Monday, December 15, 2014

Chapter 3 - Bound

When a woman’s womb is clogged with scar tissue, doctors call it “intrauterine adhesions.” Women like me who have the condition call it AS.

I learned I had this problem on a frigid December day. Fog draped the valley in a flat grey light making the trees look like charcoal drawings on white paper. The cars and buildings were colorless outlines with water vapors condensed around their edges. I drove through the fog to see a fertility specialist with impressive credentials who might be able to help me get pregnant.

When I went to the fertility center, I didn’t yet know I was infertile. I was told about Asherman’s Syndrome, rather abruptly by Dr. Kim who was well-regarded doctor in his field. When I met him, Dr. Kim was wearing a starched white lab coat strikingly similar to the dreary weather. His eyes, rimmed by thick round glasses, darted from chart to computer, never once settling on mine. We were separated by a government-issue desk mounded with stapled documents and manila files. He seemed happy sitting there, almost hiding. Only occasionally did he peer at me between the stacks. With heavily accented English, he immediately launched into a discussion about my condition.

“You have intrauterine adhesions occluding your uterus. We don’t often see these cases and never with such a complete blockage. Your case is especially severe.”

Dr. Kim had not even said hello to me or asked how the weather was outside. There was no exchange of pleasantries. His academic interest was of greater importance than helping me have a baby. To him, I was a living breathing case of Asherman’s Syndrome and he could not contain his scholarly excitement.

“Look here,” he said pointing to his computer screen with a pencil to show me the damning proof. There was no way for dye to trace the shape of my uterus because in reality, I had no uterus. The walls of my uterus were stuck together with stringy tissue much like a mashed pizza box when the cheese sticks to the top and makes a gooey mess.

I was stunned. I looked over at a female resident who sat meekly at the side of his tiny office but she said nothing. She was perched on the end of her chair almost as if she wanted to reach out to me, to offer some condolence but she remained frozen, perhaps silenced by her subservient position.

“In some cases,” the doctor continued “we can cut the adhesions. But, in your condition, there is no way to know where the planes of the uterus are. If we begin cutting, we might perforate your uterus or cut the veins within the tissue, which would lead to serious bleeding and then we would have to repair it and...” His voice trailed off while he imitated the process, hunching over as if rehearsing how the procedure would go awry and then endanger my life. Then he stopped with a flurry of his arms and looked at me.

“Usually we recommend a hysterectomy.”

I blanched.

His eyes darted to mine for a brief second and then he looked away again while backpedaling. “You could develop endometriosis with such a complete blockage. You know what that is right? Endometriosis is dangerous because the uterine lining grows in the abdomen. It’s painful, too. You don’t want that to happen.”

The resident shifted in her seat uneasily.

I could hardly focus on the images the doctor showed me. I felt cold and alone in his heartless office. He had no pictures of babies on his walls. He had no poems offering solace or hope. He didn’t have a kitschy stress ball sitting on his desk. I looked for one, hoping to grab hold of it in a desperate attempt to focus my pain.

He stopped talking and squirmed in his chair, almost like a child waiting to be sent out to play. Something prodded me to ask for a repeat exam and that he do the procedure, not a resident. I wanted to be sure the test was performed by competent hands. I wanted to be sure the person who told me the results had actually seen my uterus for himself. I left his office stunned and shaken.

A month later, the second attempt to trace my womb with dye failed. Dr. Kim dressed in scrubs, quickly popped into the exam room. He was fitting me in between surgeries and Mike and I could feel his reluctance to be there. He snapped on his gloves and a face mask and perfunctorily inserted the catheter. He inflated the balloon and with one try to inject the dye, abruptly stopped.

“So sorry,” he said to us as he hurried out of the room looking almost guilty in his vindication. “There is nothing we can do for you.” Then he was gone.

Mike and I looked at each other. The smile-lines that used to squeeze into the corners of his sky-blue eyes went slack and only pain remained. There would be no more babies for us. We stumbled out of the hospital, despairing and filled with misery on another colorless winter day believing everything had ended in that exam room.

On the sad drive home, I flashed back through the months of my blissful pregnancy with Elliott. I remembered a moment days before his birth when my life as a career woman ended and I found my purpose.

“Have you had the baby yet?”

It was the HR manager at my company calling me a few days before Elliott was born.

“I wish I could say yes. I’d really like to get this over with. I’ll be induced on Tuesday. What’s up?” I knew what was coming next.

“Jennifer, I hate to do this to you…We were hoping you would have had the baby by now but we have to eliminate your position. There is too much redundancy with the new company and…”

I laughed good-naturedly at her awkwardness. “Really, Leslie. I knew this was coming. You kept me on payroll this long and I appreciate that. Do you think I care much about anything right now beside having this baby?”

After witnessing the death of thousands at the World Trade Center just a few weeks before and feeling life bloom in my belly, I didn’t want to work. I wanted to be a mother.