One of the most remarkable things about this process is that you see it all happening from a very early stage. We had our first round of ultrasounds when the baby was smaller than a grape and we had three more before people would normally get their first. It’s amazing to see the progress all the way from the tiny beginnings, but it’s also a quick launch into the world of fear and stress because you know something is growing in you (or your partner) much sooner than you might have otherwise.
When we went to the previously mentioned social worker appointment we talked about how the stress of trying to get pregnant would lead straight into the stress of being pregnant, and then you have the kid and finally your stress is over. Just kidding.
The anticipation of getting pregnant was no exception to the worrying. In fact, anxiety for us started from the very moment the insemination was over. All of a sudden we were left with the important life question: should I drink?
I know what you’re thinking. Of course you wouldn’t drink when you might have a baby growing inside of you. What kind of alcoholics are you anyway? We thought the same thing at first and had numerous conversations about the implications of having a drink. We really were talking about one, simple drink too. We nobly decided that there was no real reason to risk it with a drink, especially because it’s such an easy thing to forfeit.
But we were knocked from our high horse pretty damn quickly after a few months of planning our entire lives around Katie’s menstrual cycle. The process goes a little like this: you have your period, you wait a few days and then you start peeing on a stick daily to determine when you’re ovulating. When you are, you go into the doctor’s office and get inseminated. Then you wait a couple days until the projected day your period is supposed to start, go to the doctor’s for a pregnancy blood test (usually after it has already started so you know the disappointing answer), you feel dejected, possibly cry, and then you get over it because you have to start counting the days until you get to pee on an ovulation stick again to start over. It’s a lot of steps, but this is the simplest possible version of the process with no hormone injections, egg harvesting, or embryo freezing.
In my tiny mind I thought we’d just keep trying until it worked. I didn’t realize we’d constantly be on the clock. And even though there’s a semblance of a schedule for all of this, including an app that will help you track your body’s timing, there is a lot of life that still demands to be squeezed in while you’re balancing all of it. Adding to our situation was the fact that, plan as we might, Katie didn’t seem to ovulate unless we were visiting my family out-of-town during a major holiday. At first you make excuses about why you have to leave early, but eventually we caved and had to tell people what we were racing to do early on Easter morning.
After all of the running around, the one thing you can really use at this point is a drink. It was hard not to sympathize with Katie, the one actually enduring this process physically, when she asked me guiltily if I thought it was okay to have a drink. You don’t want to do anything to harm a baby, but at the same time, when is it even a baby? If no pregnancy tests can detect it yet, does it count? In some ways it did, because we knew it was possible that something was growing inside of her. But on the other hand, completely putting your life on pause during a process like this seemed unrealistic too. We found ourselves drudging up as many stories we could of straight people who hadn’t known they were pregnant until after big drinking sessions. Their kids had turned out fine, so why not assume that one beer a couple days after an insemination wouldn’t cause any harm?
I say the word “we” a lot because I was involved in the conversations, but I was always acutely aware that it wasn’t my body. Katie was very open to letting me have a say in the decision, but the worst part was knowing that it didn’t matter because no matter how much we talked about it, ultimately I had no control—it wasn’t my body. No control is always scary, but in this case it was not having control of something that is partly yours simply because it’s being housed in something that isn’t. It made me wonder what couples do when the father is adamant about some kind of behavior that affects the baby, such as eating organic, if the mother isn’t into it. It makes you feel like a possessive freak to even have an opinion on the matter. I was lucky that Katie and I were so often on the same page, but if we hadn’t been I would have had to find a way to get onboard.
At times not having control could also be freeing, because we never made a clear-cut decision about drinks. Instead, Katie was left to make a decision by how she felt each moment. I supported her if she wanted a drink and supported her if she didn’t, but even if I wanted to I knew that I didn’t have the final say. We proceeded with a basic guideline that an occasional drink was okay, but it was never a decision that was made lightly or without guilt afterwards. I could see that even as I watched safely from the outside.