting rid of both Carolyn and the egg donor. But that would have been expensive; both must be tested physically and psychologically. Diane and her husband have already invested $75,000 in eggs, doctors, medicines and attorney fees, much more than they thought they would spend.
Besides, Diane likes Carolyn. And they agree on important issues. They both decided independently that they would never abort an abnormal fetus. Their Christian beliefs wouldn't allow it.
As they wait for the doctor, Carolyn talks about the triplets she had for a couple in 2000. She says she gained only 31 pounds during the pregnancy.
She'll probably gain more weight this time, Sita says: "You're 40 now."
"I didn't know you were 40 this year," Diane says, surprised.
There is another silence. Soon Carolyn fills it by reading aloud the small sign on the wall: "Faith is not believing that God can, but knowing that he can."
She and Diane look at each other and smile.
• • •
Later that day, Carolyn's teenage daughter comes home from school and says she has been talking to her friends about her mother's work as a surrogate.
Over the years, Lauren and her brother, Kyle, have grown comfortable with people's questions. They're proud of their mother.
Lauren says one friend asked her, "So your mom likes to go through the pain of birth to have someone else's baby?"
Another said: "That's so cool."
• • •
One day, Carolyn's co-workers at the bank prod her to call a radio psychic to ask if she's pregnant. Carolyn thinks it might be fun, so she does.
The psychic listens to the question, then pauses. Her voice is silky, calming.
"I'd say in October, yes, but maybe not this year. Next year."
Sure enough, a week later, Carolyn takes a home pregnancy test. Negative.
"I trust in God," she tells her husband, Larry. "I pray all the time. But I'm very angry with God. God has forsaken me."
Carolyn is perplexed because she feels pregnant. She has told Diane she feels the little butterfly twinges that came with previous pregnancies.
Finally, it is time for the blood test that will settle the issue. At home afterward, she curls up on her couch and waits for the news.
On TV, a woman in a floral bikini is eating a live crab on Fear Factor. Carolyn is cringing when her cell phone bellows the Pink Panther theme.
It's Diane. She has heard from Welden. Carolyn listens for a moment, then winces.
"Don't give up," Carolyn says, pleading. "Please don't give up. I know I am. I've got to be. I'm still going to continue the meds. Is that okay?"
Carolyn dissolves into tears.
"I just know what I'm feeling," she continues. "I'm just so sorry."
Diane is already thinking about what's next. She says the donor is available to provide more eggs. Carolyn thinks, NOOOOOO! The donor, who is known only to Welden's office, has never had kids. She hasn't proven her fertility. But Carolyn doesn't say this out loud.
She puts down the phone and hangs her head. Tears pool in her eyes and drop onto her legs.
"Lord, I know, but you know what, I'm still pregnant," she says, trying to convince herself.
• • •
Around Thanksgiving, Carolyn drives three hours to Palm Beach to see two of her "surrobabies," David, 4, and Elizabeth, 2. She hasn't seen them in a year.
The boy is her godson. In his handsome little face, she sees an older soul.
"Thank you so much for the Bible books," he tells her. Then: "Elizabeth and I were both in your tummy!"
She takes him to see Happy Feet, the penguin movie, and snuggles up with him to read. He tells her he has added her to the list of people he will be thankful for at Thanksgiving.
• • •
Carolyn doesn't hear from Diane during the holidays. It has been almost a year and a half since they started this process. Now she's not even sure they're still working together.
In January, Diane calls. She has found a new donor. She tells Carolyn she wants to try again.
And one more thing: She has hired a second surrogate who will receive embryos at the same time. Her name is Kimberly.
Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8640.
Coming Thursday: Anxious about her repeated failures, Carolyn sizes up the other woman who is trying to give Diane a baby.