For those who want to get pregnant, it turns out waiting rooms are something out of a glossy sitcom. Swanky velvet seats and gold vases, HGTV bleating from screens, gleeful success stories tacked to walls. No protestors. No shame.
But reproduction is scary territory and so, to me, was this. A fear of waiting rooms is only natural.
I’ve never had an abortion. Quite the opposite. I can’t seem to get pregnant. I turn 39 next month and have been married almost five years. We’ve tried to conceive on some level for the majority of that time. After a couple of years, I asked my OBGYN for advice.
“How old are you, again?” she said, and immediately wrote a referral to a fertility clinic.
To the plush waiting room I went, alone thanks to COVID. We began tests. A transvaginal ultrasound to examine ovaries and eggs. An X-ray to check fallopian tubes. A uterine injection of high-contrast iodine. Blood draws and chemical analyses and video lessons about pricey genetic testing. Some pain.
After all that, the diagnosis was “unexplained infertility.” The doctor recommended surgery to clear my uterus of an abundance of polyps. Insurance covered the procedure but not the expensive anesthesia, a maddening tease to the financial morass of American childbearing.
While I reclined half-awake on a recovery trolley, the doctor came in to talk about next steps. He quickly explained options: intrauterine insemination, medication and lastly, in vitro fertilization with no guarantee of success.
I felt like a sprocket on a factory belt, a line on a spreadsheet. I asked for time to think, and he looked a bit befuddled.
“By the time most people get to this point,” he said, “they’ve made up their minds.”
Ah, but I am excellent at avoidance, an A-plus student of compartmentalizing. Since that day last year, I’ve acted like none of it exists. I saw the road ahead, the injections, the egg retrieval, the embryo transfer, the tens of thousands of dollars, the cycles of devastation and I just… didn’t want to. I didn’t want to do any of it. I didn’t want to.
“I just don’t feel like going back,” I told friends. “I understand why people do, but I don’t.”
It seemed an inadequate excuse for such a big thing, but there it was. I felt a little guilty about ghosting the clinic and didn’t know why. Then, Politico published a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that revealed the likely demise of Roe v. Wade, on the heels of states including Florida already chipping away at abortion rights. Maybe it wasn’t a surprise, but the shock hung over me all night.
Whatever my discomfort with fertility treatments, I realized, I had been able to opt in — and out — of that invasion of my body. The reasons were mine. I retained the power to make the choice. It’s just dumb luck that I’m on the side that can’t seem to get pregnant, a cruel irony that I’m someone with options, who could travel to another state, who can afford childcare and mental health care, whose job guarantees the paid parental leave our country doesn’t.
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Babies are a happy thing to talk about, and none of this is happy. I would rather be writing jokes and making people laugh. I come from a large Catholic family with a diverse array of opinions, and we tend toward getting along. I wager a lot of people recognize themselves in that fresco. I believe most people come to this issue sincerely, and the quietest ones might be working things out, might prioritize peace.
But we’re not doing any favors by avoiding hard conversations. Many pregnancies and abortions are uncomplicated. Conception also results in unfathomable diagnoses — ectopic pregnancies, missed miscarriages, blighted ovums — leaving parents to confront impossible choices. It’s unconscionable to think a family could not make such a decision within the private care of a doctor because the government has usurped control.
Pregnancy isn’t just glitter cannons and baby showers. The process can be incredibly isolating, often endured in silence. Don’t tell anyone before 12 weeks. Go to work sick and say it’s something you ate. Don’t discuss the miscarriage. Don’t apply for a job if you’re showing. Don’t reveal your postpartum depression or psychosis because you’re supposed to feel joy. Now imagine those tribulations without resources, at 15, after an accident, an uneducated moment, a rape or case of incest.
As Mother’s Day dawns and this decision looms, reminders abound that this country doesn’t support mothers like it claims.
Childbirth kills America’s women every year at a rate higher than any other developed country. The maternal mortality rate for 2020 was 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black women died of maternal complications at a rate three times higher than white women.
In her 2018 book Like A Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy, Angela Garbes detailed the stunning lack of therapy and pelvic floor recovery offered as postpartum protocol. Most mothers, she pointed out, received a single checkup six weeks after birth — though leading doctors have since recommended more visits. Patients undergoing minimally invasive knee surgery (statistically, men) got far more attention.
The National Institutes of Health list perineal tears, infection and excessive bleeding as common labor and delivery complications. Childbirth raises risk for pelvic prolapse. C-sections are major abdominal surgeries that involve moving organs. Maternal care and even some miscarriages costs thousands before, and sometimes after, insurance. Never mind the time, money and support needed to raise children.
Talks of abortion and reproduction must be met with nuance and sensitivity, not framed in villainy. It’s not fair to ask people to reveal personal matters in a desperate effort to preserve and create rights; but it’s striking that more stories will come out in the light of a draft opinion that seems to question the very right to privacy.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be pregnant. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to that swanky waiting room, or look into adoption, or observe my full life as a stepmother and wife and writer and know it’s enough. But I’m thankful the choice is in my hands.
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