So I’m writing a book about being overweight, about being diagnosed with PCOS, about thinking and believing that I would never have a baby. I’m writing about how, ironically, I was the only woman in my family who ever wanted a baby, yet the only one who could not produce one. And when I write these sentences and the narrative begins to take shape, the pain and misery of those years almost takes my breath away. It’s as if writing this story has me standing on the edge of something and I’m ready to fall. I remember those days when seeing my friends with their babies would make me want to barricade myself indoors for months. I remember being divorced and feeling like I was nothing, less than a woman, less than a human even, because I was barren and fat. And what did I have to offer anyone?
My story may not be extraordinary My story may not matter to most. But I have to go forward and believe that it will matter to someone, even if that someone is just me.
Step One: Want it. For years, I imagined Emily following me around with a blanket in her arms like Linus from the Charlie Brown cartoons. Her hair would fall into black ringlets that dripped to her shoulders like water. She would never grow over two feet tall in my mind. She would never get older, never go to Kindergarten, never drive a car, and never kiss a boy. She was a baby, my baby, and I wanted her more than anything.
Step Two: Marry an asshole. Emily’s existence was something more than my wanting a baby, it was my need to conjure up a friend, a companion, something to take care of. I was sad and lonely and fat and scared. I was a mess. Emily was supposed to save me from all of that.
Step Three: Have delusions. I had imagined making babies with ease, as if they were simply fruit- ripening on the trees around us- and all I had to do was pluck. I never imagined that skill was involved, that heartbreak was required, and that the one simple accomplishment that came so easily to my mother at seventeen, would be so nearly impossible to me only twenty-some years later. Suddenly there are Basal body temperatures, medication, plotting and charting. It was fucking-tempered with science and biology.
Step Four: Pray. I have never prayed so hard for anything or anyone. Dying grandparents, ailing friends, starving children in Ethiopia, abandoned pets on the Sarah McLachlan commercial, they all received half-hearted “not sure if I believe” prayers. But Emily, this baby that has yet to exist, this person I have yet to create, she receives all of me, every stitch of something deep and real inside of me. She has the prayer of a thousand suns beaming from my belly.
Step Five: Divorce the asshole. The day you left, Emily left with you. The ghost of a child I would never meet. I don’t know who I missed more. I cried for you, but I ached for her.
I’m young, too old for high school and too young for babies, when I first hear about the disease I have given myself. PCOS: Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome. I’ll save you the medical jargon, it sucks. It’s a syndrome which means they can’t really isolate what it is, they just know what it does. It is triggered by a hormonal imbalance. It makes you fat(ter), it prevents you from ovulating, it impedes your ability to conceive. From where I’m standing now I see it for what it is: an unfortunate condition which will seemingly complicate, but in the end actually save, my life.
But I’m eighteen or so, and I’m confused and I’m pissed off. All I see is something inside of my body designed to further torture me. When coworkers make fun of me, and they do, I tell them about this beast growing untamed inside of me. I explain that I am fighting something I can’t see, something they can’t see, but you know what? They’re bullies and they don’t give a fuck. (It takes me almost a decade to discover this) A crack starts to open up in my head and in it seeps a truth I start to accept: I am a defect. I cannot get pregnant and I will always be fat. I am not worth the materials it took to make me.
This might be where it starts. This might be where it ends.
In my twenties, I discover an online support system: Soulcysters. When my ex-husband and I try to make babies, it is this group of anonymous women that suffer through it with me. Together we chart basal body temps, fail pregnancy tests, and synchronize our medicines. A few of them become rising stars and leave our discussion boards (TTC=Trying to Conceive) for the greener pastures of (BFP=Big Fat Positive!!!). I miss them, I send them my best wishes, I never get to join them.
PCOS is a barrier. PCOS is a parasite, sucking away my female parts, saddling me with the androgyny of infertility. There is only one way out of this tunnel. There is only one way to reverse the damage I’m doing to myself. It takes me ten years to get control of this disease, of this syndrome. Ten years before I’m hunched over in a bathroom peeing on a stick and nearly fainting as the second pink line appears. And that is how PCOS saved me in the end. It saved me from having babies with the wrong man, from being anchored in a port I did not belong, and it saved my fertility for my babies.