We made a ritual of it. My husband would perform his sacred duty while I waited in the lobby, and then we would head to the hospital cafeteria. We would joke and speculate about the other couples over burnt coffee and powdered eggs, while the clinic prepared the sperm sample and removed the least promising swimmers. The idea behind I.U.I. is to insert the high-performing sperm directly into the uterus via catheter so the sperm and egg virtually have no barriers to their rendezvous. How could it not result in a pregnancy — it’s science, right?
After each insemination, I would put on my uniform and go back to work like nothing happened. But my mind would be racing as I sat at my desk, wondering if we had just conceived our first child. What if I didn’t lay there on the table long enough, I would think. The fourth time, Mike came into the room with me. It seemed like a good opportunity for him to observe what a gynecological exam is really like. His eyes widened at the sight of the forceps. But really I wanted him there in case it worked. Then we could say we were both in the room when we finally conceived.
We did this six times. Every month my period came was devastating. I had two more early miscarriages, while it seemed as if everyone I knew was becoming pregnant, and with the greatest of ease. Mike and I debated whether we should stop trying with I.U.I. and opt for the more expensive I.V.F.
I was emotional and bloated all the time, barely able to make weight and maintain the Army’s fitness standards because some days I couldn’t get out of bed from months of fertility drugs. Whenever I stumbled on an internet troll suggesting that women use pregnancy to get out of a deployment, I would be sent into a blind rage. I tried my hardest to plan a pregnancy while on active duty, to be able to use the benefits I had earned, but it never happened. I left the Army in January.
Shortly after, the first cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed in the United States. The decision of whether to move forward with I.V.F. was made for us. Walter Reed paused most fertility treatments. I became mostly concerned with how to keep from getting sick and how the radio show I helped produce would continue if the station had to close. Pregnancy drifted further and further from my mind every day.
The last day before our radio station went totally remote, I was rummaging through my medicine cabinet for a new tube of toothpaste when the bright pink wrapper of my last pregnancy test caught my eye. It was a reminder of our infertility, so I wanted it gone. But I also didn’t want to waste it, so I peed in a cup, dipped it in and hopped in the shower.
Rushing around the bathroom to get ready, I glanced down at the test. It read “Yes” in all capital letters, and I gasped. This had to be a mistake, I thought. The whole bus ride to work I frantically Googled articles about false positives and convinced myself the results were not reliable.