My cousin the nun was confident her spiritual advisor could help me get pregnant. I’m a reluctant Catholic, but after five years of trying to have a baby, I figured Father Ralph’s prayers couldn’t hurt. He offered sunny, if generic, words of comfort in his office. I’m not a church scholar, but knew not to mention my in vitro treatments and answered “No” to his puzzling inquiry into whether I’d been exposed to the dark arts. I even agreed to a special blessing in the chapel where Father Ralph anointed my fertility-drug bloated belly with holy oil and chanted a prayer to exorcise my womb.
As I left, he assured me success with future treatments. His wink indicated he was hip to my faith in science. I wondered how Father Ralph’s approach was different from my grandmother’s stories of back in her day when all ailments, female and otherwise, were treated by special teas made by the village woman who knew about such things.
It’s hard to admit that my desperation has raised my tolerance for things I would have regarded as crazy five years ago. It seems another lifetime, those hopeful days when my husband and I first visited the top-ranked fertility clinic. The specialist diagnosed my infertility as “unexplained” and recommended in vitro fertilization. The clinic’s success rates were high and I was still young-ish, but our belief in the promise faded with each failed attempt.
Time left our side and began to work against us, and I became more receptive to suggestions from friends. I ate avocados and other womb-shaped foods, as instructed by a fertility diet to which a co-worker credited her two sons. I visualized my uterus as lush and cushy while having acupuncture needles inserted. To help nature along, I contorted myself into “receptive” sexual positions a friend had described in hushed tones. How much crazier was having my womb anointed and exorcised by Father Ralph?
The prescribed hormones and fertility drugs may have intensified my desperation, too. The only constant throughout every in vitro cycle is the unpredictable behavior caused by the injections and tablets. They’ve made me cry after yelling at a slow elevator. It’s not a stretch to think they may cause me to look for hope in a church. Some days, that’s what unhinges me most: that such an exact approach has only delivered disappointment.
During every in vitro cycle, I adhere to a schedule of carefully timed and calibrated medications to grow eggs for individual extraction and fertilization. What seems craziest of all is each embryo is not patted into its own special spot, like the seeds I planted in grade school. I visited each little cup on the school windowsill daily, waiting for the first green speck in the moist dirt. At the end of each in vitro cycle, it’s not like that at all. The embryos are reinserted through my cervix with the medical equivalent of a turkey baster, shot through a catheter by a squeeze bulb the doctor holds in her hand.
In the end, it all comes down to blowing those embryos like weightless wishes into the dark void of my womb. Then waiting – and hoping – for the best.