We pass the fertility doctor’s office 3 times. First going West on Olympic – then East, then West again. It can’t possibly be the tiny brick hobbit hole between a nail salon fireplace store, – I mean this guy was recommended by my world class cancer surgeon – she said he was “the babymaker,” he was “the man!”
I’m a little frantic because it is a 5pm appointment and I’m afraid if I’m late he’ll leave, and it’s 5 and my Mom is with me which I’m not sure is the best idea in the world – she has a tendency to ask inappropriate questions and, well… be a little less than supportive.
8920, yup – this is the place. Mom would later describe it as “back alley.”
Inside Frodo’s house the décor does not reassure me. The 10×10 lobby is a model home living room set from the 1980’s – green, gold, mauve, textured wallpaper… Stacks of parenting magazines piled up on the end tables wedged between the tapestry couches. 80’s music plays over speakers. Loudly.
I wait at the little service window and for a pretty Latina woman in kiddy-cartoon covered scrubs to finish her phone call, but she just continues to chat as she smiles and hands me a clipboard. There’s a little boy behind her doing his homework. Further inside the office two women in more bright scrubs are leaning on the back counter having a loud debating loudly over which male actor is the hottest and which movie they want to see that weekend.
When we are told to go ahead to a room, we head through the door and almost plow right into the doctor – he’s inexplicably standing right there in the tiny hall. He looks like a cross between the poison iocane powder guy from the Princess Bride and Josh Malina – you know West Wing. Short, older, Jewish, fish eyed, humorless. He’s dressed in a dark blue waffle weave Henley, caramel colored khakis and brown half boots. The same outfit he would wear every subsequent time I would see him.
His office has the same interior decorator as the lobby, except with more stacks of papers – everywhere. He hasn’t smiled yet when he clasps his hands and says, “what can I do for you?”
He hasn’t opened my file. This annoys me.
So I say – “well, I was diagnosed with breast cancer May 20th, I had a lumpectomy yesterday, today is my 39th birthday – Dr. Funk sent me here to see what you could do to preserve the chance me of ever being able to have a baby of my own.
Much to my disappointment he doesn’t react. No apologies, no fumbling, no conciliatory words, nope – he simply, and without expression offers his plan. “On the second day of your period, I put you on two weeks of birth control. Then you follow 10 days of hormone therapy then we harvest eggs and freeze them. I’ve done this for several of Kristi’s patients.”
“She’s 39,” my Mom offers.
“It is the second day of my period,” I say. That’s really the only thing I know – I don’t know if I’m going to need chemo – there are some cells growing in a Petri dish in a lab in like Michigan for like 2 weeks – I don’t know what’s up with the lymph nodes yet – what stage I’m in – if they are going to find it anywhere else – I don’t sleep at night because when I close my eyes I’m in a scene from some hospital tv drama where I hear the surgeon say – “she’s riddled with it – we just sewed her back up.”
And Jesus – I am 39. Today. I’ve always wanted to have kids, at least one – I knew I was walking that infertility high wire as it was. I had looked into maybe freezing some eggs so when I was in a relationship and more stable career wise I would still have options, but it all seemed so unnecessary – things would work out for me, I would go back on Match.com, I would stop working for my hideous boss, I would pick up some better acting gigs, you know – get a better handle on this business – I had time – and this was my – before the cancer. Fuck, I have cancer. Freezing eggs and fertility and I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole a very strange 80’s tapestried “Come On Eileen” rabbit hole.
“Would you have to write me a prescription?” I feel like I’m trying to swim back to a boat. It’s after 5… today is my birthday and I have an awkward impromptu “party” to get to… pharmacies, day two, it is day 2 of my period.
“I have them here, I’m a doctor.
For me it’s decided. Sometimes its good to have no options.
He mentions that he will be going out of town for a couple of weeks, but that’s ok because there is nothing to do for the next fourteen days. Except take the birth control pills. He’s going to the East Coast, Philadelphia, I love Philly – he doesn’t – a bar mitzvah – not looking forward to it. I make a really good joke about bar mitzvahs – nothing. I wonder if “bedside manner” has ever entered his mind. I decide to decide that he is just “too good” – to have to worry about it. I will have to remind myself of this every subsequent visit.
Two weeks later I’m standing in the exam tiny room with “Tainted Love” blaring when the nurse pops in and says – “bottom in the chair” and pops out. Bottom in the chair? What exactly does that mean. I look at the chair – it’s like a dentist chair but with stirrups that are sticking up at an awkward and seemingly impossible angle with fuzzy covers. The covers look like they’ve seen better days – brown, furry, matted – like the microphone covers we use on set called ‘dead cats.’ They look like they might have been new – in the 90’s. “Bottom in the chair?” Okay, she probably meant for me to take off everything below the waist and get in the chair. But what if she didn’t? I hadn’t talked to the doctor since the birthday meeting with Mom, maybe we had things to discuss first. So I leave my clothes on and sit in the chair with the paper robe folded in my lap. Dr. F. enters and skids to a Road Runner stop when he realizes that I am indeed still fully clothed: like he’s embarrassed. I start to fumble with the button on my jeans and he backs out quickly. This seems odd to me seeings that he will soon be viewing me from the inside out with a R2D2 sized plastic wand –– but I don’t know – maybe it’s a AMA thing.
Everything looks fine and he says to stop with the birth control pills and let him know the moment I get my period. That’s when we’ll start with the super cocktail of hormone injections that will make my abdomen into a whacked out egg factory.
On my way out I need another blood draw, one of the Latina women proves to be an expert phlebotomist. (And believe me – over the past weeks of scanning and testing and MRIing every part of my body for more cancer – I’ve become an expert). She wraps my arm in stretchy spongy tape – bright pink – and I am tempted to ask her who they decided was the sexiest movie star, what movie they ended up seeing, but instead ask her if she’s got any big plans for the weekend.
Less than a week later it’s 4:17 on a sunny Thursday afternoon when I’m standing at my dining room table, my shirt pulled up and the waist of my pants tucked under. I have already unpacked the $4,253.00 worth of drugs from the complimentary MDR Westwood Pharmacy cooler bag and start psyching myself up to stick the needle of the bright yellow “medipen” into my stomach. By my calculations I have 13 minutes complete the entire goddamn science class worth of injections; – all I have to do is inject 375cc’s of Follistrum with the ‘Follistrum Medipen’ after replacing the .33×12.7mm needle tip and inserting cartridge, (silver side up), mix 1cc of Menopur with the 22G 1 2/2 inch needle, take off giant needle, mix with powder, use 27G ½ inch needle to withdraw and inject, use 28G x 1/2 inch needle to withdraw entire vial of Garilex – insert all at 45 degree angle “between belly button and bikini line” at exactly the same time every day. Try not to pass out. Good luck.
Early the next Saturday morning I visit Dr. F. R2D2 sees 14 fat follicles. The hormone super juice cocktail works! Dude I am awesome I have a bumper crop! See that – even with all the stress, and the cancer, it’s Easter in my pants!
He tells me to stop the injections Monday, only 6 days in – leaving $2,000 worth of fertility drugs in my fridge nestled between a carton of eggs and chocolate almond milk. Still there by the way.
He leaves and I want to grab the giant ultrasound wand and sing along with Boy George, “Karma Chameleon” you come and go…
Maybe this will all work out – maybe everything does happen for a reason. Maybe it is fate – the Hobbit back alley office, the second day of my period, the 5 o’clock appointment, I get cancer, freeze some eggs, get radiated and or chemo’ed – or whatever the fates may bring – then meet the man of my dreams who is psyched that I’ve got a tray of ovum stashed away with the Birdseye, who can’t wait to have an instant family because you know, the odds are with in vitro you end up with multiples – and we live happily ever after, my future and greatest love of my life husband, – a little girl with hair so fine that the tiny plastic barrette slips to the ends, or a little boy who brings me sticky fists of rocks and treasures.
The modern American family – the Hollywood Lifetime Channel version, but that’s okay – and more importantly, God doesn’t hate me – this is just some cosmic web of love and hardship that I’m just not meant to understand.
On Wednesday my friend picks me up at 7:00am for my 8:15 egg harvest surgery. Her 3 year old is with us. Covered in cheerios she is telling the cars in the fast lane to “slow down mister!” Apparently her mother has told her I am sick and they need to drop me off at the doctor’s and go the Santa Monica farmer’s market where they buy me beets, apricots and fava beans.
The little surgery center is also far from glamorous. Since running into Dr. F. in his office parking lot and watching him climb up into his $80,000 Land Rover – I realize his choice of venues is because he’s cheap. And again, he is “too good” to have to worry about it…
Dr. F. shows up in scrubs – no Henley, I barely recognize him, and exhibits more charm than I have experienced from him in all the weeks prior. He asks me how I am. Did I deliver the final ultimate egg dropping injection into my rear exactly 72 hours before? Yes. He seems almost…excited? He pops out and I hear him in the next partition asking the same questions – I am in a conveyor belt of egg-laden women.
He calls the next day – seven eggs successfully frozen. They count on about 50% to survive thawing. Only seven? What happened to my 14 fat overachieving follicles? That’s only like 1.5 good shots at having a baby. Ever, if I need chemo. It feels like failure. Dr. F. offers to try another cycle in the window before my next surgery. He offers me a discount – all I need is another $11,000, my tab thus far is $17,003.00
I don’t do it. It’s not just the money that’s run out – it’s the hope. The little blonde girl, her sweet baby brother…
I want to be angry, but I’m not. I’m too tired, my abdomen a tiny minefield of purple and blue bruises.
They say you count my chickens before they hatch. But I can, they are in a freezer in Santa Monica.