The third cycle after Dan and I started trying for a baby, waaaay back in the fall of 2009, there was a blood drive at my work. I was in the habit of always donating when the blood center people came to the huge highrise office building; in fact I think I’ve written here a few times about why I give blood. I remember this incident specifically because it was the first time the 80 billion question sheet that asked about medications and time spent living in the UK and sex with a man who has had sex with another man and tattoos and piercings and medical issues asked the question, “Are you now or have you been, within the last six weeks, pregnant?”
I was about five days past ovulation at that point, or at least I was pretty sure that’s where I was in the cycle, so I guess it was technically POSSIBLE that a fertilized egg was hanging out in there someplace and hadn’t yet implanted. But I marked the sheet “No” after a little twinge of insecurity and asked the phlebotomist who checked the questionnaire, tested my blood for iron levels, and took my temperature and blood pressure about what the new pregnancy question was for. “They’re doing some kind of study,” she told me. Huh, I thought, and didn’t think any more of it.
Each time I’ve given blood since that drive, I’ve had to answer that question. Except it soon changed to “Have you ever been pregnant?” Every time, I check “No” and it gives me a weird little wistful twinge. No, I’ve never been pregnant. Not for lack of trying, not for lack of wanting, not for lack of anything save the physical ability to do so. We aren’t waiting on ‘the right time’ or anything. We just can’t. And frankly, it bothers me a little bit that they ask the question when how I answer the question in no way changes my blood’s suitablility for donation. My blood is A+ and I’ve never lived in one of the blacklisted countries, I’ve never had a tattoo, I’ve never had a blood transfusion or cancer and have no family history of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease.
Last Friday, Dan and I were planning to give blood at a local drive but were unable to do so for last minute logistical reasons, so to do our part to help out with the Sandy relief effort (we have no money but we have blood to give to help the nationwide supply), yesterday we drove to the closest donation center. At the center, they now have these fancy handheld computers that ask you the same questions as the traditional scantron-type sheet, only the data is automatically entered into their system on the spot. We still had to sit and wait to be called by the phlebotomists to do the iron and blood pressure checks, and the one I got was especially chatty. She told me all about how she was doing her residency at UCSF and wanted to specialize in internal medicine, and about what other parts in the US she’d lived after I mentioned my normal blood pressure (100/60) had finally returned after my 115/75 the whole time I’d lived in Denver. My iron levels were fine, and she sat me in the chair and poked both of my arms, insisting the vein in the right one was better even though other technicians have never had an issue taking blood from my left.
And then, as she was marking my vein and scrubbing my arm with a disinfectant wipe, she said it. “So, no kids yet, huh?” completely oblivious to the kind of stab in the gut such an innocuous-on-the-surface question can be. How was it any of her business to discuss that never-pregnant answer I’d given to the fancy computer. “Not yet,” I told her, and gave her my standard infertility response. “We can’t have kids without a lot of medical assistance, and we can’t afford that yet.” Rather than dropping it, she continued, “Well, my husband and I don’t have kids yet because it’s expensive! It costs so much to have a baby,” she said.
I refrained from what I wanted to say, which was “Well, at least chances are it’s not going to cost you fifteen or twenty thousand dollars just to get pregnant.” Instead, I said nothing. She put the needle in my vein and five minutes later my bag was full. I got a blue arm wrap and joined Dan in the canteen, who wasn’t able to donate after all due to a fluke low iron reading.
So here’s something about being infertile that nobody ever tells you. You’ll be reminded of it all the time, and sometimes people who I’m sure are very well-meaning will ask you about whether you have kids and why or why not. Because for whatever reason, people think it’s their business. The blood bank thinks it’s their business. As if we needed more reminders about our shortcomings and inabilities.