Pro-Choice and the Days of Infertility

And why I decided not to get a dog.

Having a dog in my life is like the difference between viewing the world in black and white or color. Yes, it is possible to live without a dog, but without a certain joy.

In 1983, I found myself descending slowly into a crisis of the mind. Between an intermittent state of mental confusion and fleeting sensations of a dissociative type, I had no idea the extent of the hell I would be entering.

I resisted the fact that I was afflicted with a mental illness, until the pain suggested no other route. The search for an antidote to release my mind from the terrors, was my only goal. Therapy twice a week, where being handed a cup of tea at the beginning of each session was just enough a gesture of kindness to restart the incessant tears. Major Depressive Disorder. I read the DSM like it was a bible.

The psychiatrist I was referred to was right out of school, just starting a practice, I presume. And it was a ‘practice’; I was the guinea pig. Each trip to the pharmacy for a new antidepressant had the importance of a trip to mecca, searching desperately to be healed. My presence in line was not unassuming, with my muffled sobs. Exacerbated, and querying the pharmacist on something or another for which he had no reason to know, a fellow customer– waiting in line– asked me how many trials I had been on. Upon hearing my answer, he responded You are just getting started.

With drug trial failures stacking up by the nascent psychiatrists, I started a more rigorous pursuit; hopes of finding the magic doctor with the magic potion. I knew that there was no relief occurring with a non-medication route and my dismal response to anti-depressants would require a hard road. Pitching my course toward finding the most highly regarded– as usually the most expensive, psychopharmacologist–was the next goal.

The intake regimen with the acclaimed psychologist was immediately disagreeable, but I was in no condition to argue bedside manner with a prospective sage.

He had asked me to bring in a sample of some writing, I now recall. It was not the content that he was interested in, but the changes in the nature of my cursive, or a fusion of printing/cursive. I understand now how astute his abilities were. Handwriting, or especially mine, often exhibits many different reflections of brain activity. Speed and carelessness might reflect a hurried, perhaps even manic state. Whereas in a depressed state, writing might appear more cautious or measured. An efficient diagnostic tool, I might now agree.

He determined from my detailed accounts with drug trials, that my unsuccessful attempts to stabilize on an antidepressant was due to my extreme sensitivity to the psychotropic affects. By starting me on a sixth of a typical starting dose and increasing only as tolerated, I was successfully an antidepressant recipient. Though the benefits would be delayed for some time. I had a tool on board that afforded a slow accent from the hell hole. I was about 8 months into it by then, still a beginner.

Rejoining the world, wasn’t without its challenges. I had an art museum show to create, a small concern. Also, included in my reunion to a semblance of life, was an ache for a dog. It seemed like there existed a fine line between need and want, as my nightly dreams took on characteristics of “Lassie, Come Home”. Each episode left me longing more and more for a dog.

I convinced a friend to go to the dog pound with me, or the “Animal Shelter” as they are now called. The only dog that tugged at my heart was an Afghan mix. The dog was regal, elegant with its toned-down Afghan eccentricities. I immediately sensed a simpatico with my still fragile state. He was cream colored, wary, temperamental and maybe even depressed–as kennel dogs often are.

I left without the dog; knowing that my recently donned husband, who owned a cat, needed to weigh into the equation. Soon after leaving, my still active mental illness, weighed in with overwhelming anxiety. I can’t take on the responsibility for another life, I can barely take care of myself.

The dog that was nearly mine… at a time when I was ill-suited to take on that responsibility comes back with a parallel.

I WAS able to abort that ill-conceived notion–so to speak–when I was unable to provide the care that a dog would require. Yet under the ruling of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade— an unintended pregnancy, for which I would have been ill suited –would be under the control of the government. The state would dictate how that mistake, or sexual assault, take your pick, would be legislated. A life changing event, and a momentous decision– about my future and the future of a new life– would be out of my hands and into the hands of an entity that will never feel a moment of my daily desperation and despair, or the sudden lack of personal choices granted to me.

Wouldn’t there be an argument that ” being forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy, is undue punishment of women strictly on the basis of a biological imperative, a birthright of their gender.” Where is the due process? Women, when raped are about twice as likely to result in a pregnancy, 7.98% as compared to consensual intercourse. The national rape-related pregnancy rate is 5% per rape among victims of reproductive age (12 to 45) resulting in 32,101 pregnancies from rape each year!!!!

I have more rights as to whether or not to own a dog than I would about the destiny of a product of conception, a cellular event that has about a 80% chance of producing a live birth.

To call the product of conception a “child” is an infuriating jump of biological events. The union of sperm and an ovum first becomes a blastocyst when fertilization occurs. Their after, cells division is rapid progressing from an embryo to a fetus at about 8 weeks. These cells are no more a “child” than an erection is a zygote. The journey these cells take– to become a “child”– takes a miraculous and wonderful process, when and if the substrate, the lining of the uterus provides fertilities ground.

I was unfortunately privileged to the intimate details of cell division as my first two children were the product of ‘physician assisted pregnancy’.

I watched the sonogram monitor as the follicles of ovum were carefully measured as to assess the effectiveness of the hormonal treatment that overstimulated the ovaries into hyper production. My ovum production response was very successful for the eventual IVF process. (In-vitro fertilization). At the time of the scheduled ‘retrieval’ of the ovum, I was, as they say, “mother hen” with 11 follicles ripe for retrieval.

The procedure I undertook occurred in the early 90’s when infertility treatments were still in the hands of “cowboy doctors.” Infertility practices were rated on numbers of conceptions, rather than pregnancy outcomes. (I had the occasion to meet one of my doctor’s most eventful patient– at a cocktail party– when she whipped her head around, hearing the name of our mutual doctor in my story. Indeed, her case was remarkable. Our doctor presented me with her sonogram and the 9 implanted viable embryos pictured! She successfully gave birth to twins.)

I believe the most important, thrilling, meaningful events in my life were, hands down, related to the capacity I have as a woman, to create life. I know the subject of conception well–as with any major life struggle, I am a problem solver.

Watching the monitor of the ultrasound machine, as images of multiple egg follicles–measured every other day– became an intimate visualization representing hope and promise. The technician, bringing the larger follicles into view within the static of the horizontal lines, and clicks the outer edge of the ovum, to receive measurements.

An empirical pregnancy starts with follicle stimulation– with hormones, inter muscular –via injection. The ‘T-minus’ trimester, a laboratory-based conception.

There is very little in the course of a physician assisted pregnancy that is not anxiety producing, financially ruinous, or sometimes, degrading. The desire to have a child was a biological urge since childhood; to create life.

Attention to the biology of cell division, followed by more cell division, is a cold fact. The cells were not babies, or a child; the union of sperm and an ovum first becomes a blastocyst when fertilization occurs. Thereafter– cells division is rapid progressing from an embryo to a fetus, at about 8 weeks. These cells are no more a “child” than an erection is a zygote. The mechanisms that these cells become a “child” take a miraculous and wonderful process, when and if the substrate, the lining of the uterus provides fertilities ground.

The sweetest sound ever heard, is that of the fetal heartbeat. You are 99% ‘there’, producing a life birth, if a fetal heartbeat is detected. (I suffered through a 12-week pregnancy that probably never had a heartbeat, then miscarried. I cried for a week.)

The first swish of fetal movement–the quickening— is another subtle thrill I cherished. Each night I would escape from all activities to sit and ‘be with the new life’ as a enjoyed the movements of the baby to be.

The culmination of an arduous conception and long pregnancy, was the moment my infant was placed on my breast. If there is a single joy in being born a woman, that would be it.

Yet today, the ruling of the Supreme Court to over turn Roe v Wade has verified contempt for the unique biological imperative being born female. The joy of experiencing the sound of a fetal heart beat, the quickening and the utter self satisfaction of a nursing infant, should be a choice made by a woman; a decision made by women–to experience those gifts and the responsibilities– required of her (or them) for the rest of her/their life.

Being forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy, is an undue punishment of women strictly on the basis of a biological imperative, a birthright of their gender.

I think I will run (I know they are appointed, nevertheless) for Supreme Court, in another life. The highest court has proven that it is not the arbiter of the law but a political rubber stamp in the jostling to turn this country into a plutocracy.

Think carefully about getting a dog, if it were only so easy.

Debra Sherwood

June 24, 2022

(1786 words)