In Sickness & Health
I was sitting on my in-law's couch when I got the call. We had just finished a belated Christmas lunch, four steaming bowls of shrimp, sausage, potatoes, and corn gone in the blink of an eye. My husband and I were goofing around with a remote-controlled toy helicopter his father had received as a gift. A sweet black cat lay at my feet, curled like a comma in the middle of a phrase, as if he already knew we would end up bringing him home. I was in the middle of a laugh when I felt my phone buzz.
The number wasn't stored in my directory, but I knew exactly who it was. I'd committed it to memory involuntarily after seeing it pop up so many times over the course of several weeks. Joy drained out of me like something inside had come loose, and my chest tightened with dread. "I have to take this," I said, pushing the remote control for the helicopter into my husband's lap. He frowned and nodded as I rushed into the kitchen.
"Your progesterone is too low," the nurse on the other end said. "It needs to be 10 and yours is 5.7."
My answers to her questions and directions came out in a hurried jumble, and more than once I had to stop and apologize for interrupting. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I registered what she was telling me to do—take twice as much letrozole next month, call to schedule a follicle check and a progesterone blood test as soon as my new cycle started—but echoing through my mind was one singular thought:
Not good enough. Still not good enough.
With progesterone levels that low, I would most likely miscarry if by some miracle I'd ovulated. My biggest fear is never being a mother, but in that moment the thought of my body's ineptitude causing my child's death petrified me. For the first time in over a year, I found myself praying I wasn't pregnant. (I wasn't.)
I paced the kitchen a few times and took deep breaths before making a reappearance in the living room. I tried to smile, but I could feel the expression fall flat, and I was glad everyone was too caught up in a conversation to notice. When there was a lull, I tugged on my husband's arm, whispered to him what I'd learned and explained where we went from here. He listened intently, squeezed my hand, murmured words of encouragement. I don't remember what they were, only how they made me feel—how his words always make me feel. Less despair, more hope.
A few weeks ago the two of us were lying in bed, unwinding before we allowed ourselves to drift off to sleep. "Hey," I said, sitting up a little and setting my phone (Kindle app blazing) aside. "How do you feel about this whole infertility thing? Are you okay?"
Whether this is true of all men or not I cannot say, but my husband despises feeling useless. His immediate response in a crisis is to buckle down and find a solution. I've watched him take apart toilets and refrigerators and parts of car engines with nothing but a tool box and determination, and he always finds his way to the other side—it's a big part of why I love him. So as the one-year mark of us trying to conceive approached, I worried about the emotional toll this particular problem was taking on him. After all, he can't very well take a torque wrench or a flathead screwdriver to my ovaries and convince them to do their job (although if it were a possibility, I would trust him with them in a heartbeat—he's that good).
But he just smiled and brushed a few stray hairs from my forehead. "The way I see it, this is affecting you way more than it is me. You're the one with PCOS. You're the one going to extra doctor's appointments and having uncomfortable tests done and taking medicine with crazy side effects. I figure you're going through enough without having to listen to me whine about my feelings. I'd rather just focus on taking care of you."
Thinking about that moment brings tears to my eyes. It's not that I would have been disappointed or annoyed if he'd answered otherwise, if he'd vented a little about how frustrated he was with this Sisyphean process we've found ourselves trapped in. I know how hard infertility can be for men, even (and perhaps especially) when they aren't the factor. But his response, so understanding and inherently selfless, made me feel so incredibly safe. Safe and, above all, loved.
It was the same feeling I had when we exchanged our wedding vows almost four years ago. I'd never seen his face so solemn or sincere. As he repeated every line, his grip on my hands tightened, the expression in his eyes intensified. He meant every word he said that cold, wet March afternoon, and every day we spend on this journey is a chance for him to prove it.
Infertility is terrible. If I had a worst enemy, I wouldn't wish it on them for a moment. But if this is the path I have to walk, I couldn't have picked a better companion. No matter what happens, I know he will take care of me, in sickness and health.