Rebbie told this story at a Strangerville Live event hosted by The Beehive in 2019. This is a written version of her story.
Infertility sucks. It sucks when you really want kids. It gets trickier when you’re like... pretty sure you want kids.
I’ve always had this complex around feeling like I might not want kids as much as I’m supposed to. As I’ve been trying to trace it back to its roots, I think it started with my childhood friend who I’ll call Jenna.
The problem with Jenna was how much she loved babysitting. She was so good at it! At age 10! Everyone in the neighborhood hired her to watch their kids, all the kids at church flocked to her on Sundays, and she was making all this extra allowance.
I sensed Jenna’s maternal instinct was something I should try to imitate, but the thing was, I hated babysitting. Instead I spent my energy looking at Jenna and thinking, what’s wrong with me?
As women we do this, we compare ourselves in every possible way. But I felt jealous that Jenna knew exactly what she would be when she grew up and that it was so obvious she would be great at it. I wanted something like that for myself - one identity I could claim, that would define me as I made my way through life. And the identity I came up with was to become a career woman. I thought, if I can have a job I’m great at, that will make it okay that I don’t know how to talk to kids.
Jenna and I grew up and went to the same college. She met a great guy who she married and I moved to LA to work as a writer at an advertising agency.
Our lives grew apart the way I’d feared they would as a kid. It felt like that small difference between us had sent us in completely opposite directions, to the point where within a couple years I started to wonder if we really could still call ourselves friends.
We cared about each other of course, we followed each other on Instagram, but is it a friendship when you don’t talk or see each other or have anything in common?
Even as I pursued my career, I hoped things would change, that at some point I would find myself overcome with baby hunger.
When I came home every Christmas I would meet up with Jenna and our other friends. They would talk about all the amazing things their kids were learning and I would tell them about the frozen yogurt commercial I’d just shot. And then I’d go home and think what’s wrong with me?
I hoped when I got married the baby hunger would come, but the closest I got was almost buying a puppy on a whim after a lifetime of zero interest in pets.
The problem was, I was starting to run out of time, biologically speaking. It also didn’t help when Facebook informed me Jenna had just had her fifth child, all while running a super successful business selling baby products on Instagram.
I started weighing the pros and cons of having kids.
On the pro side: someone to change my diapers when I’m old.
On the con side: I have to change their diapers first. Also kids throw tantrums, they’re super messy and steal all your sleep. (I’ve never really understood why my fear of kids needs an explanation.)
But despite all the cons, I always knew deep down I would try to have kids because of my mom. She’s the type of mom who had St. Patrick’s Day traditions. I sort of have no choice but to want to recreate the magical upbringing she gave me.
When I finally went off birth control, I announced it to my friends like I was already pregnant. We were at lunch and I was like, “You guys, I have big news.” Which, looking back, I’m so impressed by my optimism. I just assumed it would happen, because apparently it does for people.
Four months later, nothing had happened. I called my OBGYN to ask some basic questions, and she told me we would have to try to get pregnant for a year before they would do any infertility testing. This made me mad because I had all these friends in Utah who were like, “Oh, here they’ll check you out after 6 months!”
Maybe that’s not true but it does seem fitting that Utah would be more motivated than others to help populate the earth.
After four more months, I scheduled another appointment with her and didn’t say why. My plan was to trick her into telling me why I wasn’t pregnant. This did not work.
She basically reacted as though I was a Type A control freak, which I am, but it still was not helpful. As I was leaving her office she was like, “Just enjoy not having to think about diapers or daycare!”
This is where you start when you’re realizing you can’t get pregnant. You’re like, well kids will suck. So this is fine.
And you’re not making it up either, because everyone tells you how much kids suck. We recently had dinner at our friends’ house and they kept looking over at their adorable two-year-old and being like, “Buddy, show us your hands!” They explained that his latest trick was to put his hands in his poopy diaper and then put those same hands on other things. They were so calm as they told us this! It was like a little dance - “Show us your hands!” I’ve been given so much evidence to support my fear of children, and yet I still went through hell to try to get one.
It was 14 months before we finally got an appointment at the infertility clinic. The doctor they assigned me had a name I’d never heard, so I didn’t think about whether it would be a man or a woman, or what age they might be. And then I met her and she looked like my friend Jenna. Okay not exactly, but she was around my age and had this thick, beautiful hair, and wore the classiest J.Crew outfits under her lab coat.
I looked at her and thought, “She can’t be my doctor.” Because I also suck.
I’ve since gone back and tried to figure out what kind of person I was expecting. One option is a middle-aged woman with childbearing hips, who has a sort of Susan Sarandon wisdom about her. Another is a middle-aged man with glasses and male pattern baldness who just reeks of Stanford.
I would have been fine with either of those options. But I was not prepared for my infertility doctor to be anything close to a peer.
We got started with tests, and Doctor K (as I’ll call her) couldn’t find any glaring issues.
She recommended an IUI, or artificial insemination, which sounds much more sci-fi than it is. Basically they take a turkey baster filled with sperm and release it directly into your cervix. It should just be called “Intercourse-Plus.”
We did one IUI, then another, and another, with no success. Each negative result was a rollercoaster of emotion. There was the disappointment of not being pregnant, followed by the relief of not being pregnant, followed by guilt at being relieved for not being pregnant.
After the last IUI I got a phone call from Jenna who’d run into my mom and heard the news. I was surprised to see her name on my phone because I couldn’t remember the last time we talked. We didn’t have a lot to say but she just told me she was sorry and then we cried together and that was that.
All together, the IUI procedures took about a year, during which I was seeing Doctor K quite frequently.
She kept our interactions very professional, but then one day I had an early appointment and rode up on the elevator behind her. At first I didn’t recognize her, and then I did and was about to say hi, but I realized she was looking at memes on Snapchat. Which is a thing I do, but not a thing you think your doctor does.
Another day, she and I were in her office going over some test results and she asked about my stress levels, which I know she asked for medical reasons but it felt more like girl talk, so I broke down crying and opened up to her about what was going on in my life.
I was seeing Doctor K so regularly by the time we were starting IVF that one day I found myself wondering, like I had with Jenna: would I call this woman my friend?
I was like, we see each other a lot. She’s certainly seen a lot of me. We get along well, we’re both ambitious women chasing careers!
Also, as I had with Jenna, I started comparing our lives. Every time I was in her office I would try to sneak glimpses at her photos, which told me she was married to a beautiful man and had a young daughter. She’d gone to USC and then to Cornell and then back to USC for a fellowship, and I just couldn’t figure out how she had lived all those impressive lifetimes in the same time I had lived mine.
One Sunday in March, Doctor K called me with some test results. This was a really important call because it would determine whether we had enough viable embryos to move forward with IVF.
She gave me the news that although we had far fewer embryos than she would expect for a couple of our age and health, we did have enough to proceed. And then I heard her be like, “No no honey, put that down. NO! Honey -- sorry, can you hold on a minute?”
Which is a thing that has happened a lot when I’m on the phone with my friends who have kids, but never with my doctor.
We moved back to Utah the day after Doctor K showed us our baby’s heartbeat.
At my first doctor’s appointment here I couldn’t help but notice the difference between the waiting rooms. Instead of childless couples in their mid-late thirties, there were young pregnant women with two more kids in tow.
I was surprised to feel this warm sense of belonging there. For years I’d felt excluded -- like I didn’t fit into the mom path all my friends were on. But sitting in the waiting room, I felt relief, like maybe I would finally fit there -- I would have this one thing that would define me. But the feeling faded quickly as I realized, my career has never felt like the one thing that defines me. Because this idea of there being a “mom box” and a “career box” that are completely separate and all-encompassing is of course a myth.
It’s just such a hard myth for me to stop believing in.
I recently realized I’ve been treating my due date like a writing deadline, because in my mind, my life ends December 27th. I made this ridiculous list of writing goals to accomplish before the baby comes, and while I am far from completing it, I can’t deny that I’ve written much more in the last 33 weeks than in the year before. So I don’t know why I’ve been viewing it like I’m moving toward this final deadline, instead of seeing that my kid is already motivating me to work harder in my career.
For years I watched the women around me make what I thought were one of two choices: career or kids. I don’t know why it was so hard for me to see that it might not have been that simple for them, when it has never been that simple for me.
I don’t know why I was surprised that Doctor K would be my age and also have a daughter who she talks to in mom-voice.
I don’t know why I decided at age 10 that I was fundamentally different from Jenna, whose ambition, which started with babysitting, led her to create a successful business as a mom of five.
The girl I grew up with and the girl who got me pregnant are proof that the choices women make are not zero-sum. These boxes we put ourselves–and each other–in,whether it’s because we think they’ll simplify our identities, or because it’s easy to label each other, exist only in our minds.
I needed Doctor K to go to med school. I need Jenna to tell me which stroller to buy.
And I count both of these women as friends.
(Design: Joshua Fowlke) (Editor: Rachel Swan)