Author’s note: Another chapter dealing with fertility problems. Also, I’m no biologist or doctor, so my explanation’s of medicine may not be as great as they should be.
With time, Millie began to adjust to life with us in Hidden Springs. Despite any possible worries, she and I got along perfectly, usually chatting about all sorts of things.
Sherlock the dog made a great addition to the household. He was so energetic and playful that it really felt like we had two kids in the house, one human and one covered in fur. He was always either by Millie’s side, trying to nuzzle me, or dashing wildly all over the house, seemingly tireless.
Also, Millie found an unusual friend in my mother. Despite their age gap, they instantly made a connection, most likely because Mom knew Millie’s loss all too well, having lost her mother at a young age as well.
Mom was, of course, somewhat surprised at how quickly Millie and I became close, but that wasn’t something I could really explain. It just happened.
As soon as school started, we have encountered a new problem – Millie’s shyness. While she was comfortable at home with us, she found it extremely hard to interact with her classmates properly. Also, she often hesitated to ask questions in class when things were difficult for her, which resulted in her doing worse in school than needed. I wasn’t sure whether it was a result of her trauma or if it was an old issue that Sharon has also had to deal with.
However, she and I seemed to have reached a deal regarding that, more or less. According to her teachers, Millie would spend a lot of time in class drawing or doodling, even when she was supposed to be paying attention. This irked many of them. While I understood how it was necessary for the little girl to make her art, I knew this would further mess up her grades.
“Millie,” I offered one day. “Did you know there are after school art classes, not far from your school?”
This caught her attention. “There are? Can I take them? Pretty please!”
“You can. But on one condition,” I explained. “You need to start focusing on your work in class. I know how you love to draw, but the teachers don’t. They take it personally when you don’t pay attention to their class. Can you try to focus more on your subjects?”
She scratched her head in confusion. “It’s hard sometimes. I feel like they’ll think I’m stupid if I tell them I don’t understand something, but sometimes they talk really fast and I don’t catch their explanations. And there are so many other people in the class. It’s scary.”
“I know, honey,” I explained. “Let me tell you a little secret. I don’t like being around too many people either. Neither does your Daddy. Would you believe me if I told you we high-tailed it out of our own wedding as soon as we could?”
“Really?” her eyes widened in surprise. “But you have so many friends!”
“We do. It’s something that both of us have to work on. Because, the thing is, all of your life, you will need to be around people. For school, work, life in general. Interaction with others is something we all need, even if it scares us to reach out to others, at first. But it’s worth it in the long run. And the more time you spend with people, the less scary it will be,” I reasoned. “Besides, it can get pretty lonely by yourself.”
“I suppose,” she agreed. “So, if do my best to stay more focused and ask for help in school, I can go to art classes?”
“Yes you can. In fact, I have the forms to fill out for them right here in our office,” I announced to the beaming girl.
As soon as she was enrolled in the activity, things began to look up and some of her teachers even told me she has done a 180 in terms of her school performance.
David and I were overjoyed. He was heavily worried about her school problems, because they were another not so welcome similarity to his sister and he wanted Millie to avoid them as much as possible.
With our lives approaching a sense of normality once again, it was time for me to deal with something I put on the backburner for almost a year– my visit to the doctor. Kyla Upton gave me the contact information for her fertility specialist, Dr. Klein, a woman she described as highly knowledgeable in all matters pertaining to reproduction and health in general.
So I made an appointment with her and within a month, I was sitting in her warmly-lit green waiting room, nervously waiting for my talk with the doctor, while her receptionist finished inputting all of my filled out information into their system.
Dr. Klein’s office was very welcoming. It looked as if the doctor specifically planned the décor in a way intended to calm people down and make them comfortable. It was something I appreciated. I was here alone today – although David wanted to come along, I wanted the initial appointment, at least, to be a one-on-one with the doctor. Besides, I already knew the problem wasn’t with him.
Eventually, the receptionist finished typing in her information.
“You can go in now. The doctor is ready to see you,” she called me.
The doctor was a pleasant-looking woman, likely around 50 years of age. She looked at me with a friendly but knowledgeable smile and directed to a chair in front of her.
“Good morning, Mrs. Meadows-Collier. I hope we didn’t make you wait too long and that your commute here was quite pleasant. I’m Dr. Klein, but please call me Constance,” she introduced herself. “I’m not going to ask about what brings you here. I already took a look at your file. I see that you have been married for six years but have had no luck conceiving, is that correct?”
I nodded. “Yes. I don’t know what’s wrong. We have been trying regularly, but I can’t get pregnant. And, just Irene is fine.”
“Well, Irene” the doctor tilted her head in curiosity, “It’s not necessarily a ‘you’ problem. It could also be your husband. How come he isn’t here today?”
“He has a child from a previous relationship,” I explained. “So, he must be fine, in that aspect.”
“Also not necessarily,” the doctor reasoned. “Time passes, health changes. Also, it is quite possible that the two of you have a chemical incompatibility, which is pretty rare, but is something that happens every once in a while. This is why I prefer both spouses in such situations. But we can always do that next time.”
“So, what is in the plans for today?” I inquired. In retrospect, maybe I should have asked Kyla Upton about what I had to expect from this visit.
“Well, I am going to give you a physical examination and run some blood tests for now. Is that alright?”
“Yes, of course,” I agreed.
“But before we start, let’s talk about your health history. You haven’t had any serious conditions as a child or as a teenager, right? And your cycle is normal, no pelvic pain, STDs, or anything else that bothers you?”
“Not particularly, no,” I replied, before remembering, “Well, actually, can you sustain an injury that damages reproductive chances from taking a big hit to your stomach?”
She considered it. “Sometimes. But only if the hit was very intense and caused you serious damage or internal scarring. Is this happened to you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe?” I admitted, recalling my fight with Marilyn all those years ago.
“Well, let’s not worry about it until we’ve checked you out,” the doctor reassured me. “Come on, the exam room is just outside.”
“Now,” she explained, “Before we go in, remember: even if you hear a diagnosis you don’t like, nothing is final. I’ve seen countless women conceive despite serious health issues. And you are a young woman in good health. This is already something.”
We entered the exam room and she directed me to an examination bed.
“Please undress and get ready for the physical part. Also, just relax, there isn’t anything to fret about,” she smiled.
After examining me and asking several times whether any of the areas she pressed on were hurting, Constance moved on to the ultrasound to find out if I had scarring anywhere important.
Despite my worries, she soon calmed me down.
“Well, whatever injury you’ve had, there isn’t any damage from it. Your organs are as good as new,” she explained. “In fact, it doesn’t look like there is anything physical preventing successful conception and pregnancy.”
“So, I should be able to have a baby?” I perked up.
“Well, we haven’t done the blood tests yet. Also, I didn’t ask, but how is your family in terms of their health?”
“Pretty decent at the moment. They’re pretty old now, but they are doing alright. Mom did have cancer back when I was a teenager, but it’s in the past, thank goodness,” I informed her.
She gave me an inquisitive glance. “What kind of cancer? Was it just her, or did anyone else in your family have it?”
“Blood cancer, actually. She moved here when she was young because she knew she was at an increased risk for it, but it still got to her. And yes, her mother, my grandmother passed away from it when she was still a child… this is important?” I felt like an idiot.
“Of course, dear. I have a hunch about what the problem might be. If this is something that runs in your family, you also should have been at risk for it. However, since Hidden Springs seems to be almost supernaturally healthy for its residents, we end up developing very good immune systems. My guess is, you are at a much lower risk for your family’s disease than both your mother and grandmother, but that doesn’t mean you system doesn’t still have weaknesses. Let’s check your blood now. I have a feeling I know what is going on. ”
“Is something wrong with my eggs?” I felt a sense of dread.
“Not necessarily. However, your immune system might be the culprit here. Have you ever heard of anti-sperm antibodies?” she asked
“No…what do they do?” I was bewildered. Such a thing even existed?
“Yes, well, human bodies can be really weird at times. This is one of them. In cases where these antibodies are present, the man or woman in question will basically have a type of allergic reaction to the sperm, and the antibodies will destroy it, recognizing it as something harmful to the body. That makes it practically impossible to conceive naturally. It’s rare, but it happens.”
“Wait, men’s bodies, too? How, even?” I couldn’t process the information.
“Told you — our bodies are strange. Sometimes it happens after injuries, sometimes due to stress, or because of other environmental factors… but it’s not the end of the world,” she explained.
After taking a couple of samples, Dr. Klein headed straight towards the testing machine.
“It won’t take very long. This system is very good at completing the testing and compiling the results fast,” she explained.
I allowed her to focus on the tests, mulling over this new information. If the antibodies were the case, at least I knew why I couldn’t conceive, right? That didn’t make it any better, though.
“You can take a seat outside in the lounge, I’ll be out in a few minutes to discuss the results with you, dear,” Dr. Klein informed me, not taking her eyes away from the screen in front of her.
Out in the waiting room, I began to crumble again. Somehow, knowing something was definitely wrong with me made me feel even worse than before.
Soon, Constance joined me with the results.
“Well, it is just as I’ve suspected. Those darn antibodies are to blame for your failure to conceive. Your body is trying to defend itself from a falsely perceived threat. Meaning, it’s literally blocking you from making a baby. Hey, hey, hey, don’t cry darling!”
I couldn’t help it. This was it. I wasn’t going to have children all because of some strange physical problem.
To my surprise, she hugged me. “It’s ok, darling. I know you feel sad right now. How do you think I got into this line of medicine in the first place? I couldn’t get pregnant either, and I just knew I wouldn’t stop until I knew what was causing it. And I had problems worse than yours, but I still got my daughter, even if it took me longer than most to get there. What I’m saying is, you have options.”
“I do? Is it IVF?” I asked.
“Most likely, yes. Of course, your husband will have to come in here too; we still haven’t checked him out. But, in most cases like yours, the woman is able to conceive and carry a healthy child to term. So, don’t lose hope.”
“Thank you, Constance,” I got out through the tears. “I’ll talk to David about this.”
At home, I found Millie, once again, sketching something in the living room, with Sherlock keeping her company.
“Good afternoon, dear. Where’s your dad?”
“He’s doing something with the computer. He’s been in the office for the last three hours,” she answered, adding the last touches to her latest drawing.
“Oh?” I walked into our office, to find David focused intently on the screen of his computer, fingers typing wildly away. “Hey.”
“Hey yourself!” he turned towards me with a smile. “How did it go?”
“Eh,” I sighed. “We’ll probably need IVF if we want a baby of our own. It seems like my body is not allowing for natural conception.”
“Ok,” he agreed. “I’m ready whenever you are. What do I need to do?”
“Dr. Klein says she wants you to get tested first too,” I explained. “I’m sorry I didn’t let you come with me.”
“It’s ok. I know you wanted to get this over with on your own,” he sighed, looking back at the screen with a sad expression.
“What’s wrong? Is it me? You’re upset about something,” I noticed.
“Yeah,” he admitted. “It’s Millie. Apparently, her art teacher was talking about Le Frommage Art School in class and she has already brought it up several times earlier, but she has mentioned it again. And I just can’t Irene. I can’t send her to boarding school. I don’t want to be that parent who keeps their children from following their dream or whatever, but the idea of her away from home and with strange people in a faraway school is just straight up terrifying me.”
“Millie’s been talking about that boarding school again? She mentioned it to me once, but she didn’t say she wanted to go there. No way! Why?!” I was blindsided. Millie was honestly trying to be more social at school, but she was still a very shy person. The idea of her all alone at some new place with strange people was foreign and unreasonable to me as well. “Have you asked her about it?”
“Admittedly, no… I was a bit scared to start a serious conversation about it. What if she thinks it means I agree to let her go there?”
“Oh, David… I’ll talk to her.”
“Really? You’re the best!” he pulled me close, to kiss me.
“It’s the least I can do. Hey, what’s this?” I’ve noticed that on his screen was a large word document with writing.
“Well,” he admitted. “I’ve sort of been writing a book.”
“A book? What’s it about?” I was curious.
“About us. About our efforts to save the company. About how it all paid off,” he explained. “I didn’t tell you about it at first, because I wasn’t sure if I would manage to start writing anything, and later, because I wanted to finish it before telling about it.”
“Did I ruin the surprise, then?” I frowned.
“Nope. Actually, you’ve literally walked in as I finished the last page!”
“Well, congratulations, then!”
After planting another kiss on him, I left to talk to Millie.
“Hi, Millie,” I found the girl on the couch. “Can we talk?”
“Yes,” she agreed. Something about her mood seemed off to me. It was reminiscent of her behavior back when she has just arrived here.
“Is everything ok?” I got straight to the point. “You’ve been kind of sad lately.”
“Everything is fine, yeah. How was your day?” she asked.
“It’s ok. But your father tells me you want to leave us and go to art school?”
“It’s Le Frommage Art School. It’s very good and it helps develop young people’s artistic skills,” she explained in a neutral tone.
“It does sound very good,” I admitted. “But are you sure you want to go there just yet? There are many new people there and it’s very far from here. I don’t want to scare you, but this is why your Dad is worried. And frankly, so am I. You are only nine years old!”
“Yes, but other kids go there young too,” she argued.
“True, but I thought you liked it here with us and Sherlock,” I tried to reason with the girl. Despite her pleading, she didn’t seem to actually be very eager to leave. “Look, how about this deal: you finish elementary school here in Hidden Springs and if you want to go to Le Frommage Academy for high school, if you still haven’t changed your mind, you can go.”
“But that’s going to take so many years!” she exclaimed. “And you and Dad won’t have your own baby while I’m here!”
“What?!” her idea had me completely taken aback. “What makes you think so?”
“Well, that’s what Vicky and Sally said…” she mumbled.
“Go on.” I wanted to hear more of this novel idea.
“Well, they said you and Dad couldn’t have another baby of your own because you were too busy taking care of me and I don’t want you to not have a baby. So, if I go away, maybe you can?”
“Oh honey!” I tried to stifle my laughter. It was too sweet how concerned she was about us and it totally explained why she “wanted to go away”. “Millie, dear, I don’t know whatever made your friends think you were the reason for us not giving you a little sibling, but they are extremely wrong in this matter. Just so you know, your father and I both love you very much. And like I said, you shouldn’t go away to any school unless this is something you really want and have given a lot of thought to. And as stated previously, if you want to go there for high school, I will try to convince your father to let you go, which won’t be easy. But for now, please stay here.”
“Ok?” she hesitantly agreed. “But are you sure that Vicky and Sally were wrong? About you and Dad and the baby?”
“Yes, honey, very wrong. Your father and I do want to give you a little sibling very much, and yes, we are having some problems with that at the moment, but they have no relation to your presence here. They really have something to do with biology.”
“What’s that?” Millie asked with wide eyes.
“It’s a type of science that deals with living creatures, including humans. You’ll learn it when you’re in high school,” I explained without going into much detail.
“Oh!” her eyes grew even wider. “Living creatures? Like Sherlock, and the butterflies, and the animals in the park?”
“That’s right. Although this particular branch of science would be called zoology and it focuses mostly on animals.”
“This is so cool! I wish I could learn it sooner,” she admitted wistfully.
“You can, probably. There are plenty of interesting zoological articles on the internet and I’m sure your school library has some books you can check out on the subject. Your teachers can even recommend you some specific things, I believe,” I informed her.
“I’ll ask them,” she promised. “And Irene? I hope you and Dad get your baby!”
“Thank you, dear,” I pulled the little girl into a hug. “And if your classmates have any questions about biology and about how humans have kids, I’ll be more than happy to explain to them in high detail how the process works.” Even though, really, that was a job for their parents.
“You should! Maybe they’ll want to learn biology too!” she agreed.
“What are my girls chatting about so excitedly?” David smiled, coming out of the office.
“We’re talking about biology!” Millie announced. “Did you know, the study of animals is called zoology?”
“Really? That’s cool,” David glanced at me, giving me a wink.
“And I’m going to learn it soon,” she continued.
“If you’d like, we can go fishing too, soon,” I offered. I fondly recalled the times my mother and I would spend out on fishing trips together. It was a good pastime.
“Can I bring some fish home? And put them in an aquarium in my room?” Millie wanted to know.
“Why not?” agreed David. “Just be careful and don’t get overheated outdoors.”
That night, after Millie went to bed, David and I ended up talking.
“That was cool of you, to make her focus on something other than art. Maybe she’ll forget all about Le Frommage Academy now?” he smiled.
“I hope so. I’d hate to see her leave, too,” I admitted.
“So, we haven’t really had a chance to talk. How are you feeling? After the doctor’s visit?”
“Decent, I guess. She was really nice and she seems to know what she’s talking about. I can see why the Uptons were so charmed by her.”
“I still wish you’ve let go with you,” he admitted.
“Sorry. I was all nerves before the visit. I didn’t want to have to drag you there all for nothing.”
“It’s not for nothing. I want to be there, at least for emotional support. And who knows, maybe there is something problematic with me these days? I fathered Millie before a lot of stuff went down,” he referred to his breakdown and the subsequent stress.
“I know. Dr. Klein said she wants to have you tested also. However, it seems like my body is making anti-sperm antibodies,” I explained, bitterly. “Who even knew this crap existed?”
“I think someone mentioned it back in college. Their friend was experiencing an issue similar to ours,” he nodded.
“It just sucks. Why does it have to be me?!” I exclaimed. “I’ve always wanted children, why is my physiology not cooperating with me?”
“Hey, the doctor said IVF is possible, so it’s not hopeless, right?” David tried to reassure me.
“I suppose. But sometimes, it doesn’t work,” I tried to shake the worries away.
“Hey, it’s going to be ok. We’re going to try. I’m going to be there with you for every step of it. And hey, who knows, maybe in a year from now, we’ll have a baby of our own?” he tried to cheer me up.
“I really hope you’re right,” I slumped down on my pillow.
“Trust me, it will all work out,” he promised, stroking my cheek. “And whenever you feel down, remember that I love you very much. As do the rest of your family and friends. And also, across the hall from us sleeps a little girl who thinks you’re the best thing since sliced bread. You don’t have to deal with all this alone.”
I fell asleep with him still hugging me. He was right. Everything was going to be just fine.