Editor’s Note: In 2009, shortly after marrying her (first and only) husband, Paolo, Elizabeth Heath was diagnosed with premature menopause and resulting infertility. Paolo and Liz are now parents to a baby girl, Naomi. In this series, Liz recounts the couple’s struggle with infertility, and how they finally achieved a successful pregnancy and parenthood.
Despite our disappointment at losing one of the fetuses, we couldn’t take much time to mourn what wasn’t meant to be. After all, we felt damned lucky that the other fetus had hung on, and now our number one goal was to preserve the pregnancy. After a week of doctor-ordered bed-rest, I continued to take it easy, though it was a challenge at times. How do you not lift anything when you have to grocery shop? How do you not strain yourself when you have to climb two flights of stairs to do laundry? How do you avoid driving on bumpy roads when you live in the countryside? And most of all, how do you avoid going nuts with all those pregnancy hormones coursing through your body?
The stress of my pregnancy, for both of us, was compounded by our living situation. For 18 months, including my entire pregnancy, we lived in Paolo’s mother’s one-room garage apartment. And by garage, I mean partially underground, cold, dark, damp and moldy. But we’d sold one house in order to buy and renovate another, and as these things always seem to go, the renovation was taking twice as long and costing three times as much. So what we thought would be a maximum six-month stay in the garage turned into a year, and a year stretched into a year and a half. Paolo was racing to finish the new house before the baby was born, and that meant that after he worked all day, he’d go to the house and try to do at least a little something. Every Saturday and Sunday he was at the house, working. The dog and I could keep him company, but there was very little I could do in terms of helping with renovations.
So instead, we argued. We argued about where to put a door, which tile to buy for the kitchen, what paint color to use and how many light sockets we needed. We argued about him working all the time and leaving me alone to stew in the apartment. We argued about whether or not our child should attend private or public school. We argued about whether or not I could drive on the bumpy road. I got so that if Paolo so much as looked at me wrong, I could burst into tears. At one point, I actually convinced myself that he no longer loved me and regretted that I was pregnant, but would never ask for a divorce because of his Italian-Catholic upbringing. “If you don’t love me anymore and want a divorce, just tell me!” I cried to him late one night. Yeah…hormonal much? Poor Paolo must have wondered when, exactly, the aliens had come and abducted his real wife and replaced her with this neurotic clone.
CHOOSING A NAME
When we learned at around 22 weeks of pregnancy that we would have a girl, there were two things we didn’t argue about. The first was that her name would be Naomi. It’s a name that’s neither Italian nor too American (Paolo had pitched Stephanie, Jennifer, Jessica and I nixed them all), that was exotic without being weird, and that his family would be able to pronounce.
The second thing we agreed on was that we would share with no one—and we meant no one—the name we’d picked. Our rationale was that so much of my pregnancy and the run-up to it had been shared with our family and friends, we just wanted this one thing to be ours and ours alone. And it drove people crazy. Some were actually offended that we wouldn’t say what name we’d picked. Others tried to guess, or implore me to tell just them. But we both kept silent. It was a good secret to share.
When I was five months along and well past the risk of miscarriage (as much as any pregnant woman can be), we took a babymoon to Paris and London, our last hurrah as a twosome. It was a sweet trip for both of us. My hormones had settled down, Paolo was able to mentally check out from work and renovations enough to relax, and I was finally far enough along so that I actually looked pregnant instead of just fat. This fact was confirmed several times on the Paris and London subways, when riders—almost always women—would offer me their seats.
After our long road to getting pregnant and the unfortunate and frightening loss of the twin, I had a routine pregnancy with nary a complication. Our biggest scare came in the middle of the night, when I was seven and a half months pregnant and looking and feeling very large. We were having our first cold front and rainstorm of autumn, so the garage was feeling damper than usual. I was always overly sensitive to the presence of creepy crawly bugs in that apartment, so when I felt a tickle on my shoulder, I figured it was just me being paranoid, and I shifted my hair and rolled onto my back. And then I felt a painful sting. I screamed and leapt out of bed—remarkably quickly for a heavily pregnant woman, I might add—as Paolo awoke in a panic and flipped on the light switch. “There’s something in the bed! There’s something in the bed!” I yelled, pointing to my half of the bed.
Paolo turned the sheet back and there he was, a scorpion. Now, if a scorpion crawling into your bed in the middle of a dark, stormy night and stinging you on the back isn’t a primordial fear realized, I don’t know what is. Paolo, who normally scoops scorpions up in his hand and tosses them out to freedom instead of killing them, beat this one senseless with his slipper, then smushed it in a piece of paper. That poor scorpion had messed with the wrong pregnant lady.
IT’S IN MY NATURE, SAID THE SCORPION
We looked at the sting on my back, a small red point with a large red ring around it, which, while painful, was not unbearable. I’d been stung by a wasp the week before, and that had hurt a lot worse. But was scorpion venom bad for the baby? We called the ER. The nurse on duty said she didn’t know whether a scorpion sting could harm a pregnancy, but if we wanted to, we could come in and get an anti-venom injection. But was the injection bad for the pregnancy? She didn’t know that either, so she transferred us to the OB ward. The ObGyn who answered also didn’t know if a scorpion sting was dangerous during pregnancy, so she put the phone down to ask a colleague. A second doctor picked up the phone and said “Don’t worry; it’s a local sting,” meaning no risk to the baby. It was 4:30 in the morning by this point. I don’t think either of us got back to sleep that night, and I never again got into that bed without first turning back all the blankets and examining every nook and cranny in search of that scorpion’s brother, bent on revenge. Fortunately, he never showed.