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Surprise Baby After Infertility? Yep, I'm That Girl

Photograph by Getty Images

It was October of 2013 and I was gearing up for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to India. I had been the sole journalist selected by CARE, a poverty-fighting humanitarian organization with an emphasis on empowering girls and women, to accompany a congressional delegation on a learning tour, where we would see their maternal and reproductive health programs in action. We would meet women in their homes in Bihar, the poorest state in all of India, and hear about their experiences. We would visit the Taj Mahal.

I had my Malaria drugs and probiotics, my Purell and Pepto. I got my Typhoid and Hep A/B vaccinations. Words can't describe how electrified and excited I was.

Then I got the call.

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"I have some good news!" nurse Jamie from my fertility clinic singsonged into the phone, almost Oprah-like. "Yoooou're pregggg-naaaant!"

I cannot print my response, as there are not enough asterisks and ampersands to convey my confusion and surprise.

It had taken my husband and me two agonizing years to get pregnant with our first child in 2011. Multiple rounds of IVF. A chemical pregnancy. Surgery to remove a bum fallopian tube. Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome that caused 2.5 liters of fluid to leak into my belly. We had to spend tens of thousands of dollars and buckets of tears to conceive.

A year and a half after she was born, my husband wanted to gear up for Round Two; I kept pushing it off, because India was happening. "After I get back, we'll go for it," I promised him. As a good faith effort, I secured some black market birth control pills (i.e., my friend's leftover packs) and was about to start popping them pre-India, so my cycle would be nicely regulated upon my return and I could just skip right over to our clinic and start IVF. (At that point, having finally had success with our first daughter, I felt strongly—if not falsely—confident that IVF would work like a charm.)

But my fertility nurse insisted I come in for preliminary blood work first. So I had my blood drawn, went home and took a quick nap with our toddler, expecting them to phone with the go-ahead to start popping the pill and instructions to come see them post-India. Instead, I woke up to two missed calls and a mysterious "Call us, please" email from the clinic. As I stared confusedly at the email, the phone rang again, and I got the surprise phone call of my life.

My HCG was 35,000. In other words: Super preggo.

With time, I realized: There will be other trips to India … but there was no guaranteeing another pregnancy.

I only have one fallopian tube. I had gotten my period just once in the previous three years without the help of medication. My husband and I were taking precautions (scientifically unsupported precautions, yes, but precautions nonetheless) to sidestep even the teeniest, tiniest possibility that I might get pregnant pre-trip. Somehow, Michael Phelps got through.

You always hear this story:

Woman can't get pregnant.

Woman tries everything humanly possible to get pregnant.

Woman eventually has child through turkey baster/IVF/egg donor/surrogacy/adoption.

BOOM! Woman gets pregnant on her own (usually very shortly after bringing baby home).

How had I become such a cliché?

"I told you so!" my ob-gyn chuckled at my husband and me as we sat shell-shocked in her office, six weeks pregnant with our magical fairy fetus. Indeed, she had: At my six-week postpartum checkup in July of 2012, she had asked me about birth control. I literally laughed in her face. "If you don't want to be pregnant again anytime soon, you need to be on something," she warned me. "I see it happen all the time: Being pregnant resets your body; it kickstarts your system."

My response: "Ha. We'll take our chances."

For my husband, once he got over the shock of it all (and once our doctor assured us that the travel vaccinations I had unknowingly received mid-conception were harmless — not to mentioned the wine consumed at a "Breaking Bad" finale party), elation was his prevailing emotion. For me, I felt more conflicted. Of course I was happy to be pregnant. Of course I was thrilled we wouldn't have to go through the heartache, frustration, expense and annoyance of an infertility protocol.

But to be totally frank, I was also kind of crushed. India had become a dream for me by this point. I had competed for the spot with fellow journalists, was actively and excitedly pitching stories from the trip to editors, was prepping every day and couldn't wait for the chance to help make a difference by sharing CARE's programs with readers. When else would I, a women's health writer, have the opportunity to meet these women in their homes and hear their stories and experience their day-to-day life in an effort to make things better? But my doctor—who is Indian herself—simply wasn't onboard with me traveling to such poor areas where access to medical care was essentially non-existent.

I got over it. My contacts at CARE understood. The irony of me becoming accidentally pregnant while preparing for a trip with an organization dedicated to family planning as a means of empowering women was not lost on any of us. Yes, I had to cancel the trip. But in places like Bihar, an unplanned pregnancy has far-reaching implications, ranging from infant malnutrition to sustained gender inequality. Who was I to complain? With time, I realized: There will be other trips to India … but there was no guaranteeing another pregnancy.

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Our second daughter is a dream who vacillates between two modes: giggly and chill. I can't believe I ever harbored even the smallest micro-ounce of resentment about our post-IVF surprise. No, we didn't name her Bihar. And the good news is, if she ever decides to travel to India, she won't need a typhoid vaccine.

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