For the past year, I’ve been researching a book on the ways radical fertility treatments are transforming American families. I’ve learned that infertility strikes 10 to 12% of the human population, regardless of age, income, race, ethnicity and gender. Gay men, virgins, nuns, sexually active teenagers – they all can be infertile.
In the 33 years since the first “test tube” baby was born, medical diagnoses and advancements have snowballed. I’ve memorized the following terms: transvaginal ultrasound aspiration, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, luteal phase defect, electroejaculation. I recently attended a convention devoted to the $10 billion global infertility “industry.” I know now that desperate couples can easily spend over $100,000 just to get pregnant.
What’s been most eye-opening, however, is that the infertility quest is focused, nearly 100%, on achieving pregnancy. Not on birth of a healthy baby. Not on children. Not on parenthood. When you cannot get pregnant, victory becomes skewed: the single, solitary goalpost is the two colored lines on the pregnancy test.
Which makes me wonder: when getting pregnant becomes so draining that you are forced to use up much of your emotional reserves just getting to the first trimester, how do you later have enough strength and psychological fortitude to raise the child?
In the midst of wallowing knee-deep in fascinating and at times revolutionary remedies for sterility, I received a reminder that parenthood is not about medical treatments. It’s not even about pregnancy.
Wednesday night. 1:03 am. My 12-year-old daughter woke me up.
“Mom, ahm havin trupple wit my wips,” she managed to say.
I scrambled out of bed and into the bathroom. In the harsh glare of the mirrored lights her mouth looked like a sitcom Botox job gone psycho. Her upper lips were swollen to the size of two large Tootsie rolls.
“My troat feels swollen too,” she said. She put her hands around her windpipe to demonstrate.
Anaphylactic shock. Her second episode in two weeks. A life threatening reaction to an unknown allergen. I knew from past experience with other allergic family members that her throat could swell quickly enough to suffocate her.
I called 9-1-1. An ambulance took us both to our nearby children’s hospital. Epinephrine was administered intramuscularly, stopping the allergic reaction. We stayed for another eight hours for observation, since a second allergic response can be common and equally life-threatening. The doctors had no idea what had caused these two extreme, dangerous reactions in my otherwise healthy daughter.
Still at the hospital, I watched her sleep, exhausted from the trauma, the drama, and the life-saving medication. She lay in a child-sized hospital bed that was too small for her 5’7 frame. She’s taller than I am. She shops at Victoria’s Secret. She can take the subway and a taxi alone. Other parents pay her to babysit.
But I am still the one she wakes in the middle of the night.
The one night it took to conceive her and the nine months it took to gestate this girl are long-distant memories. The hours of labor it took for her to be born are foggy as well. But I still have a lifetime to go before I’m “done” parenting her.
No matter how difficult it is to get pregnant, no matter how many thousands of dollars you spend, pregnancy remains the beginning of the journey. Not the end. The biggest challenges come after the babies are born. And I’m still not sure when they end.