Let me start by saying that I’ve lived my whole life in opposition to odds. If there is even a slight chance of something weird happening to me, it’s almost a guarantee. When a doctor says, “Meh, it’s like a one a million chance side effect”, I chuckle and say “Yup. That’s me.” Like the time I was seven months pregnant and received a flu shot at my OBGYN’s behest, her advising that side effects were very rare. Like 1%. Fast forward an hour to me going into anaphylactic shock and having to be put on a nebulizer for three hours in the ER. So as you can imagine, I often walk through life with a cautious gait.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Sometimes the percentages work in my favor. Like the time I was 21 and found myself suddenly homeless with plans to live in my car after quitting a job in the most boring suburb of Illinois. I had to leave my work apartment with nowhere to go and just about no money to my name. So I drove to Chicago and began randomly driving up and down Lake Shore Drive, nine hundred miles away from my friends and family, too busy ogling the beautiful expansive shores of Lake Michigan to truly take in the gravity of my situation. After a while I decided to grab some lunch at a random place in Lincoln Park. As I reviewed the menu, contemplating spending $20 of my last $200 on overpriced pub food, a voice suddenly came from behind me. “Christen? What are you doing in Chicago?” My waiter just happened to be an acquaintance of mine who lived on the same floor of my dorm in college at Central Connecticut State University. And luckily for me, he was a really great guy. Such a great guy, in fact, that he offered me the couch in his apartment till I could get my feet on the ground and create a new plan. What are the odds of that? 2%?
After I got settled in to my new life in Chicago, I was loathe to engage in any type of routine. The closest thing to a ritual that I maintained was the unbecoming habit of waking up late in the afternoon, showering and eating poorly before heading to one of my various bartending jobs in the evening.
But the one regular occurrence that I practiced religiously was when I would schlep downtown on the 22 Clark Street bus to the Division Street Planned Parenthood. Given its proximity to the Cabrini Green Housing Projects at the time, it was always crowded and never without incident considering the constant presence of pro-life protesters parading around out front, yelling insults and holding signs littered with various lines of out-of-context scripture. Looking back, I cringe thinking about the lack restraint I showed those zealots. I often fruitlessly exchanged barbs. “I’m here for birth control, you morons!” “I’m here to prevent unwanted pregnancy!” “How about adopting some unwanted children, instead of scaring young women from getting routine services!” It made me feel better at the time, but now I realize how useless it was to expend the energy on people so deeply convinced of their own truth.
While in PP, picking up a monthly supply of birth control, maybe two if I could afford it, it never occurred to me that a pregnancy was not something that would always be a given for me at child bearing age. I spent my hard earned, very valuable dollars seeing to it that no child would come to me until I was good and ready. I knew that the odds were very high that if I was not careful, I would certainly end up in a situation I was not ready for.
Fast forward to 2011. While still in Chicago, I ended up falling in love with a guy who lived in Connecticut who grew up in the town next to my hometown. Funny. I moved across the country, traveled the world and dated throughout, only to end up with a guy that was right where I first started. What are the odds of that? 4%?
After my move back East, a marriage and many adventures later, we began having the baby conversation. And on the first try, we found ourselves pregnant with our daughter. We joked about his virile French Canadian seed and my strong maternal lineage of baby making prowess. How happy I was to have protected my eggs from such infiltration sooner in life! Who knew it would be so easy?
2016. I was 35 and our daughter was one and a half. To be completely cliché, she is the light of our lives. She totally inherited our weird sense of humor, adventurous spirit, inquisitive mind and in general, had a great disposition. Why wouldn’t we try to replicate our success?
After a second brief pregnancy and suffering the loss of what we later found out was twins, my body suddenly dove into a complete and total tailspin. As if processing the confusing and guilt inducing emotions of a miscarriage weren’t enough, my body decided at that moment that it would be a good time to kick into high gear of early menopause. Hot flashes become a regular part of my day, three an hour for an entire month. My cycle stopped. All things became very concerning, very fast.
Right around the time I turned 36, my doctor referred me to a specialist. The best in the state, of course. I was sure he would fix things. Diagnosis? Premature ovarian failure. Outlook not good. I heard the words and appreciated the science, but I couldn’t actually understand how it applied to me. The words danced around my brain like short term visitors. It was a hard reality to swallow. It wasn’t until he uttered the words “3% chance of conceiving naturally” that it dawned on me how serious it was.
I had assumed at that point that I was reproductively challenged in some way, considering all the talk of imbalanced hormone levels and such. But it had never truly sunk in that my body was failing me. It was never a situation I had ever considered for myself. I remember sitting in my car after that appointment, feeling almost unable to move. Enveloped in fog. Lifting my hand to put the key in the ignition felt like hard work. The weight of everything was suddenly overwhelming. When I couldn’t take the pressure of balled up emotion in the back of my throat any longer, I called my husband. I felt so foolish for choosing to go to that appointment alone. Now make no mistake, I am a pretty tough chick. I’ve breezed through many of life’s trickiest situations with little scarring. But this…. this was different. It was an awakening to a realization that I was not prepared for.
What kind of a stupid number is that anyway? 3%? It all seemed so arbitrary.
The auto pilot defense mechanism in my brain began grasping at moot concepts. The ifs, the whys, the only ifs. My mind raced, trying to reconcile the incomprehensible truth and the guilt I felt for having such a cavalier attitude about conception.
At my next doctor’s appointment, it was revealed that two years prior, when we had conceived my daughter, I likely had a 20% chance. Then we realized how lucky we truly were. The odds again working in my favor.
Without even first taking a moment to pause and process this newfound information, we began exploring our options, and although we were advised that I was not a good candidate, we began considering IVF. Luckily, my insurance would cover it 100% since I had already met my deductible that year with two separate wrist surgeries. Plus, as my doctor pointed out, in the best case scenario, we were looking at a 30% chance that we would obtain some mature eggs- a ten times better chance than we had on our own.
Our IVF specialist was the best of the best, the office visits effortless. They were courteous, patient and helpful in helping me navigate an uncertain and emotional journey. We watched the PowerPoint presentations. My husband had his end of things checked out to make sure that his contribution to the effort would be the best possible. And we met with the doctor one last time to discuss expectations, or lower them in my case. The doctor then gave us our marching orders and sent us on our way.
On the second day of my next period, I would start taking birth control pills (of all things!) to start regulating my hormones in such a way to prime my body for the IVF cycle. Then we would begin the daily injections and weekly ultrasounds.
But something funny happened while we were waiting. My period decided not to come back, further pushing our IVF start date back, day after day. The only time I had ever not had a regular cycle in my life was when I was pregnant or the months following the miscarriage. It was highly odd. But not unlikely. When women, such as myself, experience premature ovarian failure it is not uncommon for a woman’s cycle to be thrown off, almost into a pre-menopausal state as I had experienced earlier in the year. It was very frustrating.
It is important to mention at this point, that at no time when discussing our plans with close friends and family did I ever tell them that we were doing IVF because I wanted to do it. The conversation usually circled around the point that I was really doing it for my husband because I knew how badly he wanted our daughter to have a sibling. Having come from a loud and boisterous family with three boys, he couldn’t imagine not giving our daughter the same. I, on the other hand, grew up in a house with a sibling that would pretend I was a stranger in public. I might as well have been a ghost in my house. So I wasn’t too concerned with my daughter being lonely, considering she would have a lot of parental support.
One night, while considering the weight of the experience we were about to embark on, I decided to discuss the plans with my husband. Something just didn’t feel right. I broached the topic thoughtfully, carefully weighing my words to make sure I didn’t make him feel any pressure. While not based in any actual scientific reasoning, I started to feel like my cycle not starting again was actually a sign that my body didn’t want me to go through with the process. And in fairness, it went against everything we did with our daughter the first go around. In my first pregnancy, we tried to be as natural, healthy and go with the flow as possible. This second experience would be an invasive and mentally taxing process. If we were still trying to conceive our first child, it would be a no-brainer, but because we already had one happy, healthy kid, it was beginning to feel indulgent.
I explained my position and watched his posture change. His shoulders dropped as he let out a big sigh.
“You were doing this for me?” he asked.
“I was doing this for you!” he replied.
And that was that. We both realized that our intentions, while good, were really only to satisfy what we thought were the others desires. We canceled the IVF and agreed that we would keep trying, the old fashioned way, 3% be damned. If it were meant to be, it would be. And wouldn’t you know it, I got my period the very next day.
We went back to our lives, renewed by a sense of purpose to shower our one and only kid with as much love as our hearts could muster. A few weeks later, while in the midst of getting ready to get rid of the old baby clothes and toys, and checking out the process for applying for a passport for our daughter for some fun international travel, something funny happened.
3% showed up.
In true to my life fashion and by some random act of miraculousness, in November/December 2017, baby LaRochelle number two will be showing up, defying all the odds. Like its mama.