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As my neighborhood changed, my home remained stuck

I kept my space to the essentials while I went through IVF

When my husband and I met, in 2009, I had been living with two roommates in a one-bedroom apartment four blocks due south of Central Park. On our first date, five (of six) cocktails in, I declared that I was never moving.

Eight months later, we signed a lease on a one-bedroom rental on the 30th floor of a glassy, dorm-like skyscraper in Downtown Brooklyn. The living room afforded views of the East River; the bedroom, the Empire State Building. We got married and soon brought home a puppy.

A couple of years later, committed to staying in a neighborhood that was growing and changing around us and thinking about having a baby, we moved within the building into a two-bedroom apartment on the 28th floor. The apartment was narrow but well laid out, with an enormous stretch of west-facing floor-to-ceiling windows. At sunset, the sky glistened with oranges and pinks and light bounced off the East River. In blizzards, the city below was silent.

We got, lost, and changed jobs. We got, lost, and changed friends. Shake Shack opened its first Brooklyn location a few blocks away. A small supermarket opened in the ground-floor commercial space in our building and promptly posted security-camera flyers that shamed kombucha shoplifters. The corner deli rebranded itself with glittery tilework and the word “Gourmet.” Across the street, another apartment skyscraper broke ground. I went off birth control.

Then, after more than six years as renters—and after a few promotions and bonuses and one inheritance—we had the six figures needed to make a down payment on a home. So we toured three condos in the Art Deco building directly across the street, put in an offer on one, and sent along a “Dear Seller” letter: “Recently we toured your apartment and fell in love with it—our dog would love to play fetch down that long hallway and sniff the city breezes on the terrace, and we hope that one day a kid (or two!) will fill those interior bedrooms.”

Our new apartment, on the 10th floor of a landmarked Ralph Walker building from the 1920s, was large and unconventional, with a wide 50-foot-long hallway connecting three interior rooms and a large kitchen and dining area at the windowed far end. High ceilings gave the space light and air. A small balcony offered a straight-on view of our former rental building towering above.

We didn’t hang any photos or art at first. I kept to the essentials as we waited to see how our lives would change shape: a bed and a desk for the guest bedroom; a couch, a coffee table, and a TV for the media room.

That spring, we started a gut renovation of our kitchen, replacing a small row of appliances with a big L with an island. The process took three months, just long enough for me to undergo three unsuccessful rounds of intrauterine insemination—IUI, as this “turkey baster” fertility procedure is known. Health insurance considers it “small”: “small before big,” IUI before IVF.

In July, Aetna, which signed on for 90 percent of our IVF regimen, mailed us a cardboard box filled with vials, syringes, gauze, bandages, and needles. I stashed it on the floor of our walk-in closet, out of sight.

In August, on my husband’s 40th birthday, I sat on the floor of our master bathroom with my laptop and watched an instructional video about how to self-administer shots. I hiked up my cocktail dress, stabbed myself in the stomach, smeared on red lipstick, and left to greet the 50 guests mingling amid the open shelving and subway tile of our newly renovated kitchen.

Nightly and sometimes twice daily for the weeks after that, I bent over our kitchen island—a slab of black walnut topped with five coats of salad bowl finish—so that my husband could jab me with all manner of hormones. Through the window, out across the balcony, I could see our former building—the silhouettes of tenants, the flickering of TVs. I wondered what they could see of us.

I was puffy and hot; restless and uncomfortable; bloated and irritable. I began to see needles everywhere: in the spiky steel beams of construction sites; in the three-foot-wide drawer where we stored chef’s knives, chopsticks, and tongs; at night, in the dark, in our windowless bedroom.

The weather changed again. One Friday afternoon, I got a call from the doctor confirming a BFP: “Big Fat Positive.”

In November, on the Sunday evening before Thanksgiving, I sat on the floor of our master bathroom, gulping down the nausea so commonly mislabeled as “morning sickness.” Outside, another 50 people mingled around the Friendsgiving spread we had set up on the kitchen island.

Shots and bloodwork continued for another month or so. Winter became spring. As my stomach grew, my apartment remained frozen: a blank canvas, a series of plain white boxes. I dragged my feet on furnishing a nursery.

In April, around the 30-week mark, we purchased a crib and a changing table. We moved furniture around; we hung art; we printed out family photos; we painted walls. We bought diapering supplies and baby gear from the Target that had opened three blocks away.

At the tail end of June, our son was born in a hospital five blocks from the shoebox apartment where I had been living when my husband and I first met. I spent most of July stationed in a gray glider in the corner of our kitchen, nursing him, our dog curled up by my feet. I sunbathed and breastfed out on the balcony, in plain view of hundreds of luxury high-rise apartments.

These days, a clip-on high chair clings to the overhang of the kitchen island. A drying rack littered with bottles covers a healthy foot of Caesarstone engineered marble. The island’s 18-inch brushed-brass drawer pulls are wrapped with foam baby-proofing tape. Where there was once a dining room table, there is now a play area with a colorful mat, stuffed animals, rubber blocks, and musical toys. This is where we usually start and end our days, bathed in light at the end of the long hallway.

Sarah Firshein is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and media consultant. She was a founding editor of Curbed.com.

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