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Excerpt for Babies by the Litter by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Babies by the Litter

going from nothing to everything in less than sixty seconds


A memoir of infertility to quadruplets

with love, loss, and laughter along the way by

CHERI GILLARD

Copyright © 2018 Cheri Gillard

All rights reserved. This ebook, including all photos, is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please visit your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Published by Smashwords in the United States, www.cherigillard.com


Cheri Gillard, 1962–

Babies by the Litter: going from nothing to everything in less than sixty seconds | Cheri Gillard—Ebook edition.

Keywords: Personal Memoir | Infertility and Miscarriage | Pregnancy and Bed rest | Quadruplets and Higher multiples | Dating and Marriage | Parenting

ISBN: 9780463956076


Cover design by Spencer Gillard


In grateful appreciate to Cyndi, our NeeNee.

And

for all my children.

Now you have the whole story of us before you, and how you came to be ours.

CONTENTS


Introduction: Notes on Parenting

Chapter 1 The Birds and the Bees

Chapter 2 Notes on Being Abandoned

Chapter 3 The Bowling Alley

Chapter 4 Notes on Being Overstimulated

Chapter 5 The Valentine’s Special

Chapter 6 Notes on Being a Water Balloon

Chapter 7 The Unforgettable First Date

Chapter 8 Notes on Being Stunned

Chapter 9 The Broken Plans

Chapter 10 Notes on Being Determined

Chapter 11 The Boat Party

Chapter 12 Notes on Being Happily Nauseated

Chapter 13 The Engagement

Chapter 14 Notes on Being Pregnant

Chapter 15 The Wedding Celebration

Chapter 16 Notes on Being a Turnip

Chapter 17 The Chicago Life

Chapter 18 Notes on Being Relieved

Chapter 19 The Move to Homelessness

Chapter 20 Notes on Being Creative

Chapter 21 The Exit Plan

Chapter 22 Notes on Being Whisked Away

Chapter 23 The Luxurious Life

Chapter 24 Notes on Being Paralyzed

Chapter 25 The Wake-Up Call

Chapter 26 Notes on Being Rescued

Chapter 27 The New House

Chapter 28 Notes on Being Beyond Challenged

Chapter 29 The Potty Training

Chapter 30 Notes on Being Thirty-Two Weeks

Chapter 31 The Train Trip

Chapter 32 Notes on Being Parents

Chapter 33 The Snowman in the Kitchen

Chapter 34 Notes on Being Resolute

Chapter 35 The Big Bird Tragedy

Chapter 36 Notes on Being NICU Parents

Chapter 37 The Red Duffle Bag

Chapter 38 Notes on Being Discharged

Chapter 39 The Remembering

Chapter 40 Notes on Being Reunited

Chapter 41 The Gratitude

Color Photos

About the Author

Acknowledgements

Connect with the Author

INTRODUCTION



NOTES ON PARENTING


Parenting—a remarkable journey. I think I survived it. Though to think I’m finished would be shortsighted. Parenting never really ends, especially when your kids move back home when things don’t go as hoped with their plans. I’m just parenting differently from when they depended on me to have juice boxes at the park or put the head back on their toy that just fell off again. Part of parenting at this later stage is figuring out when it’s best to keep my mouth shut or finding extra cash somehow to help with their unexpected expenses. Part of it is trusting my offspring to choose well and to release them to carry the burden of worry for me. It’s different, but the role is still there. I can’t relinquish all concern, even if they’re under their own roofs, doing their own things, with me left out of the loop. I must find the balance. It’s so different from the days when I called all the shots, like planning what socks they’d wear and when they’d use the toilet.

Back when they were little, life was hectic and hard. But now looking back, I know it was good. I wish I could go back and cuddle my little babies. Now that they’re grown, it’s easy for me to yearn for the early days, those difficult days when I couldn’t wait for them to reach milestones so we could move on to something new. Each stage was so taxing, I just wanted relief. I didn’t really know—not really—how precious that time was. How fleeting. Of course, we always hear older, wiser people say how fast life goes, how we need to appreciate what we have when we have it, that “youth is wasted on the young” and all that. But how in the world can a mom who hasn’t slept much in months—or years even—who doesn’t know how she is going to get through another day of kids taking every ounce of energy, self-control, and nurturing that she can muster, how can she sit and relish the moment and know it’s precious when two of the kids are fighting again, another has a fever and just vomited all over her feet, and another’s diaper just blew a leak and messed her one pair of jeans that still fits? Life as a mom is tough. Who can relish it—until it’s all behind her?

Maybe the answer is in how we face each day. God was onto something when he penned, “Don’t worry about tomorrow; today is bad enough.” It goes something like that, anyway. It means take one day at a time. When you live that way, you don’t think about how fleeting the time is mothering your little ones. You’re in the moment, even if you’re just trying to survive. And maybe being in the moment is the best way, even if you’re so overwhelmed, you can’t possibly treasure the experience. That is unless they’ve just fallen asleep and you can breathe deeply for one minute. Amazing how sweet they look when they’re unconscious. But there is little time to linger. You have to move the wet clothes you forgot from the washer into the dryer and hope the dryer sheet is strong enough to cover the spoiled smell. After that, the kitchen and every crusted dish is calling your name. Those scarce seconds to treasure when they sleep are as fleeting as their dropped ice cream cone on a July sidewalk.

When my kids were toddlers, strangers would ask things that focused on future worries—trying to be helpful, no doubt.

“What are you going to do when they all start to drive?” they’d ask.

I’d smile—that smile I perfected for all those nice people who knew so much more than me—and explain that I’d prefer to spend today worrying about whether or not we’d find a public bathroom for my potty-users-in-training before they wet their Pull-Ups. I’d worry about driving when we got there.

Learning to drive seemed so far away at the time. Today it is indeed far away, but on the other side of Now. When they were toddlers, I couldn’t imagine my little darlings behind the wheels of vehicles—besides their ride-in fire truck that wore two parallel dirt ruts around the backyard lawn. I was too deeply immersed in the day-to-day activities that swamped me then. I was completely dedicated to the task of getting my children nurtured and prepared for launch one day, and doing that kept my mind from being able to comprehend ten or fifteen years into the future.

Raising children was certainly nothing like I’d ever thought it would be. But then again, I’m not sure how I thought it would be. Growing up and moving into young adulthood, I guess I assumed like so many girls that I would one day be a mom. It never crossed my mind to consider the involved difficulties, challenges, sacrifices, obstacles, disappointments—the list goes on and on of what I failed to consider. I focused on the ideal—the pretty picture of a beautifully composed postpartum mother sitting in a cozy rocker, cradling her contented newborn, a starry night outside the clean window, with peace and tranquility pervading the home. Back then I didn’t know mothers didn’t have clean windows.

There were times in my naiveté when I wanted five or six kids (what was I thinking?) and times when I wanted none (what was I thinking?), but I figured one day my husband and I would determine when we would have children, how many of them, and then we would proceed to accomplish our plan.

My, my. Such silly assumptions get blown away by reality, don’t they? And then stick a child or two into the equation. We grownups are unrealistic enough to believe we are in control until one of those little people—or even attempts to make them—enter our lives. I’ve heard women say things like, “Well, we’ve decided after we’ve been married three years, we’ll start our family. We’ll have three kids, and I want at least two girls, and I want them to be no more than two years apart—so good for playmates, you know—and we’ll live happily ever after.”

Reality check. Anybody who makes plans so specific, and then actually fulfills them, is nothing but plain lucky. These fortunate people get pregnant their first tries, have picture-perfect pregnancies, “easy” deliveries, and get babies who wouldn’t think of waking in the middle of the night. You know the type. When it happens to people who planned it, unfortunately, it reinforces the fallacy that they actually did it themselves, that they are making it happen.

Ha! It won’t take long though, once those little bundles of joy hit the scene, to learn it was an illusion. Parents have never been in control. People who think they’re running the show are delusional. Poor dears. They are victims, really. Statistically, someone’s got to have quick success—and the lot happens to fall to those poor suckers. Puts them at a disadvantage from the start, making them think they’ve got power, they hold the key, they call the shots. A difficult way to start parenting. It’s better to go in with your eyes open—’cause they’re probably going to stay that way for many nights to come.

When my husband, Jason, and I got married, we were silly enough to think we could plan to wait five years before having kids. As it turned out—totally by chance and a lot of hard work—we did have our children not too long after five years of marriage, but that was only after realizing we had fertility problems early on, and if we wanted kids at all, we’d better get a jump on it and start to work toward that end.

And work we did. And it paid off. We have four children—quadruplets—three boys and a girl. As they grew up, they were delightful, they were draining. They were ingenious, they were infuriating. They are blessings I wouldn’t trade for the world—but I might have loaned them out for an occasional night’s sleep.

Spencer holds the birthright and was proud of it when he was younger. He was firstborn by mere seconds. That was enough for him. He proclaimed early on that when Dad died, he’d be taking over the family and would be boss. That caused a little consternation among his siblings (not to mention with Dad).

His color is blue, and he will forever be associated with blue. I know that sounds strange, but each of my children has a color. By now, their DNA must surely have tinted to match their individual colors. The color assignments came about right after they got home from the hospital. I needed to know whose bottle belonged to whom because when I set down all the bottles for a round of burps, some were still three-quarters full while others had almost nothing left. For the second half of the feeding I needed to return the right bottle to the correct baby to ensure each got a full feeding. So I assigned them each a color right then. It was random. The bottles came in four main colors. Spencer happened to have a blue one at that moment, so blue became his.

With his blue clothes, blue toys, and blue everything else (though his disposition has never been blue), Spencer lived in a wonderful world. It wasn’t our world, but it seemed to be a very exciting one. His imagination was always in high gear. I overheard him playing sometimes, saying as just a five-year-old, “I crown thee king, poor squire, and place thee upon the throne of all England.” (When he played, he often spoke in the King James Version.) And then there was the time when he had no idea who that mysterious spy was who had galloped through the kitchen on his horse (when I just happened to be out of the room) and stole his homework and told him he would be forever cursed to even consider completing those evil worksheets. Alas, he was indeed a happy boy. And I was left wondering where that homework disappeared to. Today, his optimism is refreshing and a gift to me, not to mention an amazing asset as he faces the challenges millennials have these days achieving their dreams for job security and lasting relationships my own generation took for granted.

Pierce, the second in line to the throne, relinquished his position of power early on for a more peaceful kind of existence. From the time he was an infant, he sat back and watched the others play, quietly contemplating but frequently keeping at a safe distance (probably from Spencer’s unexpected sudden manifestations of medieval warriors or World War II troops).

Pierce actually has two colors, because we didn’t have enough purple bottles and not everything comes in purple, while yellow seems always to be an option. His easy-going nature allowed him to accept having both yellow and purple, instead of one of the colors his brothers got that is traditionally associated with the male gender.

His nose was often in a book—and still is to this day. Frequently after a day at elementary school, when the kids were milling around the house, I would eventually notice one was missing. (At least I always had them count off before leaving the school, so I knew everyone probably made it as far as the driveway.) The missing kid was Pierce, still in the car reading, unable to stop long enough to come inside. His sense of humor was sharp, and he got things so fast. At times when I mumbled some joke that was really for me alone (when I was talking to myself to give me the illusion I could still carry on an adult conversation), Pierce would give me a sideways glance and cute little grin and quietly remark, “That’s funny.” Now he’s transferred his love of story and literature, his insight and humor, to teaching English to high school students. When he gets home after a day of teaching, he can sit in his own driveway reading as long as he wants—until he needs to get busy grading papers, that is.

Molly is our daughter. Her color was easy to decide: red (or pink if necessary, though she preferred less dainty things than pink). Growing up, she was a little mother. When I lay down exhausted, she tended to me like an angel, brushing the hair from my forehead, asking what she could get for me. And that was when she was only three! She covered me with a blanket, rubbed my back, and brought me slippers. (Better than a puppy. And she was housebroken by then—more on that later.) In kindergarten on the playground, when she saw the other kids getting too rambunctious, she suggested to the playground monitor it might be a good idea to slow things down before someone got hurt. And if someone did get a scrape, she’d be there in an instant, checking to see that they were all right and to find out if they needed a band-aid. She came to me one day when Spencer was upset about something and told me before I talked to him, “Be extra careful with Spencer, Mom. He’s very tender right now.” She was only four. Now over two decades later, she still is a nurturing caregiver, one who is deeply, genuinely concerned and loving.

Charles, the youngest if you count seconds, is a passionate feeler. As a child, he was deep and mysterious. Often, neither he nor I was certain what was pressing at his conscience, and I had to help him explore what thoughts were hiding beneath the surface of his awareness, plaguing him or stirring him. When I heard his repeated deep sighs, I knew it was time to pursue some kind of intervention. Once when he was only five, he lamented—like the Apostle Paul had done in Romans 7—“Why do I keep sinning, doing what I don’t want to do? I know what I should do, but I don’t do it….” Really, I swear, he actually said that. This wasn’t spewing anything back that he had heard me say. I didn’t even know Paul had written about this to the church in Rome until I shared the story with some well-educated church lady at a moms’ group I went to. She asked me if I had consoled Charlie with Paul’s story. To have such insight! I’d been stammering for deep words of comfort like, “Oh, I bet Bert and Ernie have trouble keeping their toys picked up too.” True to his DNA, he remains a deep feeler, thinker, and a bit of a mystery. His perfectionism drives him forward; he must do well and accomplish as much as he possibly can. (Speaking of his DNA, Charlie’s color is green.)

The adventure of watching these four young fascinating beings grow into the complex adults that they now are has been an incredible ride and a blessing beyond expression. It’s been a pure delight and an amazing experience as I’ve penned this memoir to reflect on my children whom I once knew so well, little people I used to spend practically every single day with, day in and day out, for a solid eighteen years. What a process it has been to put together our story and recount the journey that brought us to where we are now. And what a journey it has been!

But I’m jumping ahead. Let’s go back, and I’ll tell you how it all started.

CHAPTER 1



THE BIRDS AND THE BEES


My children are test tube babies. That used to be pretty remarkable, but these days it’s not that uncommon. Now there are so many children resulting from the many new methods to get babies, the lessons don’t always apply anymore when you read educational books to your kiddos about special marriage hugs or cuddles that result in children. So often those particular hugs and cuddles fail miserably to produce a baby. And now, not only are there youngsters whose beginnings were in laboratories, but sometimes the babies don’t belong biologically to their dads, or even to the surrogates they grow inside of.

We’re fortunate enough that we can say our kids belong completely, utterly, and wholly to my husband and me. We were lucky enough that our doctor was able to use bits from each of us and to get them to work together to build a family for us. We just had to do it unconventionally. So from diapers to braces to car insurance to college tuition, they and their DNA have been all ours.

When they were young and curious, I wanted to do my best when the time came for the “Big Question.” You know the one. Where do babies come from? I was determined to be ready the first time they asked, “Mom, how do you make a baby?” I thought long and hard about how to address this issue ahead of time. The professionals tell us to be honest and straightforward. Books teach us to use anatomically correct language. Look them in the eye, and for heaven’s sake, don’t blush. We don’t want to start them out with the misconception that sexuality is something to be embarrassed about, now do we?

Almost looking forward to the opportunity, I was prepared to make healthy, well-adjusted little people of my children and to help them understand that, even though their conception was unusual, they were cherished. I didn’t want them to feel abnormal because they were conceived in a lab with Mom and Dad nowhere in sight. As a nurse, I was ready to use printed visual aids and vocabulary lists—anything that would help them learn the facts in the most comfortable, safe environment I could provide.

On the day the question first came up, it was at the dinner table. Of course it was at the dinner table. That’s where we’ve had so many of our family discussions. How natural for the kids to question the genesis of our very beings around mashed potatoes, peas, and chicken. With the potatoes as an ovum and peas as sperm, we had on our dinner plates all the tools I would need to demonstrate the physiological process of egg fertilization. When finished, we could even enter into a philosophical discussion about if the chicken came before the ovum or not.

So, when I looked out at four pairs of expectant eyes after the innocent yet meteoric question was uttered, trying to put together the words that would forever shape their impression of who and why they are…I chickened out.

“Well, you see, it was like this. Because things didn’t work right, I went to the doctor and he gave me lots of medicine. And Dad gave me shots everyday until my body made a bunch of eggs. When they were ready, I went into the operating room and the doctor took the eggs out of my body. Then he mixed them in a little dish with little parts, kind of like eggs, from Dad, and they joined up and made tiny little babies. They floated around for a few days in the little dish until they were strong enough, then I returned to the operating room and the doctor put them back inside me. Then they stayed there for the rest of the time until you were ready to be born. Then I went back into the operating room and the doctor cut my tummy open and took you out, and here you are. Now, eat your potatoes.”

That didn’t fly. I had to tell them more. Especially Molly. For the boys, after a few key questions were answered, they shrugged it off and restarted their discussion for plans to play in the backyard with their shovels after dinner. But with Molly, we had to have additional meetings afterwards just to begin to cover her endless questions. And believe me, her interrogation wasn’t satisfied until after I got out charts and graphs and did a lot of explicit explaining.

But to be honest, I wouldn’t have been satisfied either with some cockamamie story about a dish and some speck-sized babies swimming around. I would want to know, like Molly did, how did the doctor get the eggs out, how did he get them back in, and just what has Dad got to do with all this?

As test-tube babies, my children weren’t typically conceived, not by a long shot. No memorable romantic interlude to recall as the unquestionable moment that love and tenderness resulted in the creation of new life. Way too many people were involved in the process for intimate, private recollection. One day I was driving with my mother past the surgical center where I’d had the procedures that eventually resulted in my pregnancy. I said to her, “Hey, there’s the building where my kids were conceived. I bet there aren’t many people who can point to a public building and say that.”

With a mischievous smile, she answered, “Well, you never know….”

Omigosh! What was my mother revealing? She was teasing. Had to be. My mother? It was a joke, I’m sure of it. La la la, with fingers in my ears—as best as I could while still driving. I banished those thoughts, put aside any imaginings of what she might be suggesting, and I drove on, never mentioning such scandalous things again.

As expected, questions about the Birds and the Bees came up again later with my kids. More than once. One must offer as much, but not too much, of what a child is ready to hear, which inevitably prolongs the teaching process about procreation over many years. It’s important to offer information as they grow. Whether you like it or not. If you want well-rounded kids with healthy sexuality and identity, you have to keep talking about it.

I had to wonder after our initial lessons just what the kids took away from them. Though it’s probably easier to tell children everything when they’re young enough to shrug it off, not really grasping what you’re saying, they haven’t truly heard you until you get a reaction of some sort. I discovered, unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of retention when boys are busy trying to wolf down their chicken and mashed potatoes so they can get back outside and dig more holes in the backyard. But as time went forward, with the occasional opportunity, I filled in some blanks, including a few of the details of their own unusual conception because the conventional methods didn’t work for us.

One Advent season, a year or so after their initial inquiry, we had an unplanned pop quiz of sorts after church to check how well my teaching was going.

Our pastor Bill was preaching a sermon series over the month of December highlighting the different people who took part in the first Christmas story. The first Sunday of Advent, he told about the Virgin Mary and what she must have experienced when she encountered the angel and all that followed. He explained the Virgin Mary’s circumstances, the Virgin Mary’s probable age, and the Virgin Mary’s position in society. He described what it would have meant for this young woman, the Virgin Mary, to find herself pregnant without a husband. He talked us through what it might have been like for the Virgin Mary to have to break the news of her condition to Joseph, her fiancé.

About halfway through the sermon, after Pastor Bill had mentioned the word virgin at least 999 times, I leaned over to my friend and said, “My kids are going to want to know what a virgin is when we get home.”

She smiled and said with all the confidence of a mother with older kids, “A young girl. Just tell them it’s a young girl.”

I wasn’t as certain as she seemed to be that the “young girl” explanation was going fly, especially with Molly.

I didn’t have to wait long to find out that I was correct.

As the kids and I walked the corridor from the sanctuary toward the exit, about one half minute out of the service, the first of my children posed the question: “What’s a version?”

“A young girl.” He said no more. Phew. That was easy after all.

Then one who was up ahead came back and asked, “What’s a ver...ver...verjun, or whatever that was?”

“A young girl.” Two down.

Then Molly decided she wanted to know. And when Molly wants to know, Molly makes sure she finds out.

“What’s a virgin?”

“A young girl,” I tried.

“What do you mean? Dad said it was someone who hadn’t had children yet.”

Dang. He and I should have gotten our stories straight before we left the pews. Now I knew there would be no leaving it like that. But I wanted the freedom to speak freely and not be overheard by the church ladies standing at the coffee and cookie table.

“We’re almost to the car. I can tell you about it on the way home,” I said.

Jason had driven separately. I was on my own.

Once to the car, Molly sat up front to be sure she didn’t miss a single word.

I said, “Remember me telling you that when a couple has a Special Hug to show they love each other and to start a baby? Well, a virgin is someone who has never done that.”

“Now, how is it again that the sperm gets to the egg?” Charlie asked from behind me.

He’d been listening better than I thought. Of course. Perfectionist Charlie.

I told them what happened during the Special Hug that allowed fertilization, implantation, and so forth. And of course, Molly wanted to discuss the social aspects, the reality that some teenagers do that before they are married. She restated how they make bad choices, and that’s why some of them have babies. Then she wanted to know why someone would want to do that. Meanwhile, the boys who sat in the back of the van chimed in their questions here and there when they needed some clarification.

So I explained in greater detail than ever before how once a person starts to grow up and their hormones and bodies change, they want to be closer to someone they love, and when they have a Special Hug, it feels good to them and they like it.

Well, Molly wanted—needed—to understand how it felt.

I, on the other hand, wanted—needed—to stay very vague on this. I didn’t want to get into any detailed descriptions. So I tried the elusive approach and didn’t answer her in any more detail than I already had. “It feels good to them,” I said. But she kept at it.

“But how does it feel? Don’t you understand me? You just don’t get it. What does it feeeeel like? Don’t you understand what I’m asking?”

I tried to answer her, speaking very deliberately in third person. “Well, people like the way it feels, because it feels good—physically. It is pleasant for them.”

Molly finally realized I was balking and said, “Are you feeling uncomfortable with this? Because if you are, we can talk about it more later in private.” Truly. Her words.

I told her, “It’s a very private thing for people. I’m not sure about explaining details to you.”

At this point, Spencer—who’d been listening from his seat in the far back of the van—finally chimed in and admonished Molly. He was very relaxed as he spoke, his hands clasped behind his head and his elbows out as he reclined a bit in the seat. (He was obviously very sure of himself.) “Molly, why are you bugging her so much about it anyway? She wouldn’t know. She’s never done it.”

I had to concentrate not to swerve off the road or laugh out loud. He was so comfortably confident that his mom had never done that.

“Why do you say that, Spencer?” I asked as casually as I could.

You told me.”

“I did?”

“Yeah. You said it wouldn’t work for you to have a baby like that so you had to go to the doctor and let him help you have one.”

I guess this is what I get for avoiding the full truth the first time. First impressions can be lasting, and apparently everything I mentioned after that initial “doctor and dish” story was dismissed because Spencer was relieved to know his mother was happily safe from those mysteries I described.

As we drove on, the boys continued to bombard me with inquiries about the logistical aspects of the entire thing while discussing among themselves their own perceptions and hypotheses of how this act could be accomplished. One of the truths they figured out was how difficult the whole phenomenon could be because of clothing. They had many creative ideas of how one would do this. After Spencer suggested to his brothers that he thought one reason for zippers in pants was for this purpose, I dropped the bomb that couples wanted to be as close as possible and they didn’t mind having the Special Hug without clothes on.

This left them stunned with mouths agape and their young faces contorted in a variety of incredulous expressions.

Her brothers’ silence was Molly’s cue to suggest again that if I was uncomfortable discussing all this, I could wait and talk to her about it later at home in private.

Dear Molly. Her maternal instincts rivaled my own.

CHAPTER 2



NOTES ON BEING

ABANDONED


1988


In these early years of hoping to have a baby, I just want to be like everyone else. Or at least what I think everyone else is like. I look longingly at others and jealously imagine—and I can admit, sure, it’s a little naive—that everything in other people’s lives progress just as they hope and want. As I covet their “easy” lives, I dream that I, too, might get to wake up one day and—perhaps at the breakfast table or brushing my teeth before work—unexpectedly, suddenly realize that I could be pregnant. I want it to surprisingly dawn on me that my period is late and I’ve forgotten to notice. This is a delusion of course. Since thirteen years of age, I haven’t had a single monthly cycle which hasn’t been painful or awful. I’m accustomed to being bedridden with immeasurable pain for at least one day, if not three, every month. How can I possibly miss a period unaware?

Well, if I am going to live in a dream world, I might as well make it a nice one.

Because I’ve always had trouble with menstruation, a doctor I saw during college warned me I would probably have difficulty getting pregnant. I’ve been to a fertility specialist here in Chicago to see if he can or should do anything to help. From my history, he believes I need laser laparoscopy, both for diagnosis and treatment. That’s like those knee scope surgeries, only instead of inserting the instruments and camera into your knee through small incisions, they put them inside of your belly to have a look around and do any needed repair or treatment.

Jason takes the day off from work and accompanies me to Northwestern Hospital for the procedure. I couldn’t ask for a more reputable place to take care of me, right? The surgery will be done outpatient, so I’m not being admitted to stay overnight. I have to check in, get my operation, recover, and check out all in one day. Insurance rules.

Everyone we meet seems friendly. They check me in and make me exchange my clothes for a white and blue hospital gown. They insert an IV into my arm and place a puffy bouffant hat over my hair. They say it’s time, I say goodbye to Jason, and they roll me into the OR. It’s not long and the anesthesiologist says goodnight, have a good nap, and everything fades to black.

After the surgery, I slowly come out of a drugged sleep. Someone is talking to me, calling my name, but I’m terribly groggy. And my belly throbs. They give me something for pain. I’m in and out of consciousness, wanting to just stay asleep. But they won’t let me. They keep bugging me and forcing me to wake up. I wish they’d leave me alone. After an hour or so in the recovery room—I have no concept of time passage, but I know the usual course of treatment allows about an hour in recovery—my nurse and doctor are apparently satisfied with my improvement, and they decide it’s time to transfer me to my room in the outpatient post-surgical ward. Once there, I see Jason for a second, quietly sitting in a chair in the corner with a book temporarily closed over his finger, while the team of experts gets me settled into my new bed.

While I’m trying to sleep off the powerful drugs they’ve poured into my veins, a nurse shakes me awake saying, “Cheri? Cheri, wake up.” She is making sure I’ll rouse after having been put under. I still want to stay asleep, but she won’t let me. She takes my vital signs, checks my dressings, gives me something more for the pain, and spoons ice chips past my lethargic lips—all a part of “recovering” me from the anesthesia and surgery. She’s pretty intent on interrupting my slumber, but no matter how hard she works, all I want to do is sleep. As soon as she stops fussing with me, I slip right back into a deep sleep. The repetitive cycle of her waking and pestering me seems to go on for hours and hours. After a time, the ice progresses to sips of juice, and she introduces nibbles of saltine crackers into the mix.

The lights are low in my room, and Jason continues to sit near my bedside, quietly reading by the dimming light coming through the window as the day grows long. He helps me reposition or use Chapstick or sip juice because the nurse isn’t around this time when I wake up.

After another long doze, I wake up again on my own and look down at my stomach and see that blood has seeped through my hospital gown over the bandage below my belly button. “I’m bleeding,” I say and ask Jason to call the nurse to come check my dressings and incision site. He pushes the call light, and when no one answers, he decides to save time and go fetch her in person.

He walks out of my room…into darkness. My nurse is gone. Everyone is gone. The overhead lights are turned off. The unit is completely empty, closed down. Not a sound. Only dim security lights glow along the hollow corridors. I’ve been forgotten. Abandoned.

After Jason tells me everyone is gone, he goes searching to try to find someone to help. Through the dark hallways he wanders until he finds a nearby inpatient unit with its lights still on and bustling with activity. Stopping a nurse whisking past him by the nurses’ station, he tells her that his wife has had surgery but that everyone is gone, that I am over in a room, and they left me there alone. And my incision is bleeding.

If you think that gets a reaction, you’re right. Patient abandonment is a pretty big deal. Hospitals and their lawyers frown on the practice. So suddenly, I sure get plenty of attention. People come, they turn the lights back on, and they take royal care of me. They work a lot harder to get me awake, drinking, eating, and moving. They finally discharge me late in the evening. They roll me in a wheelchair down to the front entrance of the hospital and help me into a taxi. Jason will take over now and get me home to convalesce there. It all works out, fortunately. I don’t have any complications. I’ve decided not to lodge a complaint with the hospital to tell them what happened, though I probably should at least get a reduced fee for the post-op charges, since Jason (or nobody) did a lot of my recovery.

The surgery indeed confirmed the doctor’s suspicion that I have endometriosis. He cauterized the numerous lesions that were splattered over the inside of my abdomen, and he removed what scarring he could from the many years of disease I’ve suffered. He said the whole thing (minus the patient abandonment part) was successful.

Now that the doctor has cleaned me out, to complete the treatment, he puts me on the medication Lupron. The treatment protocol will stop the regrowth of the lesions by eliminating the hormones that sustain them.

The Lupron knocks out my estrogen, putting me into immediate and extreme menopause. The greatest difficulty with the medication is the terrible side effects. For one, it makes me temporarily infertile (more than I already am). And because of the chemically induced menopause, my thermostat is thrown utterly out of whack.

It’s especially hard to tolerate when I’m at work. My job is in the neonatal ICU, or NICU (pronounced “nick-you” for short) at Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital. As I stand beneath a warming bed taking care of a critically ill infant, suddenly my new nefarious companion, the Hot Flash, sneaks up on me with abrupt, miserable fury. The heat seeps from beneath my skin and overwhelms my entire body, making me feel as though I’m wrapped in plastic and cooking from the inside out. It’s terribly difficult to remain focused on my tasks, tending an extremely sick baby, as I stand burning up under the bed’s heating elements that are there to keep the newborn in front of me warm.

My wonderful charge nurse, Ruth, knows about my surgery and new medication and the wicked thing it does to me. She can tell when I suddenly turn into a searing bundle of agitated heat. She steps in, takes over, and lets me walk away until the evil Flash passes and I can return to my duties. With an injection every four weeks, the treatment will last for several months—several months of pure torture. When I finish the course of meds, I will be more relieved than I can express and ready to move on to the next step of our plan to become parents.

Over these many months, our doctor sends Jason to a different doctor, a specialist who is making sure Jason is in prime shape for fatherhood. He’s having his own beautiful experiences to repair or improve his chances for having kids. It is beautiful, right? Of course it is. Simply because it’s possible to do (we must tell ourselves), and we’re lucky the treatment is available to us; it’s a privilege. You’ve got to love it. Or you might go a little crazy. Nothing is left unbothered or private, by the way. But we’re still pretty tolerant. Open-minded and willing. It’s not so horrible, really. I imagine we’ll be sick and tired of it if it goes on for too many months. But for now, we deal with it. We’re young. Resilient. Optimistic.

After the multitude of tests and procedures for both of us, our main doctor meets with us and reviews all we’ve been through. He flips through the many pages of our charts with our lab and test results, quickly reading the figures and notes. He proclaims all is well, and everything looks splendid now. At the conclusion of our appointment, he shakes our hands and says that he expects to see us in his office within a few months for a positive pregnancy test.

CHAPTER 3



THE BOWLING ALLEY


I love bowling, though I’m terrible at it. If I break fifty, I’ve had an astounding game. With baseball as the only sport I’ve ever followed, I’ve applied what I know about baseball to bowling: Strikes Are Bad. You don’t want them. So I’m careful to steer clear of them. If I get a strike, it’s a total fluke. Watching me bowl you’d think the goal is to throw the ball right into the gutter, sometimes with me still attached to the ball.

So if I’m so terrible, why do I love it?

Because it was at a bowling alley that our mutual friend Mary introduced Jason and me.

We were at the Marina Towers bowling alley in Chicago. (Marina Towers are those two round buildings on the Chicago River that look like corncobs.) A group of us young adult professionals from a Fourth Presbyterian Church discussion group had an outing to go bowling one Friday evening in January of 1986. We bowled a few games, then went out afterwards to a café for hot cider or cocoa and fresh-from-the-oven cinnamon rolls.

At the restaurant, by chance as everyone encircled the table and pulled out a wooden chair, the seat I pulled out was next to the one Jason grabbed. Our proximity gave us the chance to become better acquainted. He told me a little about himself, explaining his work to me. He was a commodities broker who sold things that weren’t his to other people. At least that’s how I understood it. I’d never heard of the vocation before or comprehended what Futures were. I didn’t know what the Board of Trade was either, or what a commodities firm did.

To help me understand, as an illustration he explained the whole business to me using a random car glistening beneath the night lights outside along the curb of Michigan Avenue. “See that car out there?” I followed his finger to look out the café plate glass window where he pointed. “I can sell it to you and collect payment, as long as you sell it again to someone else before the date arrives to take possession.”

It sounded a lot like larceny and fraud to me. To think there were real companies, entire industries apparently, thriving on those preposterous principles, making many people rich in the process. It was ludicrous. I didn’t get it, but I decided to take his word for it. He seemed like an honest enough guy. And he was handsome. So why not believe him?

Once we’d enjoyed our sticky buns, hot drinks, and fellowship with new friends, it was time to call an end to the evening. We all dispersed, saying good night and each going our own way. The more wealthy of the group hailed cabs while others of us hopped on the 151 Michigan Avenue bus or headed east to the El over on State Street. It had been a nice evening. I was glad to have met Jason and wondered if I might chance to see him again. That would be fine with me.

CHAPTER 4



NOTES ON BEING

OVERSTIMULATED


The doctor has given us the green light to get pregnant. We have to be intentional and methodical about achieving results. With my Lupron shots behind me (yep, my little attempt at a pun), I’ve got my hormones back. They’re kind of essential to the whole pregnancy process. I have to act immediately, getting pregnant before the return of my endometriosis, a persistent adversary. The pesky condition has certainly experienced a setback with the attacks against it with both laser and drugs, but endometriosis is an issue that doesn’t disappear. It’s like dandelions in your lawn. You can dig them up, spray them, pull off the heads—but in a few weeks, you’re going to have bright golden heads splattered across your yard again. And a yard full of dandelions isn’t going to get you pregnant very easily.

The very first step is to begin the morning temperature checks to figure out my fertile days. Every single morning, day in, day out, before I budge from bed or even breathe very deeply, I reach to my bedside table—gently lest I generate activity that will raise my basal body temperature—and I pick up my thermometer and slip it under my tongue. Once it beeps, I chart the results on graph paper and track what is happening in my body. I make the graphs as interesting and fun as possible with added color and doodles. But even with what appears to be spikes in my temperature—the signal to tell when I am supposedly ovulating—they aren’t enough. No success. And I’m getting tired of every stinking morning needing to take my temperature before moving. Eventually, I change to ovulation kits which are much more sensitive and accurate. But time tick-tocks and still nothing happens. Month after month passes, and I must face disappointment again and again.

More than a year later, after a stressful move and a job change, a new doctor takes over our care. She receives copies of our charts and the history of all the treatments up until this point. Looking through the labs, she finds the tests that our previous doctor had proclaimed normal and good before he sent us home to get pregnant.

She says, “He told you what? These tests are so far from normal.”

She explains how Jason totally flunked his tests. They probably should make him return his diploma.

It takes a moment for what she said to sink in.

Alas, all the time wasted, those squandered attempts. I know that sounds cynical. But when one is working with a thermometer, graphs, and ova kits, letting them dictate the time and place, and not the usual romantic evening or intimate morning interlude, one begins to see intimacy as one thing only—a means to an end, a project, a chore. It is not uncommon to hear infertile couples telling stories of dropping everything for a midday rendezvous to allow Mr. Sperm to be introduced to Miss Ovum, who is on a very tight schedule and can’t be put off, even if Mr. Sperm is in a meeting and needs to excuse himself. She only has hours to live and must not be kept waiting. It tends to diminish the intimacy in a relationship. It’s been known too many times to drive couples to divorce.

As time passes and after I undergo even more procedures, we move again and change doctors yet one more time. We start seeing another specialist who recognizes neither of us is a prime example of raging fertility. He suggests we waste no more time with conservative treatments and let him “shoot with both barrels”—since ours are blanks, so to speak. First, he recommends that I have laser surgery again to clean out the endometriosis that has grown back since the first surgery, which was about three years ago now. Then he recommends that we do a procedure called “ZIFT”—Zygote Intrafallopian Transfer. It is the cutting edge treatment these days. The eggs and sperm are put into a Petri dish like with in vitro fertilization. But to increase the odds of success, after fertilization and a few days to grow, the little tadpoles are transferred directly inside the fallopian tubes instead of the uterus because normal fertilization takes place in the tubes, thus increasing the likelihood of implantation. It means I’ll have an incision for the procedure, but I’m not daunted by that. I’ve been cut open before. I’ve been an OR nurse. People get cut open all the time. We are up for that. We’re all in. Let’s do this!

We start by signing over everything we own to the doctor—savings, checking, savings bonds, 401k plans, rights to our firstborn. Using both barrels will take a lot of money. A lot of money. Oh, well. What do we need with cash? Do we truly require a house, a car, a nest egg, or even lunch money? We’ll only really need those things if the process works and we end up with a kid, right? A kind of Catch 22. But the odds for success aren’t great anyway. And if by some miracle a baby does show up, a little rented apartment and one old car might get us by. We’ll cross that bridge if we ever get to it.

While processing all the information and preparing for the entire course of treatment—what risks it brings, how much cash it requires, and what the possible outcomes are—I write to Jeanne, my friend in Chicago, to tell her about what we’re doing and what it involves. In the letter, I explore for the first time what, in theory, could happen, and it makes it so much clearer and more real as I put it down in ink on paper. I start out being silly at first, then the truth of it dawns on me in a new way as I share my thoughts with her.


“…maybe we’ll get two for the price of one. Maybe three? Four? Oh, boy. Actually, twenty percent of the pregnancies from ZIFT are multiple gestation. I could handle twins, but no more. Too scary.”


First, I go through the laser laparoscopy surgery again. They say it takes only a few days to recover, but in reality it takes a lot longer to feel better. The worst part of the recovery is dealing with the pain caused by being inflated with carbon dioxide gas. They fill you with it like a beach ball to puff you up so everything inside is visible, but really! Can a body feel normal in “only a few days” after something like that?

After a few weeks, once I finally do recover, it’s time to start the specific steps to prepare for the ZIFT procedure. It’s Tuesday, February 4, 1992, and the doctor puts me back on that nasty Lupron. He assures me that since it is only short term, it won’t render me infertile, and there won’t be time for me to develop hot flashes. It will act short-term to knock out my usual hormones that might try to have ideas of their own while the doctor manipulates my systems to make them cooperate with his plans.

After lessons from the doctor’s office nurse on how to give me shots at home, Jason starts giving me daily injections of Pergonal and Metrodin, medications to cause more eggs to mature than the usual one per month.

I’m starting to have pain in my ovaries after only five days of getting the new drugs. The doctor says it’s a result of “socking it to them” with such potent drugs. I am having frequent blood tests and ultrasounds to monitor my progress to make sure everything is okay. These drugs are powerful, and we’re finding that I’m ultra sensitive to them, responding rapidly, making plenty of eggs—many more than most women produce on the medication. Besides the sore hips from all the needle sticks, I continue to get more bloated with abdominal tenderness every day. Something major is going on inside of my body.

Exactly thirty-five hours before the scheduled egg retrieval, Jason gives me a special shot, a drug called Profasi, that will cause all the matured eggs to prepare for launch. He gives it to me at 11:00 p.m. on Saturday evening, February 22.

Thirty-five hours later, I go into the operating room, waving goodbye to Jason as they roll me away. It’s time for the doctor to perform the egg retrieval. You don’t want to know how that gets done because it involves a needle about as big as a fishing rod. And coincidently, I got to see it when I woke up in the middle of the procedure. Eeek. I don’t think that is a normal part of the plan. The anesthesiologist responded so quickly to put me back under that I figure he didn’t mean for me to wake up. As he eased me back down after I sat up with a start, he said, “Oh, you’re feeling some pain there? Let me help you with that….” I went back to sleep and didn’t wake up again until they wanted me to, and by then, everything was finished.

With the fishing rod, they’ve sucked out twenty-three eggs total. Now the eggs are mixed in a fine solution of concentrated sperm and my own blood that they drew earlier—a good medium to use, they tell me. Everyone is settled down for a long winter’s nap in a dark warm Petri dish. Or at least for a couple of days. We go home to wait. (Test tube babies aren’t made in test tubes, by the way. That just sounds nicer than Petri dish babies. The alliteration rings better, I guess.)

Forty-eight hours later, we get the phone call to come back in. The guppies are ready for transfer. That means a scalpel this time, not just a fishing rod needle. A two-inch incision in my lower abdomen allows the doc to find my fallopian tubes and place four embryos inside each tube. (Our doctor’s infertility practice doesn’t have cryopreservation yet, meaning he can’t freeze and preserve any embryos for later use.) Once all the tiny babies are inside of me, it’s time to return home, recuperate, and wait for something to happen.

It doesn’t take long.

After a tough 24 hours, I am lying on the couch sipping a little chicken noodle soup from a cup Jason prepared for me, feeling pretty lousy from the surgery but trying to rest and recover my strength and mobility, when without any warning whatsoever it begins. Sudden, extreme vomiting. And it’s constant. When I go to the doctor’s office the next morning to have the staples removed from my incision, the nurse guesses the vomiting is from a urinary tract infection (UTI) that I must have picked up from the catheter put into my bladder during surgery. I have no other symptoms of a UTI, but that is her best working hypothesis. I don’t buy it, but I’m in no condition to argue. She sets me up with antibiotics and sends me back home with Jason.

By the next morning, I can’t lie down because of the increasing pressure in my abdomen, back, and chest. It’s starting to get hard…to breathe…from the tension…building inside of me. All night, I vomited, unable to keep anything down, including the antibiotics, or even water. Jason calls the doctor, who happens to be out of town, so Jason tells the answering service he needs the doctor to call us right away, something is very wrong with me. We wait a few minutes and he calls us back. After Jason explains the situation, the doctor tells us to go back to his office, and his nurse will give me an antiemetic injection to stop the vomiting.

Crumpled in the backseat of the car, I retch the entire twenty-minute drive, a terrible experience that pulls on the newly closed incision of my recently opened belly. When we arrive at the doctor’s office, the office nurse takes one look at me and recognizes immediately that I am not faring well. She sends me directly to the emergency room across the street for IV hydration and antibiotics to help me get over my suspected UTI. Just like the nurse, everyone at the ER thinks with a little fluid and medication, I should be feeling better soon.

Unfortunately, they are wrong. So wrong.

The more fluid they pour into my veins, the worse I feel. They do some blood work which comes back with a profoundly elevated white blood count. They do an ultrasound that shows I am developing ascites—fluid accumulating in my abdominal cavity—and my liver is enlarged. I’m getting more and more miserable. The pressure is increasing inside of my chest and abdomen. I can barely hold still for an ultrasound. It’s like I can’t lie down far enough, I feel so bad but can’t find a position that gives relief. I writhe about on the gurney, trying to find a comfortable place, but there is none. No one knows what is going wrong with me. Based on my elevated white cell counts, they think I must have an infection somewhere, still hanging on to that stupid UTI theory. But this feels so much worse than that. Nothing they do helps. The pain is growing, as is my belly, which is getting tighter and more distended. The more they treat me, the worse I get.

They page my infertility doctor for a consultation. They exchange ideas and he lets them in on the worst case scenario that could happen with the procedure he’d just put me through. With this new information, my new doctors in the emergency room start to consider that I might have ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a rare reaction to Pergonal which involves dangerously high estrogen levels that swell the ovaries so large they often rupture. Plus, the complication does a number on several other systems of the body.


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