I go to sleep New Year’s Eve as soon as the ball drops, which is already a good three hours later than my usual bedtime. It’s been a full day, out to eat, over to visit with friends, mentally tallying my new year resolutions. I fall asleep quickly, despite the rhythmic snoring of MJ in bed next to me, or the twitchy way our Golden Retriever’s leg kicks me as she dreams.
I start to dream of an old friend and her five year old daughter, and how MJ and I have come to visit and how we play happily with her daughter who morphs in and out of also being my seven year old niece. At some point in the dream, the child morphs again until she is just a newborn, and my old friend is going on about all the things a person needs for a newborn. There is something about her voice, and something about the warm blue hues of the room we are in that send a wave of calm and warmth through me. She starts to convince MJ and I that we are so close to getting pregnant, that it is so clear it is going to happen to us, that we should start buying these things we need too. I find myself stacking bags of diapers we’ve bought, and nodding as she talks, MJ next to me making lists of things we still need. I can feel something in my stomach. It is clear that even in the dream I am aware the feeling is actual, that it is not just part of the dream, but real. It swells around my stomach, reaching to each side and growing stronger and stronger. Next to MJ, in the warmth of dark blue, I start to hope. And then I wake up.
I wake up in the middle of the night for two reasons. One is that our poor dog, the little Munchkin, who has recently come down with allergies, is scratching her stomach raw on the bed next to me. The second, is that my own stomach has exploded in pain. The swelling feeling I had mistaken in my dream for something good, is instead extensive abdominal pain brought on by a lovely combination of endometriosis and interstitial cystitis I’ve been dealing with for the past two years. I crawl out of bed, take a pain pill for myself and give Munchkin an allergy pill. We share a Ritz cracker to wash them down. I rub her head and think, “seriously, New Year? This is how it’s going to be?”
I go back to bed, and lay on my back, which is still painful, but not nearly as bad as putting pressure on my side. I wait to fall asleep and turn to look at MJ while he sleeps, even though I’m aware it would freak him out if he woke up just then. He is tall with brown hair and big blue eyes. He is not the reason we are having trouble getting pregnant. He is perfect on his own.
MJ and I have been together for over four years. We are not married. People often forget this. People are used to always seeing us together, because we are, almost always together. It is not that we are co-dependent, or unwilling to be parted, or even one of those touchy couples who are always physically linked in public in some way or another. It’s more that we work together, and most of the people we spend time without outside of work just happen to be our co-workers, or other friends that we’ve met through work. Also we can be kind of anti-social and stay in a lot. They’ve tried to come up with nicknames for us as a unit, smushing our names together in weird amalgamations that never sound right. Our boss once told someone we were married, even though we denied it. “No, no,” he said, rolling his eyes. “They’re married.”
We started work one month apart from each other and a year later officially started dating. We have a house, and a dog and a cat. If you’re doing the math, you’ve realized we started trying to get pregnant relatively early. It was not too surprising a decision. For one, our official “dating” had been some time coming. We already knew each other well, and we were quickly devoted to each other. We settled into our home, and decided we were as financially secure as we were going to get. We were also in our thirties, and not feeling old, but not feeling hesitant about settling down. And I, I had problems we already knew about, and doctors who suggested to either hurry up or it maybe never happen. Their words sometimes echo annoyingly in my head.
Before I met MJ, before I even thought about having kids, before I had a job, had a home, knew what I was doing in life, or had any financial security at all I was diagnosed with endometriosis. I hate that word. It’s too long. A friend from college used to say if “you cant spell it, you can’t get it.” This turned out to not be the case. Even the short-hand “endo,” sounds wrong to me. It doesn’t fit, doesn’t remotely sound like what I have, or what it’s felt like. It sounds almost nice when you say it, all those vowels and the soft “d” in the beginning, the pleasant “met” syllable. It is a mouthful, but not an unpleasant one. It has the same rhythmic tongue movements as “licorice” or “amazing.” You hit the roof of your mouth then pout out your lips on the “do,” only to smile through the “me” before circling your lips like jump ropes through the “osis.” It is a pleasant word to say. It is a hellish disease to have.
Here are some of the really annoying side-effects of having endometriosis. The pain does not stop. Pain meds may dull it, but it does not stop. The pain can cause you to spend your day in the bathroom, unpleasantness pouring out from multiple ends of you. The pain can come at anytime on any day, without warning and without any socially acceptable explanation for why you suddenly can’t stand, or move, or complete a sentence. You will find most people have never heard of it, and to explain it, you must awkwardly talk about your ovaries and your menstrual cycle to people you would never share personal information with. The pain will often not be taken seriously by anyone, including your doctors. Your ultrasounds will not show any difference. Your blood results will be normal. You will grow increasing self-conscious about needing medical help, or pain medication, or any special attention. You will be unable to eat soy, wheat, or any of the other key ingredients to your previous vegetarian lifestyle. You will have trouble getting pregnant for the rest of your life.
The interstitial cystitis came more recently, after the second laproscopy for the endo, when my doctor noticed my bladder was raw and infected. I have not wanted to admit this for some time, in part because I don’t want to believe it and in part because I don’t want to give others the satisfaction of being right for already saying it, but if we’re being honest, I have pushed my body into a health nosedive trying to get pregnant. Three years later, two laposcropy surgeries later, I still deal with the endometriosis, and now this IC, for which it is thought my endometriosis exasperated if not caused. (This does not even include the unfortunate side effect that because of all the pain meds I am on, I had to go off my anti-depressants for the clinical depression I was diagnosed with back in college, but then, we don’t really need to get into all of my crazy right away.) Interstitial cystitis also does not follow the “can’t spell it” rule, and is equally embarrassing to have to explain to others. If people did not want to hear about your ovaries, and your menstrual blood, I assure you they want to hear even less about your bladder and anything else related to your urination patterns. I find myself again, without any socially acceptable explanation for why my bladder occasionally acts up so much that I suddenly can’t stand, or move, or complete a sentence.
I get back to sleep only in bits until seven in the morning when my mother “accidentally” calls me by dropping her phone in her purse. She does this frequently. My brother once recorded a ten minute phone call with my mother where her phone sat open in her purse while she walked through the grocery store completely unaware. He then called her back and pretended her could psychically guess what she was doing. Conceding defeat I get up and start cleaning, because I am convinced that less mess, and less clutter will make me feel better, and even though my stomach is screaming, sometimes getting up and moving around or at least distracting myself helps with the pain. So, the bed sheets go into the laundry, the dishes get washed, the kitchen counters get cleaned. I even clean the litter box though this is my least favorite house chore and is usually passive aggressively left for MJ to do. Unfortunately he has outsmarted me in the “start the new year right” campaign and is already at the gym.
I eat a banana for breakfast and optimistically take a prenatal vitamin, which is something my old OBGYN suggested when I first decided to go off Depo Provera and try to get pregnant, and something I stopped doing a year and a half later when everything started seeming pointless. I do it now primarily because I’ve added it to my resolutions for the year, in an effort to be both positive and proactive. But I’d be lying if I don’t admit that part of me still felt that odd warmth and hope left over from the dream, and that a small, very small, part of my brain has tottered off into “what if it was a premonition?” land, and is sending back brief messages of the “I don’t know guys, maybe…” variety. I put the pill bottle back and notice that this, the original giant Walgreens bottle I bought, has officially expired this month. I find this annoying. Also I am not sure how vitamins expire.
When MJ gets back I bully him into taking the Christmas tree down which we do while he sings, “so that was Christmas,” and declares me the “Christmas killer.” I love Christmas, ridiculously so. I start listening to Christmas music when Halloween ends, and declare it decorating time the second the last bite of turkey is eaten on Thanksgiving Day. But this year I am not sad to see the tree go down. This year Christmas seemed particularly hard, and the routine of decorating felt futile in a way it never had before, a part of me just nagging away, wondering what the point was without children, or whether it was ever going to be different. It’s the same part of me that is now in possible premonition land. She is a wanderer that part, hardly ever focuses and almost always gets the rest of us into trouble.
I am happy for Christmas to end, but once the tree is down and the furniture put back and the floor swept, I find that the emptiness and doubt has lingered, and the pain is still pretty bad. My efforts to clean do not help either. The fresh new sheets on the bed don’t make me feel better. The organized kitchen counters don’t ease my mind. Even my stomach is feeling a different kind of queasy after that vitamin. Maybe it is possible it expired. I put the last pillow back in place and think, “I guess this is how it’s going to be today,” with a sigh of resignation. “You win, New Year’s, you win.”
By two, I am exhausted, in pain and unable to concentrate on anything. We all end up back in bed verging on naps: MJ, Munchkin, myself and the Cat. MJ is reading a book. Munchkin is stretched out on her side sleeping. The Cat has curled up against Munchkin and buried her head in the dog’s soft golden fur. They are pariticularly adorable together, but since they are best friends, we are pretty used to these displays. I lay on my back and turn to look at MJ, not carrying if he thinks its creepy at all. He is perfect on his own, but secretly I like to think he is better, or at least happier, with us; with me and my broken body, our Golden with her allergies, the Cat, with, well whatever’s wrong with her. And when I think this, I get that feeling of warmth and peace after all. I think to myself, as I fall asleep, that whatever it has or doesn’t has, right now it’s our family, and we’re all together, slipping into the new year.