100% Science, 100% Magic
TOBIN: I have to admit something to you.
TOBIN: I have never been camping.
[THEME BACKGROUND HORN FLOURISHES START]
KATHY: Tobin! You’re missing out!
TOBIN: I know, I know. My siblings almost convinced me to go once, but then they lost me when they were like, “The first shower you take when you get back from camping is amazing.” [KATHY LAUGHS] And I’m like, “That’s not a reason to go.” [KATHY LAUGHS MORE]
KATHY: Okay, but also, the first few showers after I come back from Burning Man is amazing. Bur-
TOBIN: Oh my god! I quit. I quit! [KATHY LAUGHS]
KATHY: Amazing. [LAUGHS MORE]
TOBIN: I quit.
VOX 1: From WNYC Studios, you’re listening to “Nancy.”
VOX 2: With your hosts, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
[THEME MUSIC PLAYS]
KATHY: Okay, so … a couple of years ago I went to this thing called A-Camp.
[JUNGLE ADVENTURE MUSIC PLAYS]
KATHY: It’s a weeklong camp for queer women and trans folks, and it had your typical camp stuff, with a very queer twist. On paper, A-Camp was kid Kathy’s dream come true. I grew up always wanting to go to camp. But the reality of it was, I was very terrified. Going somewhere new where I didn’t have any friends, and it being my first time in a queer space? I honestly didn’t know what to think. But, one of the reasons I felt okay about going was because the co-director was one Kristin Russo.
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
[CLIP FROM A-CAMP IN 2017 STARTS]
KRISTIN: Um, we wanted to start by saying “Oh my gosh! We’re all here, in Radcliffe Hall, together …”
[CLIP FROM A-CAMP IN 2017 ENDS]
KATHY: I didn’t know Kristin that well at that point, but what I did know put me at ease. You know those people in your life who you become immediate friends with because they’re just so welcoming and easy to talk to? That’s Kristin. And not only that, she is a boss.
KRISTIN: I am the co-host and producer of "Buffering the Vampire Slayer,” a Buffy the Vampire Slayer podcast, and I also have worked for the last decade with LGBTQ communities. I founded Everyone is Gay and My Kid is Gay. I wrote This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids.
KATHY: Oh, I love it.
KRISTIN: I do a lot of gay stuff. You know? [BOTH LAUGH]
KATHY: Professional gay.
KRISTIN: Truly! Truly a professional gay.
KATHY: I couldn’t believe we would be at camp at the same time.
KATHY: You were there.
KRISTIN: I was. You were making an episode of this podcast [KATHY CHUCKLES] when this story that we're about to talk about was happening.
[SOLEMN MUSIC PLAYS]
KATHY: But what I didn't know at the time is that Kristin was going through something else entirely. [SOUND OF CHEERING AT A-CAMP PLAYS IN THE BACKGROUND, AS IF FAR AWAY] While everyone was making new friends and reuniting with old ones … Kristin was having a miscarriage.
KATHY: Kristin always knew she wanted kids.
Kristen: So, my mom has seven sisters.
KRISTIN: Mhm. And it's all girls. Eight girls, no boys.
KATHY: Oh my god.
KRISTIN: It's crazy. And they all have kids. So I grew up in an environment where it was just, like, cousins and babies and I remember like pretending to sit down on the couch like a pregnant woman. Like where are you like have to lean back because of your belly like, as a kid, you know? [KATHY LAUGHS] So it was really in my — in my mind and in my experience. But then when I got to my, like, late 20s, I struggled with anxiety and that sort of gave me a little more pause.
KRISTIN: And then I did eventually come around to, like, “Yes, I do.”
KATHY: Kristin and her wife, Jenny, decided they were ready to start a family in 2015.
KATHY: Was there ever a conversation between you and Jenny about who would carry the child?
KRISTIN: Yeah. Umm, Jenny — out of the gates — was like, “I will never carry a child. So … if we're having a kid, guess what? It’s you!”
KATHY: Oh. Same. Just — [KRISTIN LAUGHS] Well, how did you — how did you and Jenny decide how you were going to get pregnant?
KRISTIN: So, we decided to go with a sperm bank. And then, um … there's two kinds of insemination, there's ICI and IUI. ICI is intracervical and IUI is intrauterine. And so, ICI, is, like, the kind like, if you ever have seen If These Walls Could Talk 2, where — [LAUGHS] have you seen it? Have you seen it?
KATHY: Yes! Yes!
KRISTIN: Okay. So — So in that — in that movie there's a storyline of two women who are getting pregnant and they’re, like, at home with the sperm and [PAUSE] that's ICI. You can do it at home, essentially.
KATHY: Ah, okay.
KRISTIN: You don't need a doctor. You just get the sperm and you put it inside of your partner's body and hope for the best, right?
KATHY: Yes. Yes. That's kind of like — what is it called? — like the turkey baster method.
KRISTIN: Turkey baster method. Although, like, I think when people say “the turkey baster method,” they're usually referring to like a known donor with fresh sperm.
KATHY: I see!
KRISTIN: And not like —
KRISTIN: — Jurassic Park-style dry ice sperm. It's so crazy, Kathy, it's so …
KATHY: Wait! Where … ?
KRISTIN: It’s so crazy.
KATHY: Tell me more about that. Like, what do you mean?
KRISTIN: So the first time that we did this, we like — literally they give you the canister they're like, “Here you go! Good luck!”. And you, like, know you're supposed to maybe use a syringe, like, a little plastic syringe to suck up the sperm and, like, warm it. And I had no idea, like, I didn't understand how much sperm was going to be in the canister or any of that stuff. So we opened up this dry ice thing — Jenny has like 14 pairs of gloves on — like it … It's like, it was a literal comedy show. Like, it truly was ridiculous. We take that thing out — It is, like, I can’t … It's like an inch, maybe? An inch tall, the vial.
KATHY: Uh huh.
KRISTIN: And like a teeny tiny millimeter with — it's so small, it looks like — it looks like somebody sneezed, like, it’s, like, the tiniest amount of liquid that any human has ever seen [KATHY LAUGHS] the syringe that we had for the first try was like a regular, like, kids oral syringe, you know?
KRISTIN: Way too big because there's so little fluid that, like, you need a teeny-tiny syringe to do it properly.
KATHY: Oh my god.
KRISTIN: It would’ve — in the long run, it would’ve saved us a lot of money to just go to the clinic right out of the gates.
KATHY: Well, that sounds traumatizing.
KRISTIN: It was such a joke. So then, you know, as we were [PAUSE] about to try for the fifth time and we were like, what are we going to do? Because we can't afford to get 10 more vials of sperm and now we really can't afford to go to a fertility clinic. And so we reexamined our options and, like, had this moment where this person had come into our life, he had been in our life for a little while. And I don't know why it never crossed either of our minds. But I will never forget, we were in our house in California and we had, like, a little sunken kitchen and I was standing like two steps down, and Jenny was standing two steps up and we looked at each other and we were like, “Oh my god! How did we not think of this? This is like the best option ever!” And so we sat down and we wrote this long e-mail to our friend and his wife and it was one of the funniest e-mails I think I've ever written in my whole history of being human because it's so awkward. [BOTH LAUGH]
KATHY: Can you give me some of the highlights?
KRISTIN: I mean — I mean, it was basically what you would imagine when you write to someone and their wife and you're like, “Hello! We would love to have your sperm. We hope this isn't super weird for you.” You know?
KATHY: Mhm. Mhm.
KRISTIN: And we made it, like, really silly and really funny but also serious enough where they would know, like, there's no pressure. You know, you're not going to destroy us if you say no. It's a really big deal … what have you. And then, like, a week later they wrote us and they were like: “We — we wanna do this. We think we're in.” And so when we all got back to California we had the most awkward dinner of all time [KATHY LAUGHS] where, like … You know, we knew them we didn't know them well and suddenly it's like me and Jenny and them and we're sitting at a table and we're like, “Sooooooo … this is how it will work.”
KRISTIN: Like, “You can come over and, like, go in that room and, like, jerk off into a cup and …"
KATHY: Oh! I forgot that that had to happen. [KRISTIN LAUGHS]
KRISTIN: That’s how you get the sperm, Kathy! [BOTH LAUGH]
[BOUNCY, INVENTIVE MUSIC PLAYS, THEN ENDS]
KATHY: You know, when you’re queer, you gotta consider everybody.
KRISTIN: It’s a thing that we do! Like, it’s a thing that you do as — you know, queer — queer couples, I think, when you get to that place where you are thinking about having kids, you consider: who do I know? What do I, you know? If I'm going to use a sperm bank, do I want to do an anonymous donor? Do I want to do an open donor?
KRISTIN: Like, there's so many choices and I think that having, trying to start a family was really the first time that I felt as queer as I was, right? Cuz there was no way for me to feel normal about the process.
KATHY: Hmm. Hmm.
KRISTIN: No matter what route we chose, it felt bizarre and weird and Jenny and I couldn't create a baby together and those were, like, the cold hard facts. And I remember a lot of my aunts are really conservative, and funnily enough, my most conservative aunt of all of my aunts once said to me — because we were talking, this was, like, even before I knew I wanted to do this process — she said to me, “You know, I understand that it might be difficult for these reasons that you, you know, feel like you can't make a baby together.” But also she was like, “But when my first daughter was born I realized like it wasn't half me and half my husband, like, she was her own person.”
KATHY [UNDERSTANDINGLY]: Hmm.
KRISTIN: And … you know, and that — that really stuck with me. It's still with me. ‘Cause it rang so true. It's like, you imagine this, like, half-and-half, like, combo deal. But at the end of the day, like, a baby is a — a human, uhh, its own human and that, like, our human would be, you know, parts of us for various reasons. Umm. So that was helpful for me.
KATHY: So, January you start trying.
KRISTIN: Yeah. So we had been trying for about six months in 2016 with the frozen stuff and then January of 2017, we started with the fresh stuff [LAUGHS] and I remember, like, I was in our bathroom and I had a pregnancy test and I didn't think I was pregnant. You know, we're on — out of the history of it — we're on, like, maybe Try Ten for me.
KRISTIN: So I was so used to being like, “Pregnancy test? Negative!” Or not even! A lot of times I didn't take a pregnancy test. I would just get my period and be like, “Didn't work!”, you know?
KRISTIN: So I had therapy — Jenny was in her studio — before I ran out the door to therapy, I was like, “Let me just take a pregnancy test.” So I peed on the stick and I sat in the thing and I was, like, really impatient. Not, like, hopeful, not excited. [KATHY LAUGHS] Just like, “C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c’mon! I've gotta go.”
KRISTIN: And then I looked down and it said, “Pregnant.” [PAUSE] It was as though I had not been putting sperm inside of my body for, you know, almost a year, like, I was like: "How did this happen?" [BOTH CRACK UP LAUGHING]
[ETHEREAL MUSIC PLAYS IN THE BACKGROUND]
KRISTIN: Like, oh my god! Like, it was like we had done all of this, and prepared, and whatever … but, you know, I don't think anything can prepare you for that, of, like, “Holy shit! It worked!”
KATHY: Coming up, we go back to A-Camp, where Kristin’s story continues.
[ETHEREAL MUSIC ENDS]
[LIGHT ACOUSTIC GUITAR ADVENTURE MUSIC PLAYS, THEN FADES AS KATHY FINISHES INTRODUCING THE NEXT PART]
KATHY: Alright, we’re back. It’s 2017. Kristin took that pregnancy test in March, and in May, she headed to Wisconsin to co-direct A-Camp.
KRISTIN: I was about seven and a half weeks when I got on the plane to fly out and co-direct camp and I landed into Wisconsin. And when I landed into Wisconsin, I started spotting and I just thought like this is a bummer for timing, right? Because spotting is super normal in your first trimester. I knew that because I had Googled it 77 times, you know, like, it was totally normal. Everything was fine, everything was fine. But I was just like, “Damn, I wish that this had happened, like, before I got on a plane or before I had any reasons to think maybe something was going wrong.” So then [INHALES] the spotting started picking up and I started feeling like maybe something was wrong and I was lucky enough — A-Camp was such a crazy place to be for this whole experience. I was lucky enough to have an OB-GYN on my staff. So I called her and she came over. You know, and, at A-Camp you kind of all live in little houses near each other and she came over to mine and I was like, “Hey, you know, I'm pregnant and I'm spotting.” And she's like, “Okay, that's normal. But tell me more.” She got some more details from me. We had a preliminary conversation and then I think the next day I — I started to see red. And, like, red is not a color you should see as a pregnant person. Spotting brown is fine, you know.
KATHY: Ahh …
KRISTIN: But as soon as I saw red I was like, “Something's bad. And something is definitely wrong.” And she came back over and she was like, “It does sound like you're having a miscarriage.”
KATHY: Was she the first one to say miscarriage? Did you already have it in your head?
KRISTIN: I had it in my head. I mean, I had … since the moment I started spotting I was like, “Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.” And the day that I actually knew I was having a miscarriage was the first day that all of the campers arrived. So it was like, we went from 60 people on that campsite to 400 people at the moment that I was like, “Holy shit. I'm having a miscarriage.” And I looked up the hospitals, so I was like, alright I'll wait until I think Saturday morning and I'll go — and at this point it was Friday. And Friday night I went to the event it was like, you know, Be Steadwell was singing. And I was sitting in the audience and my cramps went from mild to, like, really intense very quickly.
KATHY: Oh my god.
KRISTIN: And I was sitting in the audience in that theater in Wisconsin, and I just looked at Jenny and I was like, “We gotta go. Now.” And I think we eventually got on the road at, like, midnight and we drove the two hours or so to the Madison E.R. Umm. But I had the miscarriage in the van on the way over. Like, everything passed. And then we got to the E.R.
KATHY: Oh my god. Did you feel like you were processing what was happening in the moment?
KRISTIN: It wasn't until we left the hospital at about 6:00 in the morning and we got to a hotel room for a few hours because we just like had to sleep before we went back to camp to — P.S. — tape an episode of "Buffering from the Vampire Slayer.”
KATHY: Oh my god.
KRISTIN: Live. In front of, like, 200 people. So we got a hotel room and there was like, you know, 10 minutes or 20 minutes or so where I remember being, like, in the hotel bed, both of us just sobbing, you know? [SPEAKING WITHOUT STOPPING, SUGGESTING THE EVENTS HAPPENED IN A BLUR] And then making a joke and falling asleep and getting in the car and driving back to the campsite, taking a shower, walking to the theater, and starting the taping of "Buffering the Vampire Slayer."
[CLIP FROM THAT EPISODE OF “BUFFERING” PLAYS]
KRISTIN: So today — nobody panic, I’m fine! — but, to prepare for this live taping, I decided to get ill yesterday and go to the emergency room, where I was last night …
[CLIP FROM THAT EPISODE OF “BUFFERING” ENDS]
KATHY: Was there ever a point, like, maybe on the car ride back, when you're like, “Maybe we just need to cancel this.”?
KRISTIN: Cancel the — the show?
KRISTIN: No. I mean, I think we — of course, I'm sure we said, like, “Should we do this thing?” And I think Jenny looked to me to make that decision. Like, “Do you feel you can?” And I was like, “I do, I want to. Like, I wanna, I don't wanna ... What am I going to do?” It was like between that or, like, sitting in a room, staring at a wall, thinking about the loss. Like, you know, that didn't seem like a viable option.
[MELANCHOLY MUSIC PLAYS]
KATHY: And camp went on. I saw Kristin in the dining hall greeting people, talking to her staffers who needed help, and making announcements on the bullhorn.
KRISTIN [USING A BULLHORN]: Can you hear me talking? Wave your arms if you can hear me talking! Yes, you can! Okay, great. It may rain …
KATHY: And she says having her community there was really great, actually. But when it was over, she flew home. Back to the world.
KRISTIN: So much of my experience after the miscarriage was looking for articles and looking for things to read and trying to find, you know, any mirror for my experience. And I found nothing. You know, as a queer person, I think you have to translate a lot. Right? That, like, you're reading something and it's talking about your boyfriend and you're like, I'm just gonna, like, flip that or I'm not going to read this or whatever. But when you have gone through something traumatic and in this case it was the miscarriage I had to read articles about what to expect, you know I needed those to, like, anchor me. And I had to do those translations where it was like your husband might be feeling this, your husband might be doing that, and it just felt like an extra special slice to my heart to have to do that translation in that moment of pain. That, like, I just so desperately wanted to see myself reflected in the experience and — and not to feel so isolated which is a big part of why I'm talking about it now. I wrote a piece about it for Autostraddle.
KRISTIN: This — the experience of miscarriage — is very common, which of course means that it's also very common in queer community.
KATHY: Do you feel like your relationship to your body changed at all?
KRISTIN: Oh my god, completely.
KRISTIN: And not just related to the miscarriage. The experience of going through fertility is such a massive thing for a person and their body. You know, I remember I had this, like, pulling feeling on the left side of my, like, abdomen — which, I guess, wound up being my uterus — throughout the pregnancy. And when I got the sonogram I told the woman who's giving me a sonogram I was like, “I felt this pulling. Do you think that that had anything to do with the miscarriage, with the loss?” And she was like, “It didn't. That feeling of pulling, though, where you're pointing to —that’s exactly where the embryo implanted.” Like, I could feel it, you know?
KRISTIN: Which is cra— it's just, like, your sense of, like, your own perception of feeling, and the depth of that feeling, and the way that your body is aware of itself is — is really different after an experience like that.
KATHY: Wow. Did you and Jenny want to try again after?
KRISTIN: Yeah … I wanted to like try right away, right away, right away. It was like something emotionally that I was going through. Um, and we tried maybe two more times or three more times and it didn't work. And that's when we said to our sperm donor, “Let’s get your sperm tested.” And we did that, and the results came back and they were like, “We don't even know how you got pregnant the first time.” Umm. And so … we went on a whole journey. Like, we had me doing acupuncture and him doing acupuncture but we also were starting to make a little money from "Buffering" so we were like, we're going to start going to a fertility clinic.
KRISTIN: And we were about to, uh, use a sperm bank again and get a different donor, different bank, and go to the fertility clinic. The doctor was like, “You're probably going to get pregnant right away.”
KRISTIN: And then my marriage fell apart.
KATHY: Wow. [PAUSE]
KRISTIN: So the miscarriage happened in May. And, um, Jenny told me that she was leaving the marriage in February.
KATHY: Oh my god.
KRISTIN: So it went from not being in a great place to learning that everything I knew about my life was no longer true.
KRISTIN: Um. Which is [PAUSE] traumatizing. You know? I definitely did a complete flip, umm, [PAUSE] in terms of like having any capacity to understand what was happening. And also the entire time, still running a podcast with Jenny. I look back on it and I'm like, “How did we possibly do that?”
KRISTIN: I don't know how we did it, but we did.
KATHY: Um, how are you … how are you doing now?
KRISTIN: You know, I’m, like, a person, I think. For the first time. You know, in the beginning it was hard all the time, and in the middle it was hard often, and now I'm feeling good. But then I'll forget and I'll trip over a rock and I'm like, “Oh, right.” I still have this, like, massive amount of trauma and pain that is there and that will be — that will be there forever. Right? It'll just, like, I'll interact with it differently as time goes by. And it’s okay, we recover from that trauma, we can heal from that trauma. But it's so much easier to heal when we have a community. And I think that there's a pretty small community right now, umm, at least that I saw. And I want to make that community bigger. I want to be able to talk about — not only miscarriage, but fertility as a queer woman, more. Because, man, I can't tell you the amount of queer women I've talked to since who are like, “I'm going to try to start having a baby, you have any tips?” I'm like, “Boy do I! [KATHY LAUGHS] I've got an encyclopedia of tips for you that I wish I had had, you know, going into the whole thing.”
KATHY: Yeah. I looked up to you and admired you for many years before we even talked for the first time. And so I'm just really grateful that you're doing this because it's a difficult thing to talk about, when we personally go through trauma. And I feel like for women the message seems to be that we should be shameful —
KATHY: — that our body wasn't able to carry a child to term —
KATHY: — to give birth. And more people need to talk about the things that just happens.
KRISTIN: It just happens. It’s — it’s — you know, it is. It's looked at like a failure —
KRISTIN: — and as an individual you feel like a failure, that your body couldn't do it. But I remember going to see a midwife really early in the process. And, umm, she said to me. “You know, Kristin, the thing you have to remember is that getting pregnant is 100% science and 100% magic.” And I was like, “That's 200%,” and she was like, “That's the point! The whole point is that it's 100 percent and also 100 —” That you can't isolate it to … You can't. You know, even when you go to a fertility clinic and you have the best doctors in the world, sometimes they're like, “I don't understand why this isn't working.” Or, like, “I don't understand how that works.” Like, my pregnancy — they were like, “Definitely I don't know how you did that, but good — good job?”. [KATHY LAUGHS] It's a thing that is unpredictable and is as magical as it is scientific. And, you know, we grow up learning, like, [MIMICKING GOOFY-SERIOUS VOICE] “Use condoms if you're going to have sex with a boy!”, like, “You can get pregnant at any — at the drop of a hat.”
KRISTIN: So it's really a — a — an awakening when you're like, “Wait, but I've been just dumping sperm inside of my body.” [LAUGHS] What?
KRISTIN: You know? It's really — it's really something that I think needs much bigger, more expansive understanding. But that's the case with anything having to do with women's health. We don't talk about it.
[POPPY ELECTRONIC MUSIC PLAYS]
KATHY: That's so true.
KRISTIN: And we need to!
KATHY: We need to. [KRISTIN LAUGHS] Yes.
[CREDITS MUSIC PLAYS]
KATHY: Alright. That is our show.
TOBIN: Credits time!
KATHY: Our producer —
TOBIN: Zakiya Gibbons!
KATHY: Production fellow —
TOBIN: Temi Fagbenle!
KATHY: Sound designer —
TOBIN: Jeremy Bloom!
KATHY: Editor —
TOBIN: Stephanie Joyce!
KATHY: Executive producer —
TOBIN: Paula Szuchman!
KATHY: I’m Kathy Tu!
TOBIN: I’m Tobin Low.
KATHY: And “Nancy” is a production of WNYC Studios.
[CREDITS MUSIC ENDS]
KATHY: Side note — I had once screened Tobin [PAUSE] to be a possible donor. [KRISTIN GASPS] But he — he didn't know about it, so he was very upset. [LAUGHS]
KRISTIN: Wait, wait, wait. You screened Tobin but he didn't know about it?
KATHY: Like … in my own mind.
KRISTIN: Oh! I see.
KATHY: I considered him … and then also his boyfriend.
KRISTIN: I like that — I like that, Tobin — I like that you were mad, Tobin, that Kathy had thought about it without telling you. [BOTH LAUGH, THEN KATHY SIGHS]