One of the perks of toiling in the corporate world all day is that I have excellent health insurance. The moment I feel a sniffle brewing, I’m on an exam table, hand extended, awaiting my script for antibiotics.
Although I take care of my overall health, I have been guilty of neglecting my gynecological health. Unlike our straight counterparts, lesbians don’t make frequent trips to the gynecologist. We don’t need birth control pills, and so forgo those regular visits; and we basically think we know more about the female anatomy than any doctor. Not until I was ready to have a baby did I fully realize the importance of proper maintenance.
My partner and I were together for 13 years before I began to hear the deafening tick of my biological clock. Before then, I was busy working my way to mid-management roles at big city companies, traveling and drinking my way through Sunday brunches. I couldn’t keep a plant alive, let alone a baby.
But after 9-11, a house in the suburbs and the onset of a midlife crisis, shit started to get real. Family became my number one priority. I wanted a baby, and I needed to get my ovaries on board.
With two uteruses in the relationship, I thought it would be simple. I mean, I watched every episode of "16 and Pregnant" and the getting there part didn’t seem all that challenging. But as it turns out, it was.
In addition to the obvious lack of sperm, there were other problems. My partner is unable to have children due to an adolescent exploratory surgery mishap coupled with the lack of desire to expel one out of her womb. And imagine my surprise when I finally mustered up the courage to visit the gynecologist after a five-year lapse only to discover I had PCOS and a gigantic uterine fibroid.
These were not insurmountable issues but they would make getting –- and staying –- pregnant difficult. Age, apparently, was a bigger obstacle. At 34, my eggs were basically vaporizing by the second. Since my insurance covered it, my doctor suggested I move straight to infertility treatment.
Unless you’re paying for treatments with cash, you can’t just skip the less invasive (and cheaper) inseminations and jump straight to in vitro fertilization –- even if your doctor says it’s your best shot. Most insurance companies make their members try cost-effective methods first in hopes that they work, which gets them out of paying for the more expensive treatments.
Even though I had a less than 20% chance of conceiving via insemination, and I’d only be able to sustain the pregnancy if the embryo implanted in a perfect spot, my insurance company required that I do six of them anyway before they’d cover in vitro. Those mandated inseminations resulted in nothing but miscarriages and heartbreak, which is bound to happen when patients are required to heed advice from insurance companies rather than doctors.
When I finally started in vitro two years later (mostly at my own expense, as the inseminations wasted the majority of the $10,000 cap the insurance company put on fertility coverage), I had fallen into a black hole of despair like nothing I had ever known.
The daily routine of injections, blood tests, failures and disappointments turned me into a person I could barely recognize. I was prone to sudden outbursts of rage and tears. My performance at work suffered. I distanced myself from family and friends. I resented my partner and blamed her for my misery. I was jealous of all pregnant women.
The only thing that could cure my depression came a year later when, after three in vitro cycles, my perfect daughter was born. I had waited my whole life to meet my little girl, and in one moment she changed me. All of the hurt, anger and gloom I had been carrying evaporated, and I realized I would endure fertility treatments over and over if it blessed me once again with the miracle of motherhood.
The hormones used in in vitro cycles sometimes make fibroids grow to enormous sizes. While my daughter was delivered via cesarean section, a mass the size of another baby remained. It would not let my uterus contract and it caused me to hemorrhage a couple of weeks later.
I would not consent to a recommended hysterectomy because I selfishly wanted more children. I spent weeks replenishing the blood my uterus was gushing with the transfused blood of strangers before agreeing to the surgery in order to stay alive for the child I already had.
I often wonder if I'd visited a gynecologist sooner or paid more attention to my body over the years –- the unpredictable, heavy cycles, the nearly debilitating cramps, my totally out-of-whack hormones and blood sugar levels –- if I could have saved myself the mental and physical anguish of infertility.
It’s a good thing my insurance covers therapy.