Thicker Than Blood (Part 1)

Heather’s eyes darted to the pregnancy test perched on the white vanity, her hands glued to her mouth, chipping away at what was left of her stubby fing

ernails. Sitting on the covered toilet, her knees bounced to soothe her anxiety.

Still nothing.

Kyle visibly winced with each chomp of her nails. He leaned in from his seat on the edge of the bathtub to check the test and slipped his hand into hers to get some relief.

Still nothing.

The tick of the clock broke the silence as the young couple held their collective breath. The last twelve months brought vitamins, hormones, test cups, frustration and plenty of tears to their bathroom sink. Despite all the research, doctor’s visits, pills, positions, fertility calendars, and prayer, all they had to show for it was a miscarriage and another pregnancy test playing with their emotions.

As Kyle spun his wedding band, Heather glanced at the test and found the familiar sign. She held it in front of Kyle.

“Nope” she said as she dropped it in the trash.

Kyle looked up from his wedding band in time to see Heather’s numb walk to the bedroom. She crawled under the covers and pulled the thick comforter up to her face.

As Kyle climbed in the bed to comfort his wife, the only words he could find were, “I’m sorry, honey. We’ll talk to the doctor about it on Tuesday and see what else we can do.”

For what seemed like the hundredth time, Heather cried and silently asked, Why? Why them? They’re responsible people who deserve to have children. Her mind jumped to her friend Maggie, 6 months pregnant and glowing–and then to all the irresponsible mothers with kids, all of ‘em on welfare.

Her sadness shifted to guilt for not being able to provide children for her husband. She hated that about herself. And all she’d ever wanted was to be a mother. As a child it was her dream to one day care for her children and, like gravity, she felt the pull to have them.

It felt like torture. To feel the need to be a mother so deeply, yet to be denied over and over. Why would God allow this to happen? To give such a desire and then deny the very thing that causes the desire? Where’s the justice in that?

It created a rift. She couldn’t remember the last time she prayed, and after 18 months of every possible human emotion, Heather was done.

Done with praying, done with church, done with the platitudes.

We’ll be praying for you, they say. Bullshit. It hadn’t done anything yet.

And just like she had every night for the last three months, Heather fell asleep with tears on her cheeks.

Frustrated, angry, sad tears.

———————

Heather woke to a mascara-smeared pillow and her cell phone vibrating across the nightstand. She peered through bed head and puffy eyes to see Cheri’s, her half-sister, number. As she silenced it, she looked over to see Kyle’s side of the bed empty. He must’ve kissed her goodbye without waking her up.

She rolled back over and sat up on the edge of the bed to get her bearings after a long night of tossing and turning. The cool morning air made it’s way to her bare legs and she did a great zombie impression on the way to the bathroom. As she sat down, she saw the negative pregnancy test in the trash and quickly wrapped it and tied it shut.

The coffee maker spat and sputtered as she stood at the sink in time to watch the next-door neighbor load up her newborn baby girl, Judson, and her 3-year-old son, Jayden. She imagined loading up her own newborn girl, but covering the car seat on this cold morning because she’s not a moron. The last breaths of the coffee maker brought her back to reality.

After she poured her first cup, one of the many she assumed she would need that morning, she walked past the baby’s room. It was the guest bedroom until they had converted it just before the miscarriage.

The stuffed bear in the crib reminded her that she still needed to buy a gift for Maggie’s baby shower. Another baby shower where she can pretend she’s bitter. On the bright side, it was a reason to go to Target, and any self-respecting white girl from the suburbs will take advantage of a reason to go to Target. Just before she climbed in the shower, her phone buzzed on the sink. It was Cheri, again. She furrowed her brow and silenced it, probably a butt-dial after another drunken Saturday night.

Decked out in her best yoga pants, sweatshirt, and top knot, she made her way through the red doors of the little slice of heaven. She ordered an obligatory venti-skinny-extra hot-white chocolate mocha latte, grabbed the registry, and made her way back to the familiar baby section. Thankfully, the store was quiet and she could get lost in rack after rack of the latest diaper bags, bottles, pajamas, onesies, booties, and toys. No one was there to stop her, or judge her for lingering or daydreaming.

The aisle cap stopped her in her tracks with the latest crib and changing table combination, the one with the comfy rocking chair. Behind the display was a giant poster—a loving father looking on at his wife holding their newborn baby with her mother’s eyes and brown curls. Heather looked to the right, then left. No one was watching, why not try this new rocking chair out. She’s in the market. As she eased into the soft seat, she slowly cradled her newborn baby girl, then looked up at Kyle’s proud and loving smile.

Her vibrating purse rudely interrupted her moment.

It was Cheri, again. After weeks of silence, she called three times in three hours. Strange, but too risky to take the call with a doctor appointment in an hour. Besides, she wouldn’t be able to do anything for her anytime soon. Silenced.

The coffee kicked in and Heather jumped into the registry to find something not too cheap and not too expensive. Something that allowed her to fly right under the radar—she wouldn’t look poor, nor like she was compensating for any emotional issues. Inevitably, she lingered too long and rushed home to meet Kyle for their appointment.

___________________________

Heather swung her short legs on the edge of the examination table.

The sound of rustling paper from under her legs filled the room. It was a small examination room, like most others. She would normally start to feel her claustrophobia bring the walls in but there were more important things to focus on.

Heather was no stranger to examination rooms either, in the last year she had been probed, prodded, and halfway violated for everything from ultrasounds to a miscarriage and infertility examinations.

Kyle sat in the chair against the wall, elbows on knees, frustrated with how long it was taking to get the news. Just after hearing the doctor’s voice outside the door, there was a knock, the handle jolted, and the door swung open to show Dr. Brichner’s smiling face.

“Hello Heather. Hi Kyle,” said the chipper doctor.

“Hello doctor,” they said simultaneously.

As the doctor sat down and flipped through the chart, Heather couldn’t take her eyes off the doctor’s pink hair extension. It was breast cancer awareness month but men, especially those with short hair, weren’t common candidates for pink hair extensions.

“Well, I have good news and bad news” the doctor began, “the good news is, Kyle, your sperm count and motility are both good. Heather, the die test came back normal.”

Heather breathed in deeply and waited for what would come next. Kyle sat back in his chair.

“The fact that these tests are normal, points to the likelihood that the issue you’re struggling with is because of your complications during your short pregnancy. Specifically, any scarring on the uterus you may have picked up from the D&C surgery.” This wasn’t exactly earth-shattering, they had been warned about this before the surgery. But it wasn’t on the forefront of their mind when dealing with a miscarriage.

The doctor continued, “This doesn’t mean we’re at the end of the line. You can continue trying with hormone treatments and calendar timing, but you need to start considering in vitro fertilization. Most people refer to it as IVF.” Dr. Brichner watched Heather and Kyle share a look. “Obviously, this isn’t a decision you have to make right now and we can discuss what’s involved before you move forward.”

Heather followed up quickly, “I understand what you’re saying, but what’s the cost for IVF roughly?”

“Well, anywhere from twenty-five to thirty thousand, depending on how things go. And as I think I’ve said before, there are no guarantees with IVF, but it’s likely your best shot under the circumstances.”

“That’s a lot of money.” Kyle scoffed. “We’ll have to take some time to think about it and get back with you.”
Heather stared at Kyle’s feet and wiped the tears that had started in her eyes.

“I understand, I can get you a new script and you can continue the hormone treatments in the meantime. If you don’t have any questions for me, I’ll just document your file and if you want to check back at any time, you can.”

“Thank you doctor,” Heather squeaked out as she sat on the table, feeling rooted there. Kyle put his arm around her to bring the end of the appointment to reality.

“Babe, I really need to get going, the guys are waiting at the site.”

As Heather and Kyle made their way out of the doctor’s office maze, Heather managed to stay just on this side of breaking down. She grabbed the car keys and headed out while Kyle negotiated the bill for the visit. She couldn’t stand to hear another sum of money. They were that much further from having the money for IVF.

By the time Kyle reached the car, Heather had broken. The old Toyota Camry’s door squeaked shut as he reached over to comfort her.

“I’m sorry babe. We’ll sit down tonight and see what we can budget.” Said Kyle.

“That’s more than I make in a year. It’s what you make in a year. This is going to take forever.”

“I’ll talk to the bank and see what they can do for us.”

“If we couldn’t get a loan for the business, how are we going to get a loan for IVF?” Heather said with a quivering chin.

Kyle’s excavating business, Robinson Earth Movers, Inc., desperately needed new equipment. It seemed like something was breaking down every week. The community bank and every other bank in the tri-county area had deemed them too much of a credit risk, so they used every bit of extra cash they had to keep the business running.

Kyle turned and exhaled. “Damn it. Babe, can you please stop being so negative? It’s not helping anything.” Kyle said, wishing he could bring the words right back into his mouth.

“Don’t swear at me. You know I don’t like that. And I just want to be mad for a second. A second. We just found out we may never be able to have a child and all you want me to do is stay positive? I need a moment to be mad.” She said, waiving her Kleenex-filled hand.

“I know, I know. I’m sorry. I just…I want to find a way to get it done. That’s all. I just want to stay positive.”

Kyle stared out the front window of the parked car. He missed his happy-go-lucky wife. The one he met in high school seven years ago—the one who bounced around the halls and always had a smile on her face. He loved her energy and positive outlook on life. The woman sitting next to him had been beat down by what life had dealt them in the last year and a half. He understood it, but that didn’t make it any easier to watch. Kyle desperately wanted to provide what she wanted and couldn’t help but feel responsible for what was happening to her. If the business was more successful, this wouldn’t be an issue, or at least would be easier to swallow. Kyle had started the business to provide more for his family than a nine-to-five job, and maybe even to pass it down to his son (or two), but that takes years or even decades to develop.

“I’ll take a look at things again tonight and I’ll call Clear Lake Bank tomorrow and see if they have any options for something like this. Or maybe your parents or my parents would be willing to help.” Kyle said.

“My parents can’t afford to help us. You heard them talking about dad’s work slowing down and Jane is still not doing very well. Your parents aren’t any better.” Heather was barely able to get the last words out as she began crying again.

Kyle reached over for his wife’s hand and it didn’t move. He started the car and pulled out of the doctor’s office toward home.

——————-

God made wine for many reasons, one of the best is for women with fertility issues forced to attend baby showers.

Heather didn’t mind the shower itself, it was just the women who caused the problems. You know, the ones with their babies or their baby bumps. When struggling with fertility, every stroller, baby carrier, baby, and baby bump seems to scream a reminder of the struggle. Even the stick figures on the back of the minivans. Those vans got the finger.

Heather didn’t want to be bitter. But people like Kelly Ferguson made it nearly impossible.

“Hey Heather!” Kelly said in her typical squeal as she opened the front door.

“Hey Kelly.” Heather tried to match her excitement but it just wasn’t going to happen.

Kelly gave the obligatory hug and kept one hand on Heather’s shoulder.

“I haven’t given a normal hug in quite some time.” Kelly joked, rubbing her 8 month pregnant belly.

You’re so funny Kelly, Heather thought.

“It’s so good to see you here. I know these things are tough for you. With the…well, you know.” She lowered her voice to almost a whisper.

Yes, I’m well aware, Kelly. It was time for Heather to move on.

“I’m so glad to be here.” Heather said as she smiled and quickly scanned the packed living room for another friend. Thankfully, Maggie was already making her way through the crowd and locked eyes with her.

“Hey preggers!” Heather yelled as she hugged her oldest friend.

“Heather! Thank you so much for coming.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Heather lied.

Heather and Maggie grew up across the street from each other but their friendship waned in recent years. As Maggie’s family grew, they grew apart at the same rate. This was Maggie’s third addition and probably the last straw that would turn their friendship from a privilege to an obligation.

Despite Heather’s best efforts, Maggie moved on to make her rounds with her guests. As the small talk continued around finger foods and wine spritzers, Heather had the good fortune of receiving a parade of advice from all the fertile Myrtles in the room.

First up, the lovely Donna. Overweight and way too graphic, “Have you tried doggy style? I know it sounds weird but all three of my kids. Doggy style.” She looked Heather dead in the eye as she said it. Heather laughed but Donna was as serious as Donna’s future diabetes.

Next up, Rebecca, who had struggled with infertility for a whole 6 months. “Have you tried laying on your back afterward and pulling your knees to your chest? It’s supposed to really get it in there. You know what I mean?” Heather cocked her head to the side, caught speechless. Rebecca continued explaining, “You know, kind of like if you did a squat but fell on your back. That way the sperm really gets up in your, uh, your—”

“Oh, oh yeah, I see what you’re saying.” Heather was tempted to let her continue to make sure this was really happening but it wasn’t worth the risk of this woman actually talking about Heather’s very own vagina. Or vulva, or whatever else came out. Apparently, whatever came out, it wouldn’t be sperm. Because that’s gonna stay in there. If done properly.

The advice continued.

“Have you tried going gluten-free?” Oh come on, Julie.

“Have you tried the kale diet?” I would cut someone, literally cut someone. But thanks for the advice, Stephanie.

Then there was the always popular “accident” conversation.

As in “This one was not planned at all. I was on antibiotics while taking the pill and, well, oops! I swear he could put a baby in my belly by looking at me.” This one was followed by a nervous laugh—because it was her fifth child. Heather didn’t know this woman but she had a look of desperation that even Heather pitied. And Heather was pretty sure she saw a teddy graham in this poor woman’s bun.

Then the “guilt trip” conversation.

As in “I can’t remember the last time I slept, I haven’t showered in three days, and my house is a mess.” The bags under Monica’s eyes and the grease ball on top of her head provide plenty of proof.

When Heather brings up how amazing a family is, there’s the guilt-ridden follow up, “But being a mom is such a blessing. It’s been the most fulfilling experience of my life. I mean, I love being a wife, but being a mom is just…I can’t even describe how complete it makes me feel.” Complete. Complete would describe it just fine, Monica.

Last, and Heather’s favorite, the religious conversation.

As in “This might be God’s way of telling you you’re just not quite ready to be a mom yet. Have you tried fasting and praying for God to make you ready to be a mom?” Good intentions never sounded so cruel.

Lord, is there an asterisk next to the “Thou Shalt Not Murder” command for moments like this? I’ll make it quick. She won’t suffer.

Suddenly, Heather wasn’t feeling so great. She better go home before getting any of the expecting women sick. Cough, cough.

——————-

“Hello?” came John’s baritone voice from the other end of the line. It was such a grounding tone for her—conjuring up fairy tails and lullabies even in her mid-twenties.

“Hey dad!” Heather said, sitting back on their overstuffed couch.

“Hi honey! How are you?”

“Oh, good. Just wanted to give you a call and see how you’re doing. Sorry it’s so late. You weren’t sleeping, were you?”

“No, no it’s fine. Just getting older everyday. Ha! We’re doing alright, hon. It’s starting to cool off and I’m ready for it. Arizona winters are great, but Arizona summers are the pits. I thought Indiana summers were hot. These are downright miserable, no matter how dry the air is.”

John and his second wife, Jane, moved to Arizona a few years after they were married, almost exactly five years after Heather’s mom died from breast cancer. Jane’s kids lived in Arizona, plus she had developed a terrible case of COPD and Prescott, Arizona is one of the best places to live with COPD. The downside, John struggled to find reliable work as an RV repairman, and he missed his two girls and only grandson terribly.

“Yeah, the leaves are changing here and I already miss summer.” Heather stalled.

“Well, you’re welcome to come visit anytime, you know that, hon.”

“I know, thanks dad.”

“So, what’s up? Everything okay?” John said, hoping this was the call to tell him they were finally pregnant again.

“Well, we had another doctor’s appointment this week and…it wasn’t good.” She hadn’t cried in the last few days but there was something about telling her dad that made her choke up again.

“Oh I’m so sorry hon. You’re still doing the hormone treatments, right?”

“Yes, but we did more testing and it looks like, well, it looks like IVF is the only option left.”

“Okay, so you still have options. That’s good.” John said.

“Expensive options.”

“Right” John said quietly, “I remember you said this is the expensive part of the process if you have to go there. How much are they sayin’?”

“Twenty-five to thirty thousand.”

“Well, shit.” John said. He knew they couldn’t begin to afford that.

“Kyle talked to the bank and we can’t get a loan. The business has maxed us out. I don’t know what to do, dad.” Heather waited. Hoping to hear something, anything positive.

“I’m sorry hon. I know this is hard on both of you, and I’m sure they need payment up front. Hey, how’s the business doing anyway?” Heather was annoyed that he changed the subject so quickly to avoid what he knew she was calling about. She leaned forward and put her head in her hand.

“It’s alright, it seems like we’re always fixing something. We take two steps forward and two steps back. Sometimes I wish he would just get a normal job. Something more stable.” She could hear Kyle’s footsteps in their bedroom and hoped he didn’t hear that. As much as she wanted him to find a regular job, she didn’t want to discourage his dream of owning a successful business.

“Kyle’s doing what he thinks is best for your family. He has good intentions. I know it’s hard to see it now—”

“We won’t have a family if we don’t do something different, dad.” Heather protested.

John knew Heather’s angst and decided it was time to stop beating around the bush.

“Well, I really want to help you honey, I do. But—”

That’s all it took. One “but.”

“But you can’t.” Heather finished.

“I’m sorry honey, but with Jane’s health issues and my work slowing down, we—”

“I know dad, I just thought it was worth at least asking.” Heather resigned.

“I’m so sorry you’re going through this.” They were the only words he could find.

“I know,” Heather said quietly. Another “I’m sorry” she thought. If I hear one more I might scream. “I’m sorry” doesn’t put a baby in my belly, it doesn’t pay the doctor’s bills, it doesn’t really do anything except piss me off, and then I feel bad for being pissed off at someone’s condolence.

“Well, it’s getting late and I better let you go.” Heather said.

“Okay hon. I love you.”

“I love you too, dad. Goodnight.”

Heather ended the call as Kyle came down the hall with a notepad in his hand and joined her on the couch in their small living room.

“Okay, I’ve looked over our spending for the last couple months and if we cut out cable, the gym, and really watch how much we eat at restaurants, we can probably save seven hundred fifty dollars per month. It also depends on how much you make every month. If you want to pick up a few extra shifts, that’ll probably make it a thousand.” Kyle’s eyes were lit up with optimism as he showed Heather his findings.

“That’s great babe, but even at a thousand dollars a month it’s going to take two years to save enough.”

“I know, I know, I figured maybe we can also do a garage sale and sell some of the stuff we don’t need. I can sell the X-Box and DVD’s and anything else we don’t really need. And once we get a decent amount of money saved up, the bank is more likely to give us credit. So it might not be two years, it might only be more like a year.”

Heather didn’t want to be a wet blanket on his excitement and she couldn’t help but let some of it in. She hugged him tight and they kissed for the first time in days.

“We have a plan. I needed that, something to work toward. It’s not as fast as I had hoped but it’s something. I love it honey. I’ll talk to Karen tomorrow about picking up a few extra shifts.” Heather said.

For the first time in three months, Heather fell asleep with a hint of optimism, a tiny light flickering at the end of the tunnel.