Caroline Lake Quiner was born in 1839 in Brookfield, Wisconsin on what we may safely assume was a cold day in December. At age 16, she became a schoolteacher, just as one of her daughters would, and married a neighboring farmer's son when she was 20. One of seven children herself, she eventually bore five children. (Presumably there were no fertility problems in that branch of the family.)
One of her children would later make her famous. Laura Ingalls Wilder, daughter of Caroline and Charles Ingalls, would characterize Ma in her Little House series as cheerful, kind, hard-working and warm.
I couldn't help but think of Caroline as I faced our new doctor across her desk last week. She was all of those things, heavy on the warm, to the point of making me vaguely uneasy, the sort of person who asks, "Isn't that nice?" and then waits for an answer. "You've been through so much," she crooned, folding her hands on top of my file, the one I'd neatly organized and ruthlessly abridged so as not to exceed the airline's baggage weight restrictions. "I'm proud of you."
Now what is the connection? It is not that the doctor, an attractive and maternal-looking blonde, bore more than a passing resemblance to actress Karen Grassle, who brought Caroline Ingalls to television life. It is that I detected in our doctor an implacable Midwestern niceness, an almost aggressive pleasantness, so strong and obvious an urge to be accommodating that I felt irredeemably rude for declining the water, tea, and coffee she offered...twice.
I am talking about Minnesota nice. And although Laura Ingalls Wilder spent only a scant handful of years there, I strongly associate her with Minnesota. The way Michael Landon told it every Monday night on NBC, her family's stay in Walnut Grove lasted decades. Of course, the way Michael Landon told it, Walnut Grove was actually located just outside Los Angeles; a teenage Laura wore Cover Girl and probably Love's Baby Soft (and, by the way, hubba hubba, Half-Pint); Charles and Caroline adopted a moppety Shannen Doherty, sadly unaware of the monster she would become; and weird rapist mimes slunk around the prairie attacking anything in a pinafore. What can I say? Those were impressionable years.
But back to Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes, the North Star State, and the Gopher State. That is where we'll be doing our next cycle. And because for me, Minnesota stands for only a handful of wildly disparate things — Julia, Spam, Mary Richards, and the Ingalls clan — when faced with the soft voice, almost stubborn kindness, tidy shirtwaist, and frontier can-do-ism of our new doctor, I could only think of Caroline.
Which made the subsequent sonohystogram uncomfortable. It wasn't just because of the cramping, although, Lordy, the cramping — you'd think someone had just shoved a catheter past my hermetically sealed cervix and filled my uterus with frosty cold saline or something. What was more uncomfortable was the cognitive dissonance inherent in the procedure. It was like nothing so much as getting fisted by Ma.
I'd prepared a top-line summary for the doctor to help her make sense of my file. For each cycle, I included the demoralizing facts: kind of suppression, type and amount of gonadotropins, peak E2, and, if the cycle got that far, number of eggs retrieved, fertilization, grade and number of embryos transferred, and eventual outcome (bad, bad, nothing, good, sucked, sucked, suuuuuucked). Seven cycles' worth, bullet pointed, bold-faced, really fucking grim.
I watched her face as she read it. Her expression went from puzzlement — "But it looks like you responded just fine on your first cycle. I don't understand what..." — to a look of kindly condolence by the time she got to the end. "Well," she said softly, then paused. Then, "You should feel good. You've really tried everything. So good for you."
And then waited for an answer. Well, hey, yes, I guess: good for us.
Here is how nice Minnesotans are, how serious about making sure that everyone is accommodated but no one is uncomfortable: Paul reports that in the, 'ow you say, wankatorium, the porn was concealed in a folder bearing a label that read,
Contains sexually explicit material
Next time I'll tell you about the social worker. I promise there's a payoff. Meanwhile, will you tell me what's in your clinic's, er, gentlemen's enclave?