Guest Post: Infertil-i(denti)ty by Alice Eve Cohen

Last Month i reviewed a wonderful book, What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen, and she was kind enough to send over a guest post for my readers, as part of her book blog tour this week! ENJOY!

By Alice Eve Cohen

WhatMy crazy quilt journey with infertility began before I was born. When I was twenty, I learned that I might be infertile, a result of my exposure to DES—the anti-miscarriage drug my mother took when she was pregnant with me. Uncertainty about my fertility became part of my identity.

In my early thirties, I wanted to have a baby, but my fertility doctor confirmed my fears. “Your estrogen level is so low that you couldn’t possibly get pregnant. And you should NEVER attempt to become pregnant with fertility drugs! With your small, deformed uterus, there’s no way you could carry a baby past six months.” He added, “The good news, Alice—You’ll never have to use birth control again!”

No garden-variety infertility, mine was super-deluxe, intervention-proof, and absolute. My identity as an infertile woman was lodged impermeably in my consciousness. On the bright side, this level of certainty made it easy to decide to adopt.  No ambivalence, no wondering if I might one day get pregnant.  The adoption process took three years, but we finally brought home baby Julia, the love of our lives. I become comfortable with my identity as an infertile woman, now that it was paired with my identity as an adoptive mother. I felt heroic, rather than diminished.

A decade later, at the age forty-four, my doctor told me I was in menopause, and adjusted the estrogen replacement therapy I’d been on for fourteen years. I continued to take a daily dose of synthetic estrogen, not unlike the DES my mother took when she was pregnant with me. As the months went on, I felt sicker and sicker, saw doctor after doctor, went for test after test. I was finally raced to an emergency CAT scan for a large abdominal tumor, which turned out not to be a tumor at all. I was six months pregnant.  

My wildly unexpected pregnancy was terrifying and traumatic. Twenty-five years after being diagnosed as infertile, I had only three months to acclimate to my new identity as a very pregnant, very fertile, forty-four-year-old, adoptive—and expectant—mother.

My topsy-turvy biological clock must have been set by The Mad Hatter. My long-held perception of myself as an infertile woman was replaced by the confusing realization that I was never infertile. But these emblems of my identity, once so central, have been trumped by motherhood, which renders irrelevant the differences between fertility and infertility, and between adoptive and biological parenthood. 

I wrote this love poem for my daughters, now ages ten and twenty:
(Reprinted from What I Thought I Knew) 

I love both my daughters.
The one who was planned for, researched, fought for, hard-won, rehearsed for, competed for, and paid for on the not-for-profit Spence Chapin Adoption Agency’s sliding scale.
I love the one who arrived unannounced and impossibly.
I love the one who was adopted, whose birth I observed from a comfortable and pain-free distance.
I love the one who I gave birth to at age forty-five, after forty-seven awful hours of labor.
I love the one whose birth-mother didn’t know about her, until she was 6 months pregnant.
I love the one I didn’t know about, until I was 6 months pregnant.
I love the one who is off-the-charts tall and the one who’s off-the-charts short.
I love the dark-haired one and the fair-haired one.
I love the symmetrical one and the asymmetrical one.
I love the one I desperately wanted, and the one I desperately didn’t want.

Alice Eve Cohen is a memoirist, solo theater artist, and playwright. Her memoir, What I Thought I Knew (Penguin), won Elle Magazine’s Grand Prix for Nonfiction, Oprah Magazine’s 25 Best Books of Summer, and Best Books of the Year. She teaches at The New School in New York City.