My friend Gertrude thinks the transvaginal ultrasound looks like a curling iron. To me it looks like a sinister vibrator, or perhaps what aliens use to conduct anal probes on abducted humans. It’s just a little too long, a little too bulbous. It’s actually not the most sinister thing ever inserted into my vagina -- the makeup brush I first ever masturbated with is more alarming, as is the roll of actual celluloid I unspooled from my vag -- in homage to the great feminist performance artist Carolee Schneeman’s epic Interior Scroll -- while "acting" in an artsy porn film in the '90s.
All in all, the transvaginal wand is no big whoop. I just hadn’t known my ultrasound was an internal operation, so I have to adjust. I have about three seconds to do so before the great queer resident, Jan, slides the thing inside me.
Well, I think, at least Jan is a lesbian. At least I am being vaginally probed by someone who likely has years of experience, both professional and otherwise. And it is true that Jan is a way more skillful wand-wielder than Dr. Waller. After directing Jan to move the wand this way and that, the doctor takes over. In his hands, the wand becomes a joystick, and I, a video game. He twists and jerks the thing around like he’s trying to blow up asteroids.
“Wow,” Dr. Waller says. He pauses. Game over? “You are riddled with fibroids. Did you know that?”
Did I know that I was riddled with fibroids? Um, certainly not. “No,” I say. The doctor finds this hard to believe.
“You’re not in pain? No heavy periods, painful periods?”
“Nnnnnno,” I say, thinking. I mean, I’ve had those weird shooting pains up my vag and butt for a super long time, beginning in my early 20s. They come on without warning and feel, I am sorry to tell you, like a knife is being stabbed up your biz and/or up your butt. They can be so strong they take your breath away. Sometimes it’s just that, a few terrible jolts, but sometimes the pain continues, making your whole innards feel unpleasantly sensitive and radiant. It is like the evil twin of an orgasm, pure pain instead of pleasure.
The only thing I’ve found that helps is, weirdly, pushing my feet flat against the floor. Standing or walking. It has something to do with the way deep vag energy travels down your legs into the soles of your feet.
My mother has had this, and she suffered from really bad endometriosis. Rhonda has suffered from it as well, and had a surgery last year to remove fibroids that might have been the cause! I’ve known other women who get these pains but no one ever understood why. I just sort of accepted is as part of the curse God put upon Eve for eating the apple and whatnot. Kidding! But really.
Between not having health care and the lack of information about women’s bodies, I allowed myself to be comforted by the knowledge that other women experience it, and none of us have died from it. Yet.
Was this the pain Dr. Waller was talking about? He continued to gasp and marvel at my incredible collection of fibroids. “I just don’t understand how you could be walking around with all of this and not know it,” he said, but it made sense to me, as someone who has spent most of their life deeply removed from their body.
Formerly I connected with my body through sex and intoxicants, preferably both at once, and since getting sober it’s been a slow road back to my corporeal self. I’m probably more dialed in to my body than I’ve ever been, but still not sensitive enough to detect a colony of fibroids.
“I mean, one is about seven centimeters,” Dr. Waller says. “It totally obscures your right ovary, I’m getting no picture of the eggs there. But your left ovary has a less-than-average egg count.”
“Less than average?” I repeat. I’m getting a lot of information at once, all with an alien probe lodged up my snatch. “Like, less than the average woman my age has?”
“Yeah,” Dr. Waller confirms. “And, at your age, 60-80% of the eggs you do have aren’t viable.”
Well this certainly doesn’t sound like good news. “60-80% of my eggs are busted, and I have less eggs than the average 41-year-old. And I’m riddled with fibroids.”
“Yes. Are you having to empty your bladder a lot? Because that big one seems to be pushing on your bladder – I just don’t understand how you haven’t felt them.”
Who knows if I have to pee "a lot"? I Just pee as much as I have to pee and don’t question it. Since I rarely if ever drink water perhaps my native dehydration plus a fibroid bumping my bladder equals I pee as much as a normal person. Who the fuck knows?
Jan and Dr. Waller leave me to collect my dignity and put my clothes back on. In the empty exam room, I scan quickly for things to steal. I can’t help it, it’s an old habit. In the past I’ve thought it hilarious to swipe pee cups to use as spice jars. I’ve pocketed little blades and handfuls of latex gloves for sex supplies. I’ve nicked plastic speculums just for the novelty. But, if I’m now so old that my eggs are mostly dead and gone, it seems I really am an adult, and should stop shoplifting nonsense from clinics. Plus, I left my tote bag in Dr. Waller’s office and have nowhere to put anything.
Thinking about my fibroids, I have a couple revelations. First is, this is why Dr. Becky thought I could be six weeks pregnant. It wasn’t a fetus up there, it was -- what the fuck are fibroids, anyway? Hair and teeth? My little fuzzy monster baby?
Second, the twinges I’ve been getting in my right side, the side with the mammoth boulder of a fibroid. I initially thought it meant I was ovulating, but the more I paid attention the more I realized it was only on that side, and happened erratically throughout the month. Now I understood that it was this weird meteor that had crashed down inside me.
Back in Dr. Waller’s office, conversation turns to Dashiell. How old is Dashiell? Dashiell is 32. This pleases Dr. Waller greatly. “Her eggs are infinitely healthier than yours,” he tells me.
I believe he means for me to find relief in this statement, and I do. But I still feel on the verge of tears. I pledge that I am NOT going to cry in front of Queer Jan and the Doctor. No freaking way. I’ve got meds on my side. I do some breathing tricks and try to think of neutral things, like fog or hamburgers. In the past I’ve made the horrible mistake of consoling myself with hideous imagery while trying not the cry, the idea being, ‘Well, at least you’re not being tortured in a cage by American soldiers at Guantanamo Bay, that’s real, that’s really happening to someone right now, you do not have a problem, get it together.’
But the thing is, when you are on the verge of tears, contemplating extreme acts of cruelty is guaranteed to fling you screaming right over the edge. Likewise, imagining happy, beautiful places I’d rather be also makes me start bawling, because I’m not there, I’m here, in a doctors’ office learning I got no eggs. So, neutral imagery is a better bet. Shrubbery. Telephone poles. Flip flops.
Dr. Waller is filled with optimism. He can’t wait to get Dashiell in here and start IUI-ing washed sperm up her cervix. He asks if I want to make an appointment, but I haven’t quite let go of the idea of getting pregnant.
“What about the Clomid I took?” I ask him. “If it makes me produce more eggs, doesn’t that up my chance of getting pregnant the way I’ve been trying?” But the doctor is adamant that there is no way I’m going to get knocked up naturally.
“We can do it though,” He says brightly. “We can get you pregnant if that’s what you want.” I’m sure he can, actually. But after how many thousands of dollars? He’d like to go straight to an IVF, but the thought of the money sends panic through me.
“What about IUI?” I ask. He nods.
“We can start with that, we can try that.” He’d like to start me off with the big drugs, the expensive injectables. I push for the Clomid because I already have a sheet of the pills in my desk drawer at home. He doesn’t think it’s the best strategy, but agrees to it. Then I feel stupid -- if I’m trying to save money why would I go a route less likely, in the doctor’s opinion, to even work? Because I already have the pills? They were $30, charge it to the game.
“No, we can start with the stronger medication,” I say. But wait, am I even doing this? The odds, when he listed them, were low. The fact that he thinks he can get me preggers in spite of the low odds can only mean repeated tries. Enough IUIs and you might as well have had an IVF. My head is spinning.
Before I leave, Dr. Waller tells me the next step would be talking to my case manager and scheduling some horribly painful test wherein they inject colored dye into your fallopian tubes to make sure they’re not blocked. ”You’re not going to like me,” he grimaced, and then I did. I made a note to see if I could take some sort of twilight drug during the procedure, like the Halcyon the dentist gave me when he pulled a tooth out of my head. He said I would have to get my fibroids removed. Then he told me to get a mammogram.
“We just want to make sure there isn’t any problems there we don’t know about, and then you go through the procedures with us and later, if you find something, say it’s out fault.”
Wait, does all of this cause cancer? Oh duh. Why would I think that? Why would I think being injected with radioactive dyes and bombing your body with various hormone manipulating medicines would have a negative affect on the rest of your system.
“OK,” I say dumbly, numbly. I don’t trip on it too hard, because I can’t imagine going through with this. I can’t rectify Dr. Waller’s deep pessimism about the state of my eggs with his cheery optimism about getting my pregnant. I think the missing piece has to be thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars.
Back in the lobby I send Dashiell a darkly humorous text that surely reads as a cry for help. “My eggs are busted,” I type. “You’re up.” She calls immediately, and I sit in a plus chair by the elevator that is clearly the post-appointment emotional lady crying chair, replete with a box of Kleenex. I refuse to cry. I tell Dashiell briefly what I’ve learned. I can feel her worry for me through the phone, but there’s nothing to be done. She’s at work and I’ve decided to blow off the day’s work and just wander aimlessly in a daze until I can see her later on.
We get off the phone and I call my sister and give her the scoop. “You don’t think I should go through with an IUI?” I ask, “After hearing all that?”
“No,” Madeline says. “No way.” I feel a rush of relief. I partly feel like I should plow forward NO MATTER WHAT and that way I will GET my baby or at least it won’t be my FAULT, having done everything in my power to conceive. Again with this weird guilt. Where the fuck is this shit coming from? Regardless, Maddy has let me off the hook. If she wouldn’t do it, neither would I.
I find a breakfast place that not only has amazing swanky atmosphere, maple sugar bacon and crazy pancakes, it has a whole table piled with magazines you can read while you eat. One of the premiere pleasures of life is sitting alone in a restaurant, eating and reading a magazine. I grab a bunch and settle down with an bottomless cup of coffee. I plan to get massively wired. It no longer matters how much caffeine I consume.
After my breakfast, I wander in the fog toward a Goodwill, and spend a couple hours drifting around the shop in a fugue state, selecting items for purchase and then returning them. I wind up with a J Crew raincoat, since it has started to rain. Every now and then something surges inside me and I think, that’s a feeling. But then it goes away. I worry I’m not feeling my feelings enough. Should I try to make myself cry or something? The tears that felt close in the doctor’s office now feel caught in my throat, I’m breathing around it.
I think about how if I were crying I’d be trying to get myself collected, and now here I am collected and I’m considering making myself cry, and that there isn’t any proper way to deal with this stupid moment except allowing myself whatever treat food, coffee and secondhand clothing items I want. So that’s my plan.
Next Week: Getting Dashiell Pregnant with Michelle Tea