I was talking recently with a friend who is having some fertility testing done – not because she is currently trying to have a baby, but just so she knows where she stands – and she remarked on the grim mood of her doctor’s waiting room. “There was one woman who seemed really upset,” my friend said. “The nurses were going over to her and asking if she was alright.”
As my friend spoke I started having flashbacks to the waiting rooms of the four REs (reproductive endocrinologist, i.e. fertility doctor) I saw during my infertility journey. In this purgatory where your reproductive fate is to be determined, no one speaks or even looks at each other. You’d think the women there would want support from each other – but instead we are all alone together, staring down at our phones or the magazines in our laps. It’s a tense, lonely, scary place to be.
The waiting room I remember best is Cornell‘s, which is on the Upper East Side of NYC. I’m not sure why this one sticks out in my mind – maybe because of how packed it was, full of women from all walks of life. I had to leave my house before the sun came up so that I could be in the city by 7:30 am (any later and I’d get stuck in traffic). I would park in a garage (parking for medical treatment is tax deductible if you can claim medical expenses) and walk to the building. I’d get off the elevator and sign in with a key card at the front desk. The chairs were covered in a mod orange-and-brown print. I would search around for an empty seat, which was sometimes hard to come by. It was as if half of the women in New York needed fertility treatments. The nurses would come out and call us by our first names, lots of nurses, one after another. Everyone had their heads down – except for the Orthodox Jewish women, who somehow all seemed to know each other and would carry on conversations. There were women in burkas and saris. Some had husbands with them but most were alone.
Anyone who brought a baby in a stroller got a lot of nasty glances. Rule number one of the RE waiting room: Don’t bring your baby. It’s hard enough to be here without having your success pushed in our faces. We’re glad you’re trying for number two, but please, for the love of God, get a babysitter (now that I have a child I can see how this would be difficult, but I also remember how soul-crushing it was to see babies there, so if I ever try again I would do everything in my power not to have my son with me). If you must bring your child, do not make cooing sounds at him. Pretend he is invisible, like the rest of us are trying to do.
In glancing around the room, I’d observe some women who seemed unfazed and stoic but still aloof. Some looked like they were about to cry. Some just looked anxious, tapping feet and fidgeting. Some seem happy and hopeful – those were the newbies doing their first cycle. I’ve been all of them in the waiting room, depending on what was about to happen. See, when you’re in the middle of a cycle, you need to be monitored about every other day, usually with bloodwork to read your hormone levels and an ultrasound to see how your eggs (at this point they’re called follicles) and uterine lining are developing. Based on these things the doctor will decide when to do your insemination if you’re doing IUI, or when to do your egg retrieval if you’re doing IVF. The men have it easy – after an initial workup to determine how their sperm looks, all they have to do is show up the day of and give their sample.
Then of course there’s the blood test to see if you’re pregnant. I was always one to POAS (pee on a stick) ahead of time – I didn’t have the patience to wait. So the initial beta didn’t usually make me too nervous, because the first number doesn’t really mean a whole lot, unless it’s super-low. It’s the second number that would freak me out, because it needs to double. If it doesn’t that likely indicates a “chemical pregnancy” (i.e. early miscarriage).
So depending on what’s going on with you that day, you might be a bundle of nerves. If you are pregnant, you might be there for your first ultrasound, which is probably the most nerve-wracking experience of all. If you’re miscarrying, that’s obviously the saddest, and I bet what was happened to the woman my friend observed.
Forget purgatory: The RE’s waiting room is basically hell on earth. The only good experience I had there was during my first and only IUI. We were sent to the waiting room on the floor above. It was empty and strangely quiet. While I waited for my husband to do his thing, I pulled out my book, settled into one of the comfy chairs and put my feet up on the coffee table in front of me. I was reading Julie and Julia, which coincidentally has an infertility storyline. (Although at the end when Julie’s husband tells her that of course they can make a baby – because if she can accomplish mastering the art of Julia Child’s French cooking she can do anything – I laughed at the naivete.) But in any case it was actually a relaxing moment for me amongst all the madness of cycling.
If I go back to try again, I don’t think the waiting room will elicit the same feelings of dread and desperation, because I already have my prize at home. But looking at the other women in the midst of it all will surely bring back the feelings of the darkest time in my life, one I’m so glad I’m past.
Fellow infertiles, what was your experience in the RE’s waiting room?