We married after a couple of years of friendly banter at work. That wasn’t all, but that’s what I’m admitting to. We were both research techs in different labs at the University of Washington, and I told a co-worker about a new CD I liked.
“Really?” she said. “You should talk to Mal. She loves that weird stuff.”
In a couple of days, I saw her walking around the labs: “Hey,” I said, “Shannon told me to talk to you.”
It’s dopey to see it written, but dopier when I said it. Unbeknownst to me – we hadn’t met yet – she had already formed an opinion of me. Not knowing that my first initials are DR, she wondered about the ass getting mail at the lab sent to DR Mitton? What jerk makes people call him Doctor? All I remember is that she wore green corduroy pants and penny loafers. And like a good doctor, I wore my lab coat with DR Mitton embroidered on the pocket.
So we liked the same music and, in fact, went to see the band from the CD – VAST – on our first date, which wasn’t really a date.
Our IVF journey
The non-date aside, we married a couple of years later and moved to Gig Harbor, where we remolded an old tri-level house with 16″ wide cedar siding, cut and milled on the property by the original owners. Hundred-foot-tall poplar sentries lined the driveway, and a salmon stream meandered through the tree below the house.
She shocked me one night, saying she wanted a baby. I was a proven breed already, having sired five, and she gave me every out.
“If you don’t want more,” she said, “I understand. We’ll stay together, and I’ll love yours as much as I would mine.”
It never occurred to me that she might want kids of her own, but once the topic was broached, it flamed like a torch.
As you might expect of well-trained researchers, we worked on the project feverishly for half a year without results. Well, without the results we hoped for. We tested at a fertility lab and discovered we were both marginally normal but rested on the lowest rung of that ladder. Our whole, it seemed, was less than the total of the parts.
We ramped up treatments and landed on the stoop of Seattle Reproductive Medicine. They looked at our test results, assuring us they could help. We lost count of how many IVF runs we made. I think she was pregnant twice, meaning that a fertilized egg attached to her uterine wall resulting in all the expected hormone changes. She was doing twelve shots a day at this point: she was unfazed, but I hated shoving needles into her. She miscarried once, and we went through a couple more rounds of IVF. Then, pregnant again, we hoped and prayed together, and she stayed home in bed while I went to work.
It worked, and all circuits said go. We said goodbye to Seattle Reproductive – their job was done – and met our new OB, an army-trained specialist in high-risk pregnancies. This man took no prisoners. We both liked him, and my wife loved him. He was older and looked straight at you over his glasses and told the truth.
We discovered she carried twins. One normal-sized – the big one he called her – and one almost impossibly shrimpy.
“She’ll probably reabsorb,” he told us over his shoulder without apology.
Wife and children kept growing. He was surprised that the little one hung on and laughed when he saw my wife looking like someone had taped a beach ball onto her left side under her clothes.
Soon – too soon – delivery was upon us. We went to our army doctor once more, who sent Mal to the hospital and sent me home for clothes. I spent the afternoon in her room and then left her there alone – the one single thing in my life I truly regret – to go home for clothes and to sleep for the night.
Mal was scared and awestruck and amazed that this thing was coming true. Nurses wheeled her into the operating room and flipped the switch for music. I stood at her head, not sure I wanted to watch. The doctor came, made final preps, said Okay, then grabbed a scalpel. He set it down on one side of her beach ball and sliced a shallow six-inch smile under her belly button. With a finger, he ran along the wound to open it and reached in to grab the big one, hovering just below the surface. I don’t remember who cut the cord, but the babe was cleaned and set aside in a swaddling wrap. “Man,” he said, with baby Madi crying. Bellering. “That one’s mad as a hornet.”
With the big one wrapped and warm, the doctor reached for the little one, lifting out what looked like a kitten. Nurses cleaned her and wrapped her and put her on the counter, and we waited for a cry, but none came. I thought the worst. Visibly upset, the doctor grabbed a buzzer and zapped her. She inhaled like she was going underwater and let out a tiny yelp. She heaved a deep breath and went to sleep.
“She’s fine,” he said. “Give her a year, and she’ll catch up to her sister.”
They were both fine. The doctor stitched up Mom, and she was fine, too. We were all fine.
She’s made of steel
The journey took as much fortitude as we could muster. I didn’t know it then, but learned that I give up easier than Mal. I was eager and willing and hopeful, but admit there was a time when I was ready to be done. I come from the school of business efficiency that tells you to quit if what you’re doing doesn’t work. Babies just didn’t appear in our cards. We were trying everything that specialists recommended, and it wasn’t working.
Mal is not like me. She was an Olympic gymnastic alternate and learned that you quit when you’re done. Maybe that’s after another rep. Maybe it’s after another 113. She’s tiny and cute and funny, but this thing would be over when the doctor yanked her uterus from her body and threw it on the floor. Until then, she jumped through every hoop imaginable and never once complained. It’s what you do. No results simply meant that we try it again as long as we have resources.
I’ve thought a lot about this as we’ve raised the girls and think about how I hope they have their mother’s resolve. Dad, known at work as West Coast Denn, has positive traits, too, and Mom relies on him for patience and illogical optimism. But West Coast Den knows he’s no match for Mom when steep odds require resolve and tenacity.
If I were going to war, I know who I want for my general.
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