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Guest Posts, infertility

Platter of Oranges

March 17, 2019

By Amy Sayers

I notice it right away, the platter of oranges. Big juicy naval oranges with pock marked skin. Thickly skinned. A few of the leaves, oval and glossy make a mandala on the red plate. Sandra, the architect in New York, potted orange trees in her loft. The scent of the white flowers were dazzlingly fragrant.

Oranges. Highly valued for their vitamin C content. Maybe they’re snacks for later. I could just peel one and put the peelings in my glass of water and savor the potent oil resting in the glands of the skin. I wonder if they’re organic but they had no stickers and I’m hungry and salivating over plump and juicy orange sections.

Twelve other people sit around the table, chatting noisily. All couples. Most of them have smooth ivory skin, one woman is black. Clearly I am the oldest woman. I pull on my chin to erase the lines drawn down to my mouth and fidget in my chair.

“Today we’re going to talk about the treatment. From biology to process and what to expect.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, infertility

Five Years and a Baby’s Life Ago

February 28, 2018

By Jennifer Roberts

Josh and I got married in November of 2012. We’ve been married for 5 years now. In a way I feel like we met yesterday, and in a way I feel like it could have been a lifetime ago.

I grew up in Florida and Josh and I met there in early 2009. When I met him, I had just gotten over one of those “friends with benefits” things that women get into at one point or another of their single years. I wasn’t looking for a serious boyfriend at the time, especially one who was 6 years younger than me who played professional baseball. There were many pro athletes in that area, and because I lived there I made a few friends that played sports professionally over the years, so I knew the stigma attached to dating one of them and that sometimes stereotypes are true.

Needless to say, I ignored my somewhat bitter thoughts and let Josh charm me into what became a relationship worth more than I could have ever dreamed. I knew from the very beginning that when Josh was done playing professionally, he would prefer to move back to the Pacific Northwest permanently. After we got engaged, I finally made up my mind to leave everyone I knew and give the PNW a fair chance to ‘wow’ me and become my home. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, infertility

What The Body Knows

December 10, 2016

By Emily Stoddard

Hysterosalpingogram. There is not enough space in my mouth for the word, yet here I am on the exam table, having the procedure that I cannot say. They fill my uterus with dye. On the X-Ray screen, I watch the fluid expand. I think of it as a sort of carbon dating. We are here to decide how authentic my uterus is.

I remember when I prayed for blood from my uterus. In the back of my middle school journals, I hid a list of girls who had already gotten their periods, according to recess gossip. I knew I was one of the last to start. The knowing held me like a map: You are here.

And now, we are deciding whether my uterus is only a diorama, an altar to something imagined, like those names in my seventh grade journal. We send fluid back, inward. I send small prayers with it. For a new map. Now for different reasons, but also the same reason—to be like the other girls.

The dye flushes deeper, into the fallopian tubes. Fallopian. It sounds as distant as an ancient civilization, until a flare of pain reminds me that Fallopian is within me. Part of my body. I had been tracing the X-Ray screen and wondering what languages they speak there, what weather they have.

The nurse breaks in to report: “Sometimes, we just need to clear the dust bunnies, to get the tubes to behave like they should.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, infertility, No Bullshit Motherhood

Dead Souls

November 13, 2016

By Alex Behr

A new year. January 2001. I went alone to the next IVF appointment in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, menstruating. Everything was mathematically planned out. I had been on the Pill for a month to regulate my ovaries, and now I’d stopped taking them. The doctor did an ultrasound in my bloody kootch. The nurse who took my blood to check for hormone levels said, “Hopefully it’s the last period you’ll have for a long time.”

“Thanks,” I said.

Though later, before I left, she said, “Everyone’s nervous the first time.” What did that mean? Was I doomed to failure? Yet she also said, “The lining of your uterus is thin. Everything looks good.”

The first set of injections would stimulate my follicles to produce more eggs than normal, and I would be monitored on an ultrasound, like any normal pregnant person, the follicles looking like the underside of a psychedelic mushroom, open to new life.

At home, though, Sam and I got in another fight. “If I get a shit job I’ll be too depressed,” Sam said. Continue Reading…

infertility, Guest Posts

Napalm Picnic

September 22, 2016

By Alex Behr

Note: Names have been changed.
I picked up the thermometer by the bedside table and shook it. Every day I took my temperature and recorded it on grid paper, trying to determine when I was ovulating. Sam and I lived in a Victorian split long ago into an apartment on each floor. Our bedroom was off the kitchen, with a tall, gated window covered by a curtain I’d sewn.

My primary care person, a nurse practitioner in San Francisco’s Castro District, had told me for years not to worry, but I did. The notebooks I stored in a suitcase in the closet were filled with my fears. My FSH levels were normal—I was new to infertility-related acronyms. I never said that word, infertility, in my mind. I was way too superstitious and optimistic. Basically, normal FSH levels meant I wasn’t struggling too hard to produce the follicle-stimulating hormone necessary for ovulation.

Every annual checkup, I’d walk past the stacks of HIV prevention pamphlets in the office and lay down for this nurse practitioner. She told me my breasts felt good—soft and healthy—almost like she was evaluating their allure. I put my feet in terry-cloth-draped stirrups so she could feel my uterus. Good, good. No STDs. Regular sex. Healthy. Good genes. No problemo. She massaged my breasts for nonexistent lumps and said, “There’s a population crisis.” Who was I but one more woman adding to the problem? She said, “You’ll get pregnant.”

After three years of hearing me worry, she told me to get a test to see if my tubes were blocked. I’d never heard of tubes damming up, much less this test.

The thermometer hit the edge of the bedside table and broke, shattering glass. Tiny silver spheres tapped across the wood floor. I swore and knelt down to dab them in a Kleenex, feeling like I was bringing bad luck to myself—to my body—mercury poisoning was not good for primping the body for pregnancy.

I wanted this blood token. I wanted a baby of my blood—of Sam’s blood. Make something of our misfit lives. I was well-rounded and grieving each month. Drip. Stain.

Motherhood wasn’t a desire out of frustration, but a longing from childhood, from kindergarten, at least, when I echoed my mom in a drawing: she had her baby in a baby carriage (my sister); I had my baby doll. An introvert so shy that I didn’t speak in kindergarten, standing in the room, not joining the finger-painters and the tights-wetters, I always knew I would be a mom one day. I would create a blood tribe for comfort and silliness and intimacy.

I printed out the driving directions to Kaiser from the front room of our flat. The dial-up modem buzzed and fussed by my computer. I wanted to slide up to Sam, feel his warmth, and have sex. Instead, I picked up an invoice from my desk and killed a silverfish.

At Kaiser I saw pregnant women throughout the waiting room, as if they were my personal mocker, as if I sat in a room of Pulitzer-prize-winning authors with stringy hair and bad skin wearing pink hoodies and sweats with white stripes up the sides. Kaiser accommodated us all. We weren’t San Francisco’s brightest and finest, just women struggling in our bodies. It was 2000, but I’d dropkicked the diaphragm and sperm killer in 1997, having finally convinced Sam to try to get me pregnant—that everything would work out—that we could still play music, and he could still do kung fu; he’d have plenty of time for himself.

I waited for my name to be called. I knitted a green blanket for the baby I knew would happen if I tried hard enough. I was always poised to have my name called, as any delay in putting my yarn away or picking up my purse would cause them to move on to someone else in the waiting room, someone with life inside her.

Sam, wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and Converse sneakers, waited in a plastic seat. I picked up his hand and ran my finger over the homemade tattoos he’d given himself as a teen-age punk. The two tiny lines were markers of good luck to me. The nurse called my full name, “Alexandra Behr?”

Sam said, “Do you want me to come with you?”

“No, stay here,” I said.

I held my arms together against Sam’s chest, and he wrapped his arms around me. What if the nurse left without me? What if she called someone else? “Watch my stuff,” I said.

“Good luck,” he said.

I left Sam and walked through the doors to go through an infantalization process: stripping and putting on a blue poly/cotton covering that was large enough to accommodate me at nine months’ pregnant.

I was about to have radioactive dye injected through my vaginal canal and through the Fallopian tubes. Canal. That word reminded me of Venice, the murky waters. The romance. The pollution. All my eggs had existed in me since I was born on a snowy Easter weekend, but I wasn’t able to get pregnant and I didn’t know why.

Then on the examination table, I had the procedure—the HSG—the hysterosalpingogram. Hysteria in minutes, the dye forced up inside me, cramping. The X-ray test examined the hidden me. The outer me was one that some men had coveted. That I had filled with alcohol, with drugs, with lust, but in private, a rollicking party of two.

The X-ray machine took photos as the dye went its way, but the dye got dammed up. The cramping was intense. I winced and gritted my teeth. I felt like I was being raped by a thin, pressurized knife.

The doctor and his assistants—future infertility gurus—stood by my legs in stirrups, looking at the X-ray screen. I wasn’t the only patient in this room. Others were a curtain away. Nevertheless, the medical people discussed my most intimate parts. The uterus looked great, healthy! But they said the tubes were blocked. The egg couldn’t reach the sperm, those racing gray squiggles in life-science movies. They got stuck, stupid, unable to reach and pierce the membrane and start life.

The doctor pulled and prodded. On the monitor I saw tiny cauliflowers at the end of the uterus. Longhorns. The dye was trapped.

A nurse wiped the ultrasound goo off my abdomen and gave me a sanitary pad to hold between my legs. I got off the medical table, sobbing. I asked questions, wanting to write down the answers, but I was still naked except for the medical gown. I was not processing what the doctor was saying.

When I asked if the tubes were blocked, he said, smiling like a Simpsons’ cartoon character, “Ab-so-tute-ly!”

A friend had recommended this doctor, a man in his fifties with thinning hair and a pinched expression.

“You’re a textbook case for infertility,” he said.

I snotted up and dripped tears. How could I wipe them while holding the gown closed against my ass?

“Yucky news in the dot dot dot of getting pregnant,” he said. “Don’t think back on all the people you’ve been with—with all the recriminations.”

I shook all the way home, even with Sam’s arm around me. But I resented him, too. I felt I was talking him into being a parent. Badgering, as he’d say. He wanted to tour. He didn’t seem as upset as I was. I wondered, lying flat down on my bed, Maybe Sam would get his wish now, and never be a dad.

Barry Glassner writes in Culture of Fear about people’s use of “poignant anecdotes in place of scientific evidence.” Since my friend had gone to this fertility expert at Kaiser who had solved her miscarriage problems, I went to him, too.

For years, I’d been drenched in magical thinking: anyone who did become pregnant after initial difficulties was a role model for me—even though her circumstances (or her partner’s) might have been drastically different. People I confided in told me these stories all the time—they knew of a friend who went to Paris and got pregnant. The Eiffel Tower phallic cure? They tried to give my confidence, even though for years no one—including me—knew my tubes were blocked.

Only with me, the prayers and wishes hadn’t worked. The doctor told me not to blame all the men I had slept with, which, of course, was what I did—and blamed myself, too.

At home, I circled Sam in the kitchen. It was in the back of the flat. There wasn’t a lot of space between the table and the stove, the stove and the fridge, or the stove and the sink. The window gate was bolted to the frame of the six-foot window. The back hall in the alcove by the kitchen led only to the tiny bathroom or the back yard with walls on all sides. We were shut in by metal. Sam could escape only through the front door.

Sam did kung fu. His punches were strong and direct. His knuckles were swollen from doing pushups on them, and his biceps were huge. He punched the table, a wedding present. I jumped and my heart raced. “Why did you rush ahead and tell our families?” he yelled. He felt it was our secret, our problem. He wanted me to not tell anyone that my tubes were blocked, that we might have to do IVF.

“You never do anything,” I said, crying. My face was puffy.

“Why do you get mad at me when you say stuff like that?” he said. He walked out, slamming the front door.

Shaking, I knew I had hurt Sam’s feelings again. Sam knew I meant “never do anything” referred not only his career, but to the infertility problem. He wanted things to remain the same—renting at an undermarket rate from people who hated us, in the best city in the country. I wiped off my tears and walked to the front room, the former parlor, where I had my office. I wanted to research what was wrong with me. My desk was by tall, rattling windows and a built-in bench; streetlights shown through the space above the curtains. I didn’t know which way Sam had gone, but I knew he’d come back.

I stared at the computer screen, my breath stuck—sometimes I forgot to breathe. I didn’t want to be one of them, the infertile. I immediately thanked Billy, my boyfriend from the early 1980s, the second person I’d had sex with. I thanked him for my newly discovered blocked tubes. I’d met him when I was sixteen and a half. He was twenty-three.

Thank you. It was a bitter mantra. There’s no logic to blame. Just a sixth sense toward ignored symptoms on his part and trust on mine. Could I go there, or would I be a victim, stuck? Was I a victim, really, or just a nutty girl in love? If you drive to someone’s funeral, as I had, pretending to be a mourner with the headlights on, just to pursue a guy who gets you hot, well …

Billy had waited for me on a brick pathway outside the public library. He was visiting his old hometown—my hometown—a suburb of DC. I pulled down the hood of my winter coat, despite the sting of cold weather, drawn toward his interest in me. And what had I checked out to intrigue him? Maybe Vonnegut? Cat’s Cradle? He’d stolen books from the library. And what did he put under his coat? Something slightly subversive. Burroughs? Kerouac?

I gave him a ride in my parents’ car, a huge maroon Cadillac that my mom had inherited from her dad. His clothes smelled like exhaust fumes and pot smoke. He had long curly hair; we looked like twins. We drove past bare maple and oak trees whose trunks topped electric lines.

He was funny and worldly, and he pursued me with Sylvia Plath poems, stolen Kafka books, jokes about the Ayatollah Khomeini, and his bad boy stories of throwing snowballs at nuns in grade school and doing acid during high school football games. I didn’t tell my parents his nickname was “Billy Heroin.”

That winter, ice licking the branches of the oaks and maples, I got a fuzzy black sweater that I felt would arouse my new boyfriend, though I still had another boyfriend in college. I rarely washed it, fearing it would shrink. I was easy to seduce. I was skinny, wearing a cowl neck shirt, white painter’s pants, and clogs. My gas-permeable contact lenses often popped out, leaving me squinting. He wore boots, jeans and a black V-necked sweater, with curly hair poofing up the neck.

I was hyper. Young. Sixteen and a half. I blithely cheated on Fred, my first boyfriend, out in East Tennessee, because I was happier having sex with someone else—someone more experienced and more deviant. Billy was a community college dropout. I was applying to colleges, getting high before the SATs to skewer my chances of Ivy League schools. I didn’t like standardized tests.

Billy had a fondness for the perverse—debasement, annihilation—very smart but distracted, hitchhiking up and down the East Coast from his older sister’s one-bedroom apartment in the Lower East Side to my hometown near DC, where he crashed in his friends’ loft, a dark, dank slab of wood strewn with sleeping bags. I spent many hours in the loft. I spent my babysitting money treating him to greasy slabs of pizza and colas. I pretended he looked like Jim Morrison, but his nose had been broken too many times in street fights.

Once we went up to New York City and he said, “I know the color of my boss’s sheets.” Fidelity wasn’t a strong point.

At sixteen and seventeen and eighteen and nineteen, through various breakups and reconciliations, I made sure, with my babysitting money, that Billy had enough money for a cab license, for a black leather jacket with vanity zippers, for a black onyx ring. I didn’t care that he refused to wear a condom. I was too loaded on pot or mushrooms or synthetic mescaline or hash or wine and teen-age pheromones to care.

Now, the night after the Fallopian tube test, with Sam still out, I used my dial-up modem to research what had likely gone wrong when I was a teen in the early 1980s and lacked easy access to doctors. I wanted to infer how I’d failed my body.

From Billy, I’d gotten human papillovirus, HPV, in high school. There was no Planned Parenthood in my hometown, if I even knew one existed. The guys bought the condoms, and whether they used them or not was mostly up to them. Birth control pills, diaphragms, IUDs: out of the question. I never talked to my mom about my needs.

I paid to see a doctor in my hometown out of my allowance and babysitting money. My disease was shameful and disgusting, so shameful I told no one except doctors and future lovers, though the virus had then died out, done its harm.

In 1985 I had an abnormal pap smear, caught in time so those cells could be frozen and not develop into cancer. I thanked Billy for that illness, too. But the doctors assured me after freezing off precancerous cells that I would be fine, that I could still get pregnant.

I read more online, feeling nauseous. Chlamydia could cause blocked Fallopian tubes. Maybe Billy had given me that, too? I might not have had symptoms, or might have thought—just a bladder or yeast infection—awful but temporary—leaving no lasting damage, like a cold. I’d had a few over the years. The nurses on the phone just told me to get over-the-counter medicine.

I was separate from my body, not wanting to acknowledge a problem. I had wanted to split lust from duty, obligation, habit, tasks, and now I couldn’t. The dye had pressed hard enough to try to force the tubes open, but they refused.

Billy had overlapped relationships and stuck his lovers into little cubbyholes of disease. The sex-advice columnist Dan Savage has a stock phrase about how older lovers should treat younger lovers: they should view the relationship like a picnic, and when the relationship ends, leave the campsite area in better shape than when they found it.

Billy, the second person I had sex with, the person who should have left a clean campsite, instead (I believed) hosted a napalm picnic on my body. My tubes were blocked, laced with adhesions. But I had to forgive them, the tubes I was born with, the tubes that failed.

The funny thing, the ha ha ha ha thing, was there weren’t that many lovers in my past, and it could’ve just taken one. Viruses infected millions of us. They had the knack. Condoms could’ve stopped them. But as a default, I had to choose one person to blame beyond my stupidity, and in my heart it was Billy’s fault.

Our bedroom was tiny, the back of our five-room flat. The curtains I’d made were always shut against our neighbors across the alley. It was the quietest room, farthest from Waller Street. Our roommate had moved out years before, so we’d moved into his room, off the large kitchen.

I drank a beer. I heard the door open. Soon Sam would come to bed with me and his warmth and breathing, sleeping, snoring sounds would end the day. In my futon bed, with my knees curled up against me, I listened to a NPR radio report on the Lockerbee, Scotland, terrorist attack: about the bodies being hurled through space from the airplane. Two girls were found strapped to their seats, their arms around each other, and their fingers crossed.


Alex Behr is a writer and musician in Portland, OR. “Napalm Picnic” is an essay from her unpublished memoir. Other memoir pieces have appeared inNailed, Oregon Humanities, Watershed Review, Lumina, and Propeller. Her fiction has appeared in Word Riot, Portland Review, Propeller, and VoiceCatcher,and two stories were performed in LA as part of the New Short Fiction Series. 
Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

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Check out Jen Pastiloff in People Magazine!

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Family, Fear, Guest Posts, healing, infertility, The Body, Women

This Is Infertility

October 12, 2015

By Hillary Strong

“There they are!”  Betty, the technician, proclaims.

I blink. I stare at my husband. We both give her tight smiles. She’s wondering why I’m not crying. Not just crying, but ugly crying, where snot pours down my face, and I need an entire box of Kleenex to mop up the emotional refuse. She’s wondering why I’m not breaking out the horns and streamers, dancing naked while strewing confetti all over the exam room, watching it fall like snow over the stirrups, the tubes of Vaseline and boxes of Latex gloves, eventually drifting down to the bleach infused tiled floor.

She’s moving the wand around and gesturing towards the screen that to me looks like two Rorschach blots encased in static. My husband is squinting at the monitor. “What do you see?” I want to ask him. “A unicorn? A spider? Two caterpillars?

“You must be excited” Betty says, as she slides out the ultrasound wand that had been shoved into me with robotic efficiency. “Scoot your butt down, legs open, no down further, knees apart”, Betty had choreographed the weird dance of our weekly appointment minutes earlier. “What no flowers? I thought. “No dinner?” Just wham, bam, intravaginal ultrasound. Betty takes off her plastic gloves, drops them into the trash, and scribbles on my chart. “I will print out some photos for you guys to keep,” and with a click of a button, my uterus and its contents appear in neat, glossy, squares curling unto themselves like the receipt from a cash register.

“I’ll let you get dressed,” she says, and the door clicks shut.  Only then does my husband place his hand in mine, our fingers chilled from the air conditioning, and we stare at the pictures, poring over them like they are people we should know but can’t recognize.  It’s like she placed an enormous chocolate cake in front of us, and we told ourselves we could take a tiny little taste of the icing.  It feels decadent and a bit taboo and as our eyes pore over embryonic images of our children, we savor the deliciousness, for we know it could be as fleeting as sugar on the tongue.

I’m staring at a signed poster of Bruce Springsteen. It’s Born in the U.S.A., Bruce. White t-shirt, blue jeaned, red capped, Bruce.  Fighting the good fight. “I’m clothed now, so at least I’m not disgracing the flag”, I say aloud, and consider it a victory when my husband smiles and shakes his head slightly. I stare at the plastic vagina on the desk in front of me, and resist the urge to open and shut it, make it talk, like a puppet. Months ago, it might have been an elephant in the room, something that would have made my husband and I snicker like prepubescents in health class, or if playing the bourgeois, something that would have been examined like a coffee table book. Now, after months of being indoctrinated with anatomy lessons we hadn’t exactly volunteered for, I regard it like a paperweight or desk lamp. Continue Reading…