A Place At The Table

In vitro fertilization wasn’t for me. Until it was.

August 2012

I can write this now, now that the sting has subsided and I hold the reward in my arms. The weight of our baby girl against my chest and the powdery smell of her skin has turned three turbulent years into whispers. My heart hums when I feel the grasp of her fingers. Her tiny head, capped with hair the color of shiny pennies, fits inside my cupped palm. She is a miracle, our miracle. We gave her a family name: Georgia.

We always knew we wanted to have two children—I just had no idea what it would take to arrive at a complete family. Our first child, Ella, was conceived easily. Although I didn’t enjoy the pregnancy—I never got used to having my swollen belly on display—I relished the reward. Ella grew quickly: It seemed like mere moments had passed as we transitioned from nighttime feedings to moving the baby swing and the ExerSaucer to the basement. We set up the high chair. We celebrated milestones: first words, the pincer grasp that delivered single peas to her mouth, the halting steps that foreshadowed walking. We pulled the high chair up to the dinner table and ate together. We were a family. Still, an empty chair seemed to wave at us from across the table. The equation was incomplete; there was room for one more child.

It was the second baby who gave us unexpected trouble and toppled our laissez-faire world. While we quietly struggled to overcome three miscarriages in one year, we had everyone—acquaintances, coworkers, grocery clerks—smile and ask us about number two, or, worse, recommend that we speed things along so that there wasn’t too much of an age gap. I choked down those well-meaning comments and my silent responses like bitter medicine.

It was the doubt—what if we can’t?—that became a paralyzing, emotional black hole. It hardened us. After the first miscarriage (surely a fluke, we thought), we had a positive pregnancy test, and yet we couldn’t—we wouldn’t—let ourselves begin the dreaming, the wonderment of who that little being might become. After the second loss, and then the third, any semblance of excitement was soaked in dread. Was there a heartbeat? For how long would it beat?

We had some answers, but those too were fraught with sorrow. Tissue testing concluded that the first two fetuses, a male and then a female, had chromosomal abnormalities “inconsistent with life.” The results were inconclusive with the third pregnancy (another female), but we assumed the same. It was frightening that our respective cells could combine to create such severe aberrations. We had our blood tested and our DNA unraveled. No deviations. Again and again we asked the questions “Why?” and “How?” There were no answers onto which to hang our distress. Instead, I was deemed a “habitual aborter,” a searing and obtuse medical term. The black hole widened and swallowed us. Could we bear another attempt and endure another loss?

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