"I passed a mass," I told my husband. I felt the hard plastic of the chair beneath me, stared through the glass in front of me to the fish swimming through the green water beyond. When I turned my head, I saw he didn't understand. "Earlier today, at work," I added, as though that would elucidate anything. But I couldn't say the words, couldn't make my mouth move over the sounds I needed to speak: 'I think I miscarried.'

We had been trying to get pregnant for a year. I put off going to my doctor for ages, afraid I would be told I couldn't have children at all. When I finally went, she told me I had no "gross physical abnormalities" that would keep me from conception, but that my hormone levels and the cysts on my ovaries probably meant I had poly-cystic ovarian syndrome. The good news was the ultrasound showed a cyst on my ovary, and assuming it actually burst and released an egg (not always guaranteed with PCOS), I might be able to get pregnant if we tried right away.

So we tried. I started planning a trip to Germany and Switzerland with one of my best friends, and was excited to think that I might take my baby with me across the Atlantic. I was late, although late means almost nothing with PCOS. Sometimes my cycle lasts 20 days, sometimes 70. But I hoped, and put off taking a pregnancy test because I didn't want to be disappointed. Then I went to work one morning and my hope died.

A week later, I flew to Europe. In Switzerland, we visited the Jungfraujoch, known as the "Top of Europe." I climbed out onto the observation deck at 11,388 ft above sea level between the peaks of the Monch and the Jungfrau in the Bernese Alps. I watched snow swirl with puffs of cloud, stared down at the valley almost ten thousand feet below, where we started our morning only an hour before.

I remembered the first time I stood on a mountain peak, four years prior in Colorado. A group of friends and I hiked Mt Audobon in the Indian Range of the Rockies. It took us a whole morning and into early afternoon to climb the four mile trail up to 13,233 feet above sea level. The last hundred feet of the mountain was excruciating. I literally crawled up the scree, resting every few moments because my lungs could not take in enough oxygen. But once I reached the summit, I forgot the weakness in my limbs, the burning in my chest, and the twinges of headache. I thought I could see forever; peaks as far as the eye could see, all the way to the Continental Divide. I felt free, standing on top of the world. We ate lunch and any remaining pain and weariness fled. As we descended the mountain, every step held a hidden spring. We sang show tunes and folksongs, told jokes and laughed like madmen. We were alive, and the mountain had proved it to us.

We had taken a cog-train to the Jungfrau. Only an hour's ride to rise ten thousand feet; we expended no effort. We sat comfortably in our padded train seats and watched the amazing Alpine scenery as we passed through the lower tree-lined slopes and up into the rocky, snow-swept heights. Yet standing at the top of Europe, I felt sick. The rapid ascension to the higher altitude and lower oxygen levels brought on nausea and a migraine. Everything we did at the Jungfraujoch was spectacular: standing in the snow-spray of the pass, walking inside the Aletsch Glacier, sitting in a cafe with a bird's eye view of Alpine peaks. I could not concentrate on these wonders, could not feel the exhilaration I felt at Mt Audubon. I just felt sick. I slept the whole train-ride back down the mountain, and the headache lingered until the next day.

When I returned from Europe, my OBGYN started me on hormone therapy. Finally, after over a year of trying, we conceived. To our joy, we did not miscarry a second time. Our son was born in December of 2007, and having him is all the sweeter because of how long and how hard we tried before we could become pregnant.

So I have to remind myself: easy isn't always better. Sometimes having gone through the struggle is what makes the destination worthwhile.

July 2011

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