Time Spent Trying
Mara had agreed because it seemed like the thing to do. She and Eric were, after all, in their second year of marriage. She was twenty-seven, and now that she was finally comfortable in her work as a paralegal, starting a family seemed like the natural next step.
She remembered the morning Eric approached her with the idea. It was a Sunday—she was up early, had already gone for a run by the time he came meandering down the stairs.
“Mar,” he began, taking hold of her hips, “you look gorgeous.”
“I just jogged the neighborhood,” she giggled—a sophisticated, bouncy sort of laugh that was just right for a woman like herself—“my hair looks terrible. I need a shower.” Still, she loved it when he played the flatterer.
“Your hair looks fine,” Eric said, his breath warm against her neck, his index fingers flirting with the elastic waistline of her shorts, “In fact, your hair looks so fine that the only way it could look any finer is if it were on a little girl who looked just like her beautiful mother.”
Awash in the glow of Eric’s sweet-talk, it took Mara a moment to absorb the intent behind his comment. When the realization came to her, she felt a giddy sense of delight. She turned to her husband, kissed him deeply, her mind swimming with pride.
And so it was decided. They would begin trying to have a baby.
When the first two months of trying yielded no results, Eric decided to get serious about the business. Mara found Eric’s enthusiastic fixation endearing, so when he came home one evening with a package of ovulation detectors, a basal thermometer, and a copy of The Fertility Diet, she felt a flurry of appreciation for his thoughtful care and precision.
Together, they decided Mara would cut coffee from her morning routine—Eric pointed out that too much caffeine interfered with her body’s ability to absorb iron, and that it could also lead to chronic dehydration, both factors making it more difficult for them to conceive. They also opted to have Mara avoid alcohol, red meat, fish, fast food of any kind, and soy products. All of these foods had the potential to lead to irregular periods, lack of ovulation, or abnormal estrogen and progesterone levels, making it nearly impossible for a couple to align all the components necessary to make a baby.
Mara began eating two cups of organic spinach daily; she made a green smoothie every morning, adding half a mango, calcium-rich yogurt, and a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil (she had read that monounsaturated fats helped to decrease inflammation throughout the body, lessening a woman’s chance of erratic menstrual cycles). She switched to a high quality protein diet, only eating complete proteins which contained all nine essential amino acids: egg whites, free-range chicken, quinoa. Eric began eating raw tomatoes with every meal (for the lycopene, an antioxidant linked to increased sperm count and mobility).
Mara downloaded a basal temperature plan template from a fertility website. She started taking her temperature every morning when she woke up and recording it on her BBT chart. Eric suggested she set her alarm for the same time every morning to get an accurate 24-hour comparison. She liked this suggestion, so she arose every day at 6:30 a.m., hoping always to see that glorious uptick of 0.5 to 1.0 degrees that indicated the first day of ovulation.
“I saw something about how fluctuating hormones can be tracked through changes in your cervical mucus,” Eric said, taking a big bite of his BLT.
“I’ve looked, but I haven’t noticed any differences,” Mara sighed. She wasn’t allowed to eat bacon anymore, so she settled for thick slices of avocado instead. It wasn’t nearly as satisfying.
“Call me in next time. There’s got to be somedifference. In the days leading up to ovulation, it’s supposed to be thin and slippery, like an egg white. It might even end up in your underwear, you know, just as a wet discharge.”
Mara stared down at her plate.
“Just start checking every morning when you go to the bathroom. You should be able to see it on the toilet paper after you wipe.”
After five months, Mara and Eric made an appointment with Mara’s doctor.
“Don’t worry,” the doctor said, “you two are young, healthy. Even healthy couples like yourselves sometimes have to try for a year or so before getting pregnant. At this time, I wouldn’t recommend any course of fertility treatment. You two seem well-informed. You just need to keep doing what you’re doing. And do a lotof it.” He winked.
Mara tried to forget about trying. Sometimes she visited the Japanese restaurant across the street from her office and ordered her favorite sushi rolls for lunch, even though all the fertility books advised against consuming raw fish. She didn’t tell Eric.
They tried different positions, hoping to find the most favorable angle to deliver Eric’s sperm as close to Mara’s cervix as possible. She would lie on her back and hook her legs on top his shoulders, placing a pillow beneath her lumbar for the added benefit of downward gravitational flow. Eric thought maybe there was a chance her uterus was retroverted, so at least three times a week, Mara would rest down on her forearms, three pillows beneath her stomach, and let him enter from behind.
Six months after making the decision to try to have a baby, Mara’s period was late. First by one day, and then by two. She waited until she was three days late to tell Eric.
“Are you feeling any different?” he asked her, “Strange? Do your breasts feel tender? Have you had any headaches? More energy? Anything at all that isn’t normal?”
“I don’t know,” Mara said, “after all, it’s so early.” The excitement between them was palpable, almost tense.
“Okay,” Eric said, “okay, well, we’ll just wait. I have a good feeling about this!”
They agreed to wait until Mara was seven days late before taking a pregnancy test. Day four came and went, and then day five. On the evening of the fifth day, Eric was elated. They sat on the couch together—Eric holding her feet in his lap, slowly running his thumbs along her arches—and allowed themselves the careful thrill of visualizing a future as parents.
“Hey, do you think I should stop by Healthy Alternative tomorrow and pick up some prenatal vitamins?” Eric asked, gently kneading her heels, “Did you have a brand in mind?”
“I read that sometimes it’s easier to stomach Flintstones Gummies for the first few weeks, you know, because of morning sickness,” Mara replied. She felt glad to be alive. For a brief moment, she closed her eyes and envisioned a tiny, water-tight amniotic sac forming around the fertilized egg that might be budding inside her. She smiled, feeling important. Sacred, even.
On the morning of the sixth day, there was a brownish discoloration in her underwear when she awoke. She tried not to be nervous, telling herself that light spotting could be a sign of the embryo successfully implanting itself in her uterus. But by that afternoon, Mara was fishing a tampon out of her purse, clenching her teeth as she walked, silently forbidding the tears until she reached the safety of the office bathroom.
In the stall, she cradled her head in her heads. She kept quiet, but as she stared down, watching indignantly as the red drops colored the water in the bowl, her eyes leaked and her nose ran. She felt the uncomfortable heat of failure rising into her neck, blooming across her chest, and in an effort to stifle her sadness, she pressed a wad of toilet paper against her face, taking deep breaths to compose herself.
Fifteen minutes later, she emerged, her skin blotchy and her resolve spent.
“Are you alright?” the secretary asked her.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Mara said, offering a weak grin, “I’m just not feeling well. Stomach cramps.”
The sixth month’s anticipatory optimism, followed so swiftly by cruel disappointment, had been hard for them both. Eric had been frustrated when her dedication to the BBT chart lapsed. She stopped making green smoothies in the morning, and she drank a cup of coffee at the office if she wanted it.
During the seventh month, Mara made a conscious effort to avoid intimacy. She was tired—tired of trying, tired of not getting pregnant, tired of feeling exasperated—and she just didn’t have the conviction to deal with Eric’s tenacity. She told him she wasn’t feeling well, that she wanted to read a book, or that he needed to be considerate and brush his teeth before trying to kiss her.
“Come on,” Eric said, “what’s wrong with you? Statistics show the probability of conception is only 20% during each cycle. We have to keep activelytrying, please don’t give up.”
At eight months, Mara decided to pursue the endeavor with renewed vigor. She had seen a lovely little boy at the grocery store. She watched with genuine longing as his young mother stuck her tongue out at him, touched his ruddy cheek, mussed his curly blonde hair. In a moment of impulsivity, she turned her cart around, shopping now for chicken and asparagus and red bell peppers, gourmet ingredients to make something special for dinner, something romantic. She bought a few chandelier candles to set the mood.
She chose a black cocktail dress from her closet, smiling with pleasure as she imagined how surprised Eric would be when he returned home. For the first time in quite a while, Mara felt determined and capable, confident in her own body and its abilities.
She decided to mow the lawn before starting dinner; it was something nice she could do for Eric, a generous effort to cross a chore off his to-do list. Besides, her body was teeming with energy; she was proud of herself, of the evening she had planned for her and her husband, and she welcomed a chance to be outdoors in the sun. As she ran the mower over the grass, she marveled at the rich, luxuriant smell of the earth beneath her feet.
When she was finished, she started the shower, leaving her dirty clothes in a small pile on the bathroom floor. She wasn’t expecting Eric to be home so soon, but before she knew it, he was stepping into the shower behind her. A pang of irritation cut through her as she felt his hands grip her firmly around the hips—she had been looking forward to surprising him, and now that opportunity had fallen through.
“I didn’t know you were leaving early,” she said.
She felt one of his hands climb her back while the other stayed anchored to her hip. He held her tightly, pressing against her, his wandering hand fumbling for her breasts, her opposite shoulder. He pulled her neck to his mouth and bit.
“Eric!” she squealed. The gesture caught her off-guard.
“You’re so beautiful,” he whispered.
“I have groceries for din—”
He used his free arm to coax her into position, pushing himself into her without hesitation. She scrambled for footing, the tile slippery beneath her feet, but he held her fast around the waist, his own legs splayed wide to brace them both. Her shampooed hair fell forward into her eyes; a wet, jumbled mass that bounced against her face with each thrust.
The water was hot, and being upside-down in the steam made her lightheaded. “I’m getting dizzy,” she said, reaching up in an attempt to break his hold, “Eric, seriously!”
He shifted her to the right, aiming her away from the water and into the corner of the shower. She felt his thighs crash against the back of her body, felt the authority in his movements, the power in the way he held her against the wall, her head down, her fingertips reaching toward the floor for stability.
“Eric,” she said, “come on, knock it off!”
He rode her for another minute or two, and when she felt his lower abdomen seize up, felt his legs stiffen with the quick urgency of release, she squeezed her eyes shut and held her breath.
Afterward, when she tried to right herself, Eric said to stay tilted down awhile, if she could, just in case she was ovulating. So she waited, her upper body hanging down, her palms flat against the floor, her sitting bones sloped toward the sky.
That night, they ordered pizza.
Three weeks later, Mara leaned against the bathroom wall, staring down at the two pink lines that had materialized before her. She looked at these lines for a long time, taking in the gravity of their emergence, the weight and the audacity they seemed to carry.
She touched a freckle just above her naval, then flattened her whole hand against her stomach, trying to ignore the tightness in her throat. She brought her eyes to the mirror, gazing hard at her own reflection, wondering whether the life inside her was one of those glitchy fetuses that would miscarry on its own between weeks six and ten.
And if it wasn’t, she wondered if she’d have a daughter. She wondered what it would be like to raise a baby alone.
Bailey (like the Irish cream), is 29 going on 19. She is a graduate student at Northern Kentucky University and expects to graduate this December (2018) with her Master of Arts degree in English (and an addition graduate certificate in Creative Writing). Previously, she earned a BA in English Literature and Writing from the same university (yes, she loves her alma mater!).
Bailey enjoys practicing hot yoga, is a pet enthusiast who raises a small harem of guinea pigs (yes, that's what a group of guinea pigs is called), and recently survived a skydiving incident where her first parachute did not deploy (that's okay; they give you two!). Other accomplishments include: giving birth without an epidural, losing everything she owns at least once per week, and making a pitcher of unsweetened iced tea...every...single...day...