These days, niddah and mikveh are not actually monthly for many people. In between pregnancy and breastfeeding, many women use birth control to regulate and delay their menstrual cycles. But struggling with infertility meant I was niddah A LOT. Not pregnant, not on birth control, not breastfeeding. For three years, niddah and mikveh were actually, truly, a monthly experience. At first, it was adding insult to injury – a bit of blood on toilet paper was the first harsh answer to the question “is this our month?” And then there were no hugs, no comforting squeeze of the hand, and no, um, “intimacy” to remind me that maybe there was at least a silver lining to not being pregnant.
Then we realized it was never going to be our month without some professional help. I thought that now that we knew that, it would be smooth sailing. But I quickly learned that first came the paperwork. For each pre-treatment test there were repeated calls to multiple numbers that never answered on the first try, attempting to track down the one person who could schedule the appointment. Then there would be three weeks to the next available slot, then waiting for results before you could schedule the follow-up test and start the whole process over. Every onat prisha, every day of the sheva nekiim was a painful reminder that yet another cycle was about to slip past.
But then treatments began. Life became all about counting and checking. I was given a cocktail of injections to boost the number of ovum I’d release in a given cycle. While on the medications, I was carefully monitored so that the ovum could be retrieved at just the right moment for fertilization in the lab. That means blood tests and ultrasounds every couple of days, with quick results. Count two days, check in, count a few more, check in, then a couple more days, and the retrieval procedure, then a few more days, and back to the hospital to implant the fertilized embryos. After another count of 12 days, the dreaded pregnancy test and the BFN (Big Fat Negative).
For me, the way to stay sane was to pick myself up and start again. And again. And again. It felt like if I stopped, even for awhile, I’d lose my mind. But after the BFN, your body needs time to ready itself for the next round – you need to get your period. I’d go off the meds and then wait for the visit from Aunt Flo. For the first time ever, my period was a sign that the cycle was beginning again, not that it was over. Nidda was suddenly a blessing every time. Counting to an onat prisha, checking, counting five days, hefsek tahara, counting sheva nekiim, with all the bedikot in between, gave me more action to take, more counting and checking that would eventually lead to a baby.
Or as it happened, two babies. After nine IVF cycles, a 7.5-month twin pregnancy, and what felt like a hundred years of tandem breastfeeding, I’m surfing the crimson wave. I don’t notice niddah the way I used to – I’m too tired to think, too cuddled by babies to crave touch, too busy to have time for much romance anyway. But the counting itself is triggering something – some kind of PTSD.
Every day I count creates a sense of urgency that I can’t pin down, like waking up from a vivid dream you can’t quite remember. With two babies at home, the last thing I need right now is morning sickness and a newborn. I’m not pursuing treatment right now, but if I want another child, I’ll have to. So am I member of the infertility club, or not? The question haunts me as a I enter the mikveh. I can’t help wondering if every mikveh visit now is a sign of a cycle that’s gone and will never come back. I’m torn between mourning for a missed opportunity, the relief of a brand new beginning, and the celebration I used to feel at the end of niddah, before the infertility monster reared its ugly head.
What I do know is that niddah has never been my friend. But after a brief period of being exactly what I needed, it is no longer my enemy.