By Mary Giuliani
In the sixth grade, I got my period.
“Do I have to go to school?” I asked my mom, begging her with a combination of wretched, vomit-inducing cramps and embarrassment.
Thankfully my mom let me not only stay home from school but also watch TV all day. But there was not enough Price Is Right, Press Your Luck, or Days of Our Lives to make me feel better—physically or emotionally. Something was wrong.
I suffered month after month from my period. During high school, it was days home from school; during college, it was missed classes; and in my professional life, it was missed meetings, plans with friends, nights out for fun, and then the ultimate miss: motherhood. At twenty-seven, after a four-hour surgery (during the big New York City blackout) to remove two cysts the size of tennis balls from my right and left ovaries, I was told it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for me to conceive a child.
After I had been married for two years, I heard someone use the word endometriosis for the first time in the fourteen years (including three emergency room visits) of suffering from my period.
What is endometriosis?
en·do·me·tri·o·sis (endō-mētrē-ōsr·do) noun, a condition resulting from the appearance of endometrial tissue outside the uterus and causing pelvic pain and infertility.
At first, I thought it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. I knew deep in my heart I was meant to be a mother, and I would have my turn; it would just take a bit longer. And longer and longer and longer.
For fifteen years, I suffered from infertility. I endured three surgeries, four intrauterine inseminations, one in vitro fertilization (IVF), and two IVF transfers; I visited nine different doctors, went on five yoga retreats, fasted, did acupuncture.
I had made six embryos during my first IVF attempt. This meant I had six chances of becoming a mom, and that was it, as I did not take well to the drugs and the IVF process. They made me suicidal (which is not an exaggeration) and physically very sick.
Things I broke in fits of rage during my IVF cycle: a remote control, a Lladró figurine, and two vases filled with flowers from Ryan.
And then finally, finally, I got pregnant, and then quickly, eighteen days later, I miscarried. And while I thought that was bad, I had no idea how bad it could actually get. A year later, I got the guts to try IVF again. I had used two embryos for my first attempt. I used two more embryos this time and voilà! I was pregnant. We named her Baby Maeby, because Maeby was the only guarantee we had when it came to this process, and we were also big Arrested Development fans.
Baby Maeby was ours for fourteen blissful weeks. I talked to her and played “The Rainbow Connection” on my phone, holding it next to my belly. I even allowed myself to look at possible themes for her nursery. Every night I prayed to just let her be okay, to keep her mine. Then one day, at a routine sonogram, I was told she and I were not okay, and less than twenty-four hours later, I was wheeled into an operating room for a forced DNC, strapped to the table, violently screaming and crying, “No, no, no!” until the drugs knocked me out.
This destroyed me.
It happened a few weeks before Thanksgiving. We were not feeling festive and didn’t want to ruin the holiday for the rest of my family, so when I told Ryan I didn’t want to celebrate Thanksgiving that year, he quickly asked me, “Where do you want to go?” I responded, without hesitating, Spain. Why? I have no idea. It was a place I’d never been but always wanted to visit.
A week later we arrived in Barcelona. Sadly, there wasn’t enough patatas bravas or sangria in the city to make me smile, so we rented a car and drove with only one goal: to stop when we saw water.
We stumbled upon the town of Cadaqués. It was two nights before Thanksgiving. It was dark and cold. I felt a million miles away from my life back home. The next morning, I went for a hike by myself. I found an old church on top of a hill. It was empty. When I entered, I got down on my knees and just wept. Wept like I had never wept before.
Anyone struggling with infertility knows how lonely it can be. How strong you become in order to cope. Well, in that small church I dropped the facade of all that strength.
On the way back to the hotel, I saw a beautiful white house, directly on the water, with ornate art outside and one very large egg on the roof. I walked closer to check it out and saw a small group of about six people or so waiting patiently outside to enter.
It turned out to be Salvador Dalí’s house, and people waited years to take a coveted tour of his home in Portlligat. I asked the tour guide if there was any chance we could visit during our stay, and lucky for us, one couple had backed out. They had an opening on Thanksgiving.
The next day, Ryan and I walked into Dalí’s house. When I entered, I immediately started to feel better—the most okay I had felt in a while. When we got to the bedroom, I learned that Dalí’s wife’s name was Gala. I also learned quickly that these two, Dalí and Gala, were crazy (the fun kind of crazy), although they were broken in other ways.
Imperfect. And there we were, Ryan and me, broken, on a day of perfect family traditions, inside the home of two others as perfectly imperfect as us. I turned to Ryan and said two things: one, if we ever have a little girl, I want to name her Gala, and two, I never again wanted to spend Thanksgiving away from home or our family.
And two years and two Thanksgivings later, with the last two embryos and the help of an incredibly loving family, our little girl, Gala Lee, was born via a surrogate.
I still suffer from endometriosis, I will never know what it is like to carry my own child, and I still mourn for the three babies I lost (Gala was a twin). But when my tears well up and I start asking, “Why?” I remember that little seaside town and the house with the egg on its roof, nothing but a fishing village to some but to me the place where I was forever granted permission to be perfectly imperfect.
From the book TINY HOT DOGS by Mary Giuliani. Copyright © 2019 by Mary Giuliani. Reprinted by permission of Perseus Books, LLC. All rights reserved.
Mary Giuliani is an author, party and lifestyle expert.