When MASH Builds Dreams, and Infertility Burns Them

[Date: January 31, 1998     Location: Huntington, NY]

My pencil was quickly swirling when Courtney yelled, “STOP!” She snatched the paper from my grip and after just a few moments, she delivered my future. “Two kids and a dusty haired husband. You’ll live in New York and you’re going to be a really tired doctor.” My heart thumped just a little harder. I was turning 13 in just a short week and this vision of my future eased my fear of leaving childhood behind. “Well that sounds perfect to me!” I responded. And from that moment on I kept this picture tucked neatly in my mind. This vision of saving lives by day and raising them by night. In it, I wore a white coat and held onto the hands of my two young children. It fueled me as I chugged forward, not for a moment realizing how many forks and knives I’d encounter on the road.

[Date: January 31, 2015     Location: Manhasset, NY]

I was in the midst of waking from my sixth abdominal surgery in just three short years, but as the anesthesia wore from my veins I had just one question for my husband, “Did they take my ovaries?” Every muscle in my body tensed as I awaited his answer. He looked down at me and gingerly ran his fingers through my hair. His smile was indecipherable, and I wondered whether it was drawn with pity or delight. “No, honey,” he whispered, “Just rest now. It’s time to rest.” It would be days before they broke the news to me.

[Date: February 3, 2015   Location: Manhasset, NY]

I was laying in my hospital bed, unable to look my obstetrician in the eyes. My surgeon had come in to deliver the news. “We were unable to remove the mass. It’s enveloping your entire reproductive system and many of your internal organs. I am so sorry, but there isn’t more we can do for you. Removal would require a substantial compromise to your quality of life and the surgery itself would be much too risky.”

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My obstetrician arrived shortly after. As I choked back tears, he touched my hand and offered some sage, but unwanted, advice, “Sometimes, Katie, we just have to be thankful for what we already have,” he offered, “and is this really what you’re concerned with right now? You have a major recovery ahead of you and many concerns that I would imagine are more pressing than this.”

I imagined the picture in my mind tearing. I could feel the white coat melting off of me, burning my skin as to leave a permanent reminder as it quickly disintegrated. And the second child. I tried hard to rip him from the image. I tried tearing, cutting, slicing and burning. But he kept reappearing. I guess he had been part of the picture for much too long. He wasn’t eradicable, only interminable. And in those brief moments I was able to erase him, the image of my daughter’s outstretched hand would tremble, reminding me that it had once held onto her only sibling.

[Date: February 9, 2016      Location: JFK Airport, New York]

My fertility doctor’s number appeared on my cell and my heart rate quickened as I pressed the “accept” button. “I’m sorry, Katie, but your beta HCG came back negative,” she delivered the news somberly, as if genuinely disappointed at the failure of my first round of IVF. She reminded me that I had two more embryos waiting for me in the bank, and urged me to not lose hope. “Two embryos in the bank, but no money left in the account,” I thought as I glanced down at my daughter. Her hand was outstretched and for a brief moment it made me shudder. But as we placed our palms together, I realized that her hand had only been looking for a companion in mine.

[Date: March 10, 2016         Location: New York, New York]

“Why don’t you just adopt?” she asked. “Why do you need a second child, anyway. Aren’t you just happy you have one?” he questioned. “After all you’ve been through, why would you risk your health to have another?”

The questions were relentless. And I didn’t have comprehensive answers for any of them. I still don’t. But one answer I can give confidently is that the decision to go broke and endure another round of IVF was easy. For fifteen years now, I have seen so much taken from me. My health, my career…my peace of mind. And, for me, those two little embryos in the bank represented so much more than little balls of cells. They signified life. Another hand to hold onto my empty one. A heft of joy to outweigh my sadness.

I recently read that we, as humans, have one opportunity to attain immortality: our gametes. And I sometimes wonder if my biologically inbred desire to give life to another child lies somewhere in this subconscious desire to extend my own life, especially in light of failing health. And maybe in some complex way that does become part of the story. But the only thing I’m sure of is after being stripped of so much, after having my ego, subconscious and mortality exposed, there was something that was left. It was my love for my daughter. And the idea that if I had the chance to feel that love twice over, I just had to take it.

 

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