We were strangers, two women lying in hospital gowns in adjacent beds with only a curtain to separate us.
Two strangers awaiting the most intimate exchange.
The fertility clinic offered each of us the chance to have a child. A decade of floundering in a barren sea buffeted by false hopes and bitter disappointments had brought me there. At 46, after three previous attempts at getting pregnant with the best science had to offer on two continents, it was likely to be my last chance to have a baby on my own.
I was anxious, distracted and permanently on hold.
Soon, the doctor would arrive to transfer two microscopic embryos into my womb.
The first time I was a patient in the "transfer" room, the woman in the other bed awaiting the same type of procedure, said nothing. It was awkward, as though I wasn't there. I introduced myself. The woman stiffly responded and then withdrew. Her fear was palpable. It filled the room and nearly suffocated me.
But several months later, I was back again, awaiting a second embryo transfer, hoping for a different outcome, fighting back the dread.
My roommate this time was dark-haired and considerably younger. When I introduced myself, she turned and warmly greeted me. Her voice betrayed no sense of dread or fear. She sounded upbeat, with everything to hope for. I had seen her in the reception area with her toddler daughter. She seemed confident that her family would grow.
She chatted as though we were friends. She was encouraging, eager to share a somewhat prescient story of a brother and sister-in-law whose troubles getting pregnant led to a double blessing: the adoption of twins.
In the stark space of the transfer room, I began to relax, to feel at ease, to invite the possibility that I, too, would be blessed.
As the doctor entered the room, the nurse drew the curtain. I wanted to reach for my roommate's hand.
When the time came to leave, the woman and I said our goodbyes. We wished each other well.
Two weeks later, the call came: I was pregnant. As the weeks progressed, the fetal heart grew stronger, I cleared a gauntlet of pre-natal tests and, then, one day, the baby's profile surfaced on the ultrasound screen.
I was overwhelmed, profoundly grateful -- and inexplicably bound to the woman in the transfer room. I wanted to share my good news, but mostly to thank her for her encouragement, so I wrote her a letter and asked the clinic staff to pass it along.
My letter went unanswered.
My son was born Dec. 9, 2002. Whenever I relay my laborious attempts to have a child, I recall that morning in the transfer room and my encounter with a stranger.
Intellectually, I know that the sophisticated drugs, the biotechnology, the clinic's care and the skill of my doctor (and she was supremely skilled) greatly contributed to my son's arrival. And yet I can't forget that woman in the other bed, a mother whose generous and caring spirit willed me into believing that I, too, could be a mother.
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