Down the Hills and Round the Bends

My kids have a lot of Thomas stuff. And over the years, people have commented about it. I always just shrug it off. At best, they’ll think my kids are lucky. At worst, they’ll assume my kids are spoiled brats with far too many Thomas trains.

But there’s a story behind why we have so much Thomas stuff and it runs pretty deep. If I were to tell them how we ended up with so much Thomas stuff, they might end up feeling uncomfortable and I don’t like making our houseguests uncomfortable. So I shrug it off. Their worst assumption is better than the discomfort they may feel knowing the truth.

Back when I was going through fertility treatments, I used to bring Emory to the doctor with me. He was about a year-and-a-half when I started going (March, 2009). He was two-and-a-half when I stopped (June, 2010). I don’t think he remembers any of it. At the time, all he knew was that we very regularly visited a doctor. I packed a bag full of toys and snacks and we’d sit together in a big waiting room. He kept me company. Most days our visits were fairly uneventful. I’d have some lab-work done, maybe a sonogram or two.

On Friday, May 30, 2010 we packed an entire Thomas bookbag full of Thomas trains and headed to the doctor for an IUI. For IUIs, Em almost always came along because Toby had to be there as well. That day, Em wanted to take all of his trains and since he had a Thomas backpack specifically made to hold Thomas trains (equipped with a compartment to display favorites and everything) he had room for a LOT. Nearly every train, as well as a few tracks, came with us that day.

Toby’s part never took all that long. He was off to work in no time. My part took longer. Not only did I have to undergo the actual procedure, but I had to wait for the sample to be prepared as well. That usually took between 15 and 30 minutes. The sample was given to me in a tiny vial, the contents of which were usually pink.

Before our first ever IUI, I had no idea where to store the vial.

“What do I do with it?” I asked the tech. “Do I just stick it in my purse?”

“Many women put it in their bra, right here.” She told me, pointing to the center button on her lab-coat. “Keep it near your heart. Maybe it’ll help your chances.”

I sent TobyJoe a text message: I HAVE YOUR SPERM IN BETWEEN MY BOOBS.


So, hold up. I know what some of you are thinking: this sounds horribly unromantic and unnatural. And it is weird. I’ll give you that. But at the time, it was just the way things were. The process became my job. We needed to go through this in order to have a second child. And believe me, I have had every last thought you might be having as you read this, even the terribly judgmental ones. It’s OK. I get it.

I won’t sugarcoat the truth. Ultimately, and it’s become clear to me now, I was being selfish. It’s that simple. I just really wanted another baby. Therefore, I went ahead and carried a vial of pink sperm around in my bra for 30 minutes and made jokes about it. I brought my kid to the doctor with me since we didn’t have childcare. I packed backpacks full of toys and snacks and we camped out so I could hopefully, one day become pregnant. I did all of these things and overlooked all the weirdness involved because I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t let it go. I wanted so badly for my son to have a sibling.

I was unlucky to have to experience it, but lucky I was able to.

So, yeah, about those trains. After you pick up your sample, you wait a bit longer for the doctor to perform the actual IUI. So Em and I made ourselves comfortable in another, larger waiting room. I usually stared out the window (the office had a pretty decent view of the East River) while Em played with his choo-choos. Many times, there were other kids present, families in the exact same situation we were. So Em often had a playmate. Overall, our visits were pretty OK.

When they called my name, we packed everything up and headed into a room that looks exactly like any other gynecological exam room.

The procedure itself only takes about 30 seconds. But after it’s done, you have to lie there for a bit as it doesn’t bode well to get up and start walking around right away. And then sometimes they’ll want you to have some blood drawn, so we were shuffled off to the lab.

And this is where we left the trains.

It wasn’t until after we got home, did I realize they were gone. I ran out to the car—nothing. I texted Toby, letting him know so on his way home from work he could maybe pick up a few. He managed to find an L Train and a 6 Train at the drugstore. (Thank you, MTA!)

I called the office the following morning and a woman informed me that they did indeed have the bag and that they would put it aside for me. I told her that if my son was OK with it, we might not be back for a bit. I was scheduled to have a followup appointment two weeks later to check HCG levels (pregnancy stuff) so I figured that if we could wait until then, we would. She told me not to worry, they would be there.

We didn’t rush back right away. And I regret that. I was so wrapped up in myself at the time, I didn’t do the right thing for my kid. I didn’t drive back the very next morning to get his trains.

Thirteen days later, we headed back to my doctor’s office where he would confirm what I already knew; I wasn’t pregnant. Again. I was already feeling pretty down for obvious reasons. I’d failed for the umpteenth time at this seemingly basic thing. But when the woman behind the front desk told me the bag was gone, I fucking lost it. Right there in the middle of the waiting room, I went off the rails sobbing.

Now, I’d seen several women break down before in that waiting room. My breakdown wasn’t anything special. I was just another sad woman crying in the fertility clinic. The trail of tears leading to and from that place is Nile long and Amazon wide.

The woman behind the counter just stared back in bewildered horror, apologizing for her mistake as she was the one who told me they’d be there waiting for us.

I looked down at Em. He had been excited since we’d be getting his trains back. I talked about it all morning. He just looked up at me and said, “Choo-choos, mama?”

Tears poured down my face and onto the floor below. I was unraveling.

I was crying because I couldn’t get pregnant; I was crying because I’d lost a baby 11 months earlier and I still hadn’t properly mourned it; I was crying because my doctor’s office was going to close for 3 months that summer and everything would be placed on hold; I was crying because I completely fucked up and lost my son’s favorite backpack full of his favorite toys; I was crying because I wanted to punch whomever took the trains; I was crying because I didn’t have the energy to argue with the woman who broke her promise; I was crying because this was all my fault; I was crying because I failed at everything.


I explained to Em the best I could why we weren’t getting his trains back. I explained that I would make it up to him somehow and that I was so, so very sorry. I was sorry for far more than just the trains. But he didn’t know that.

Well, we never got those trains back. The backpack is gone too. And I have often wondered about the person who took them, if they felt badly about what they’d done. It occurred to me that it had to be someone working there—at a fertility clinic!—where they worked with hormonally charged women, often heartbroken and/or desperate. I realized they must have been pretty ballsy.

I wonder if they have any idea how much pain they caused that day. Would they have even cared?

Later that morning, I called my mother and told her what had happened. She knew what I’d been going through. My mom was pretty crushed by the whole ordeal as well, and immediately went out to buy Em some Thomas stuff. At some point, she told the story to my aunt, whose job includes visiting dozens of garage sales every week. She hit the jackpot somewhere in New Jersey. That aunt told some of my other relatives, and before we knew it, we were being inundated with Thomas stuff. Em ended up with at three times the number of trains we’d lost that day.

I saw the inside of that waiting room once more after that. It was for an IVF class, exactly two days after I broke down at the front desk. And I didn’t know it at the time, but I would become pregnant with Elliot (naturally!) 8 days later. Who, incidentally, is the biggest Thomas fan I know.


  1. Oh I am crying for those trains. And because reading a story, anyone’s story, about going through treatments brings me right back to those moments I had myself. And I love your mom and your aunt.


  2. Love this. I know those tears of disappointment. Boy howdy. <3


  3. Oh, that is beautiful. Tragic for awhile, but beautiful happy endings for you and Em. Thank you for writing and sharing.


  4. I love your blog, your honesty, and how you write about your fam! This is a great piece of writing.


    1. Thank you, guys (julia!). It feels good to finally share all this stuff. I only wish I had sooner.

      I am curious to hear from those who went through treatments similar to mine. Is this the way your doctor’s do things? I know I didn’t go too far into it, but I am curious. If you feel like sharing your IUI stories, I’d love to hear them.

      Thanks again! It felt good being able to write this.


  5. Really great read, Michelle. Well written.


  6. gorgeous, thank you.


  7. made me cry. thank you for writing again.


  8. Sharing the holy hell out of this.


  9. Powerful shit. Who the hell steals from a fertility clinic? I mean if you are there you are already, pretty much, living in the land of broken dreams. Thank you for telling your story – it is insane, no matter how many years go by when I hear someone share like this it brings me right back to my own breakdowns. I will be sharing this like nobodies business.


  10. Thank you! I don’t write for ad revenue. No one pays me. Sometimes I think about just throwing in the towel. (I’ve been doing this for 12 years, after all.) But I can’t seem to stop. I continue to write for two reasons:

    1). It helps me a great deal; it’s cathartic.
    2). To make people feel less alone and hopefully better because of it.

    That said, it means a lot to me that you both would share something I have written. So thank you.


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