by Kathleen Murphey
I see the blood, and I start to cry. “Again! It just isn’t fair,” I scream in my head in between sobs. My period had been late yet again—today was the fifth day—so not pregnant again. This is the fourth time. I feel so much guilt and shame and outrage. It is really confusing. I feel guilty and ashamed because this is what women do—they have babies. And I am not having a baby, not getting pregnant. Will Jack understand? Will he still want me if I can’t do this for him? Some part of me knows that I am being irrational, but I don’t understand what is wrong with me. The birds and the bees—this is just basic biology—but apparently, not for me.
And I am mad as hell. I did all the right stuff. I started taking birth control at sixteen. No unplanned pregnancy for me. I finished high school, went to college and then graduate school, waited to find the right guy and get married, and waited to get a full-time permanent teaching job. I worked so hard to put all the pieces in place so that we can start a family—but I can’t get pregnant or stay pregnant. Being a 28-day Jane, I know that something happened each of those times I was late. I was pregnant and then not. And I thought they said that you couldn’t be a little bit pregnant. Apparently, I can, just not fully pregnant. Mad and more guilt. Did I wait too long? At 30, am I too late? Somehow, did all that birth control make me infertile? Did I do something fundamentally wrong, and this is cosmic karma punishing me? But I am a nice person. It just isn’t fair. The media makes it look so easy. Female actors and celebrities pursue their careers in their twenties and thirties, and then, at their convenience, it seems, they pop out babies in their late thirties and early forties. They make the headlines and the tabloids. It makes it look so easy. No one talks about infertility treatments, the injections, IVFs, the difficulties and the disappointments. I pull it together and put a tampon in.
It is a beautiful spring day, warm and sunny, but not too hot for May as I make my commute to school. It is warm enough so that people are in shorts and not wearing jackets, so you can see their bodies. I don’t think I ever really paid attention before, but now that I can’t get pregnant, it seems like all I see are pregnant women with their stomachs bulging with those growing babies. And I feel evil, because I am jealous and affronted at the same time. I want a swollen belly of my own, and each of theirs is like a personal taunt that they can do what I can’t. They’re being pregnant is proof that they are real women and I am not.
All Jack’s sisters have children, Jillian, Liz, and Karen. He’s the only boy, so the Griffin family name dies with him if we can’t have a boy. It just makes me more miserable. And no one talks about it. No one. It is this shameful secret. I am not even sure the problem is all on my end. Could Jack mean this isn’t happening for us? How do I even talk to him about that? I mean doesn’t even suggesting that imply that I am questioning his manhood? I mean manhood is all tied to sperm and virility, isn’t it?
And we are thirty, and so are all our friends, and they all seem to popping out babies faster than rabbits. Maybe I am just imagining it. Five years ago, it seemed like there was a bridal shower or a wedding every other weekend, and now it is one baby shower after another. It is making me sick. I just lied to the latest invitation and said that I couldn’t attend Sharon’s up-coming shower. I just couldn’t face it. The cute little gifts and clothes. I could just picture myself breaking down and crying. And could you imagine the reaction? They would be appalled. I would seem petty and insensitive. Sharon’s big day, and I am basking in self-pity and only thinking of myself.
The other day, I was listening to the radio, and I really heard the words of the song: “It’s so hard when it doesn’t come easy/It’s so hard when it doesn’t come fast/It’s so hard when it doesn’t come easy/So hard.” The Dixie Chicks were talking about me! About them. At least, one of them had been through this! It made me cry with relief and with gratitude. Someone was giving voice to what I couldn’t. Someone was talking about the unspeakable. Despite the guilt and the shame that infertility causes, those voices were belting it out for everyone to hear: “It felt like a given/Something a woman’s born to do.” But they can’t, or one of them can’t, and I can’t, and “It’s so hard.”
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Kathleen Murphey is an Associate Professor at Community College of Philadelphia. She had her first play performed as part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, P Pan and Beyondland, with performances at the German Society of Pennsylvania on Saturday, September 15th and Sunday September 16th, 2018. More information can be found at her website, www.kathleenmurphey.com.