So my story The Longing is the tale of how I learned that your limits are constantly evolving. You find yourself doing and saying things that you swore you’d never do.
What follows is sort of a draft form of Longing, except that it is much more of an IVF journal. When I realized that, I rewote the story for the newspaper. But in essence, it is my IVF blog-before-the-blog.
Here we go…
A watched phone never rings. But on this particular morning, we hovered beside it, pacing, waiting. It was due to ring any moment now, a $550 phone call that could change our future forever.
The seconds ticked by. At last, the familiar ring we wanted to hear. Pouncing on the phone, hoping a deep breath would hide our nervousness, we answered. “Hello, Doctor?” After thirty minutes — at nearly $20 apiece — we hung up.
We looked into each other’s eyes and knew what we had to do. It would be our “Hail Mary” pass — something based more on hope than logic. It would be our last chance for creating a family out of our own flesh and blood, with our genes and our heritage: our fourth — and last — in-vitro fertilization.
How did it ever come to this?
• • •
My husband Mike and I used to revel in our DINKhood. We were Double Income No Kids, and we loved it. We worked hard and played hard. We thought we were doing everything right: building up our careers, creating a stable home life, saving a little money, getting our playtime out of the way before having kids so there could be no regret about giving anything up. We knew a time would come when this self-oriented life would no longer be enough. That would be when it was time to have kids.
Never did we dream it would take anything more than throwing out the pack of birth control pills.
Most people think having a baby is easy. Why shouldn’t they? We’re told starting in health class in junior high that just one time can result in a pregnancy. Later, we take the birth control pills faithfully — and panic if we forget it or drop one down the bathroom sink. We all know someone who got pregnant accidentally, living proof that it can happen.
We all probably know someone who can’t, too. It’s just that no one talks about that.
• • •
More than three years have passed since we tossed that pack of pills. We’re still DINKS. My mother calls my pets the granddogs.
Life is on hold. I need to paint the spare room, but I want to wait until I can make it the nursery. We needed a new car recently, but it felt too weird to buy a kidmobile before we have the kid, so now we have a car that doesn’t really fit the lifestyle we seek. Our friends are divided into two camps: Some already have children and can no longer play with us; others don’t want them and can’t relate to our struggle.
Lots of people have advice. Have you tried soy? What about green tea? My sister was on Clomid, have you thought about that? Maybe you just need to go on vacation. It’s a little more complicated than all of that. Trust me, there’s no clinical proof that adopting will somehow make me pregnant.
And relaxing has nothing to do with it.
• • •
That $550 phone call was to a doctor at Cornell University’s Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility. After three failed in-vitros with local doctors, we were calling in the big guns. Could these world-renowned experts help us?
The medical records I mailed to New York weighed in at nearly a pound, tangible proof of our struggles. Our doctor read them thoroughly, then called us at the appointed time.
His conclusion: We definitely have some problems, but we’ve also had some bad luck. IVF is something of a numbers game even under the best of circumstances. Maybe we’ve just fallen on the bad side of the statistics. He wanted to adjust my medications, consider some different techniques.
Bottom line: He thought he could help.
• • •
Who knew we’d need help? At first, it was easy. After a few months, I began to “chart” — taking my temperature every morning and graphing it. You can use that to predict your cycle and find your most fertile days. It’s the opposite of the old “rhythm method” of birth control, I guess.
After 10 months, it finally happened. Two lines on the home pregnancy test. We were ecstatic. A blood test confirmed it.
Absorbed in my happiness that summer, I barely noticed as weather forecasters started talking about a hurricane somewhere. But soon they were drawing skinny red lines labeled CHARLEY right through the Tampa Bay area.
My family thought it was just stress, but I was feeling terrible that morning. Headache, cramps — and dread. My mother tried to reassure me, but I knew something was wrong. As we huddled in front of the TV and wondered if Charley was on its way to destroy our home and everything we owned, I began to bleed.
It’s normal, I told myself. Lots of people bleed a little in pregnancy. Some even have regular periods throughout.
At noon, it happened. Feeling very crampy, I went into the bathroom. There’s no pretty way to say what happened next. I suppose the medical term would be “passed the fetus.” To my horror, I could feel it as it passed — into the toilet. For a moment I was frozen. What was I supposed to do?
This was not covered in the happy “So You’re Pregnant!” articles I’d been reading. It felt like someone else’s hand reaching down and scooping it out.
I set it — my baby! — on a bit of tissue on the sink and screamed for my mom.
“Please tell me that’s not what I think it is,” I whispered.
Hurricane Charley spared us, making a sharp eastward turn south of us. Mike and I had been prepared to lose our home that day. But not our baby.
We wished we could trade.
I’ll never think of Hurricane Charley or make any hurricane evacuation plans without remembering that day. It was a Friday, Friday the 13th.
• • •
Always before, my family had fit the picture-perfect stereotype: Two parents happily married, three kids, two cars, some pets. We kids had good grades and participated in sports and accomplished nearly everything we set out to do. As grownups, we sibs all get along, and we’re still close to our folks. We’re like a TV sitcom minus the laugh track and the hair gel.
We were raised up north, but after I took a newspaper job in Florida, my family followed one by one, first my husband-to-be, then my brother, then my sister, and finally my folks when they retired.
They’ve always been a strong support system for me. When I decided to leave journalism and become a middle school teacher, they were there for me. When I decided after four years that teaching wasn’t for me, they were there for me.
I am lucky. Not everyone has such a support system, but everyone facing infertility needs one. With other diagnoses, people bring casseroles and offer to drive you to the doctor.
With infertility, they tell you to relax. Will relaxing cure cancer? Will it stop a heart attack? Does it slow the progression of Alzheimer’s? Then why do people think it will unblock tubes or increase a sperm count?
I got thankfully little of that from my family. Sometimes they said the wrong thing, and sometimes I did (and do) cry. But I could never have made it this far without them all.
• • •
We had only told our parents about the pregnancy. But my friends and co-workers could tell something was wrong, so I told them. I found out I knew a lot of women who had suffered miscarriages. A few people said, “At least you weren’t further along.” As if the loss of a child counts less if the child was younger.
Studies show that as many as one in four clinically recognized pregnancies ends in miscarriage. I had no idea the number was so high.
Some women grieve for a short while and are ready to try again. I thought I was one of those, so we started temping and charting again right away. But I didn’t feel like my old self.
I wasn’t sleeping well or eating properly. I wasn’t handling the stress of my job well. I kept getting sick. The doctor told me to exercise and offered me antidepressants. I declined both.
Later I saw my chart. “Patient very tearful,” she had written. Well, yes. The months rolled past. With every period, my depression grew.
• • •
By now, I was pushing 34. I could practically feel my eggs withering in there. A new doctor listened to my story, looked at my charts. His answer amused me.
“We can do this the scientific way or the non-scientific way,” he said. He could run a bunch of tests, all expensive, some uncomfortable, and see if he could pinpoint something wrong. No matter what he found, his likely response would be to prescribe a common fertility medicine. Or, he could cut to the chase and just give me the drugs for a few months and see what happened.
This time, I took the drugs.
It was a frightening step. Me, Miss Normal Happy Never Failed At Anything She Tried, on drugs? I was a successful, educated, professional woman. How could the most important aspect of my life suddenly be out of my control?
The drug, Clomid, scared me. Possible side effects were like PMS times 100. Moodiness. Hot flashes, night sweats. Headaches. Ugh. I already felt like a train wreck. This stuff was supposed to help me?
As it turned out, I need not have worried. The night sweats weren’t exactly a day at Disney, but otherwise it was just like I wasn’t taking anything.
No side effects — and no baby.
Months went by. I went back to the doc. “I want to do it the scientific way.”
This involved surgery, a laparoscopy. It was pretty easy; the worst part was getting the IV in my hand. Recovery took about a week, though I was back at work quicker than that.
The results amazed me.
I have endo. Endometriosis. I didn’t feel any symptoms, but I am one of 5-million U.S. women who have tissue like the uterine lining growing outside the womb. It can be very painful — luckily mine isn’t — and is associated with miscarriage and infertility.
The look at my fallopian tubes was inconclusive: They might be blocked, or they might not. That meant another test. The hysterosalpingogram, or HSG, involves injecting dye into the tubes and watching where it goes with an X-ray. This was actually worse for me than the surgery: When tubes are blocked the test can be pretty painful.
More bad news: My tubes didn’t look good.
Meanwhile, it was time for my husband to be tested too. His numbers came back slightly lower than normal but not alarmingly so. Not enough to explain anything.
It was time to see a specialist.
• • •
When you are suffering through infertility, it feels like everyone around you is having a baby. Pregnant women are everywhere, rubbing their bellies or complaining about morning sickness. When you’re infertile, parents everywhere complain about their kids and tell you how lucky you are to be free to watch adult TV or go on vacation or spend money on yourself.
Don’t they know I’d rather not be able to keep any food down, would prefer to be buying a crib and some onesies instead of plane tickets and dinners out? Don’t they know just seeing a baby bulge makes me cry?
Well, my family knew. That’s why it was so hard for them to tell me my sister-in-law was pregnant. When I found out, I couldn’t help it — I cried. Bawled, really. My dad kept shaking his head. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Aren’t you happy?”
Of course I was happy for Matt and Angela. And for my folks, who would be getting their first grandchild. But they were supposed to already have one. And how was I going to look at my beautiful sis and her pregnant self and listen to all the family’s baby talk that I knew would be coming 24/7?
I’d have to become a hermit.
My dear nephew was born a week before our appointment with the fertility specialist. My brother and his wife were so generous with him then (and still are), even letting me be there at the hospital for the birth. I met Braylon when he was just 12 minutes old.
So when the specialist said, “IVF is your only chance” to have kids, we were stunned, but we didn’t hesitate.
We had no idea what was in store.
• • •
When you think of test-tube babies — if you think of test-tube babies — you think of the test tube and what’s in it. You don’t really think much about how it all got in there. It’s an amazing process. I just wish it involved fewer needles stabbing me.
Oddly, the process of in-vitro fertilization often begins with birth-control pills. In short, most protocols involve “down-regging” in some form, shutting down the reproductive system. Then, “stim” drugs are injected to stimulate production of lots of eggs. (Normally, just one egg is released each cycle.) At egg retrieval, the woman is put under anesthesia and the eggs are surgically removed. At the same time, the man provides his raw material. (This may vary if a couple is using IVF because of male infertility factors.)
Now comes the test tube. Actually, they use a petri dish, my doc told me with a hint of a smile. The eggs and sperm are put in there to do their thing. Sometimes a process called ICSI may be used to inject a sperm into each egg.
Hopefully, several of the eggs will be mature and will fertilize. The embryos are left to grow for three to five days, then the strongest ones are transferred — that is, put back in the uterus.
Thus begins the longest two weeks of your life — waiting to see if any embryos “stick.”To describe it simply, drugs are used to force your ovaries to create lots of eggs, not just the usual one-a-month. The eggs are removed surgically and put with the sperm in the test tube — actually, a petri dish. After three to five days, the resulting embryos are returned to their preferred environment — the womb — in a quick, non-surgical procedure. After two weeks, a pregnancy test confirms success or failure.
At many clinics, your fertility meds come from a mail-order pharmacy. Mine came from Portland, Maine, overnight mail, in a big box with a cooler in it. Unpacking the box is like opening birthday presents from your grandmother: You want it because it’s a present, but you’re scared it might be something you hate, like underwear.
The meds dazzled me. There were pills, little vials of powders and saline, boxes of hormones. Bags of needles and a big red box to put them all in, the kind with the biohazard symbol on it.
I was amazed that I was going to be allowed to do all this at home, with absolutely no supervision. There weren’t even any warning labels.
The first injection wasn’t too bad. It was just that we were scared. No one ever says, “Me? Oh, I love needles!” We decided Mike would be in charge of mixing the meds and administering the shots. It kept him involved in the “process” and made it one less thing I had to worry about. I would be in charge of not freaking out. Hard to say whose job was tougher.
His biggest fear was hurting me. He knew he had to be quick and get it over with. But did he have to go that quickly? I hit the roof. He looked stricken. But then, it was all over. After that, we got better. These shots just used a little needle, like diabetics use for insulin. Heck, my grandmother jabs herself in the belly several times a day with one of those. Surely I could manage. We got the routine down and soon were pros. I iced my thigh for a few minutes while he drew up the shot, I pinched the skin gently, he poked, and we were done.
Later it got more complicated: two a day. I had a “mixed protocol,” meaning two different kinds of drugs. They each come in a powder form in a little vial and have to be mixed, all at once, in the needle, with a saline solution before being injected. Mike mastered the mixing, I iced the thigh, and pop!
This time I not only hit the roof but jerked so hard the needle came out, almost jabbing him. Blood and saline were everywhere. If I hadn’t been crying I would’ve savored the look of horror on Mike’s face.
Later we read that these drugs “sting” going in. Sting, my foot. For two weeks, I cried every night before the shot. Mike had to practically chase me around with the needle. Once he made the mistake of saying, “This hurts me as much as it hurts you.” Somehow I managed not to kill him.
Along with these meds went frequent trips to the doctor for monitoring, which meant a long drive to the clinic and a date with the vaginal ultrasound machine. I didn’t care for the ultrasounds much, but the giant glass jar filled with Trojans sitting on the exam room counter made me smile. (They use them on the ultrasound wand. It’s good to know these machines practice safe sex.)
We did a trial transfer to measure and map my insides so the real thing would be smooth and quick. It didn’t go so well: No one could get a catheter in there. Surgery was scheduled, to dilate me and get a stent in there to open up the path. I had to have the stent in for 10 days. Uncomfortable but not unbearable. It came out the day Mike and I call the Flood of ’06, when it rained so much the roof of St. Petersburg’s Bed Bath and Beyond store collapsed.
At last the doctors said I was ready. The egg harvest was easy. It was done at the doctors’ office. An anesthesiologist put me to sleep, and the doc harvested away. Mike was led to the special guy room, complete with TV, videos, comfy chair and girly mags. We laughed: I got the drugs, he got the porn.
The raw material for that test tube had been created. The whole thing was over in just a few minutes. Now it was in the hands of the embryologist.
Three days later, we went back to have the embryos transferred into their preferred environment — me. We had five, three in perfect condition. We decided to transfer all three in hopes that one would stick. I secretly hoped for twins.
The transfer is supposed to be quick and painless. Through the catheter, the embies just “blow in like dandelions in the wind,” as the nurse described it, and stick where they are supposed to.
Well, it didn’t exactly happen like that. Despite the preparations we had made, it was a difficult transfer. Both nurses leaned over, and though it looked like they were just holding my hands, they were really holding me down. At last it was over. I was glad to have my embies back.
Most people would think the story ends here. Embryos created, put back in mom, incubate nine months, instant family.
Not so much.
The injections didn’t stop, they just changed. And we had a long two-week wait ahead of us before we’d know if it worked.
Who could wait two whole weeks? I bought a stack of home pregnancy tests off the Internet and began to pee on a stick every day. The array of stark white tests I accumulated didn’t discourage me. I had a late implanter, that’s all. And denial? Just a river in Egypt.
The day before my blood test, I finally faced facts. Our IVF hadn’t worked. We had spent our nest egg and gone into debt, I had punished my body with drugs and stress, and for what? The nurse’s call the next day confirmed it.
• • •
Despair set in.
Mike fought it by staying busy and refusing to brood. I just wallowed. I felt so sad. What if those “embies” were my great athlete, my humanitarian, my artist or musician? Who would they have looked like? What if the only eggs I had left were the car thief and drug dealer eggs? My embryos may never have grown more than eight cells, but they were my family. I missed them.
I lived on ice cream. I bit my fingernails until they bled. At work, I hid in the ladies’ room and cried. I fantasized about running away to a place where no one knew me and starting life all over.
Because really, what was my life supposed to be for?
I hadn’t a clue.
I didn’t have any role models for anything except family life. Sure, I knew some people who didn’t have kids. But they didn’t seem anything like me. Was I just supposed to keep getting up and going to work and coming home and cooking for two, forever?
• • •
It’s maddening that fertility treatments cost so much. Other people are just out there, making love and making babies, all for free. We had the stress of wondering not only if all this was going to work, but also how to pay for it.
Luckily, we had bought our home before the Pinellas boom, so we got it cheap by today’s standards. We had a home equity line of credit entitling us to borrow more money than we could even picture. The trouble would be the monthly payment. We could never really take advantage of all the credit we had access to. We had meant it for things like painting the house or redoing the kitchen.
Now it was our baby fund.
I decided I needed a vacation to look forward to, to get away and lick my wounds. We really couldn’t afford it, but I needed to forget.
A week after I paid for a trip to the Greek islands, Mike’s car got creamed. It was 12 years old, in great condition — and paid for. We were thankful he wasn’t hurt, but oh, the car!
If the crash had happened a week earlier, we wouldn’t be going to Greece. Our plan had been to wait for the Mighty Mighty Tercel to die a natural death in a few years, and then we would replace it with a kidmobile. Perhaps a small SUV, like a Rav 4. But I’d just sent our RAV money to Greece.
The wreck brought more than financial angst. Your car defines you, signals to the world what kind of person you are, what values you have. What kind of people were we? We didn’t know.
We shopped like zombies, wandering the used car lots in a daze and hoping an answer would appear. We puzzled over SUVs and compact cars. We settled on a Toyota Camry, cheap and boring but good mileage, and big enough for a baby’s car seat if we ever needed one.
See? We were still hopeful.
• • •
Here’s why I love my doctor. He wasn’t just disappointed that we didn’t get our baby. He was mad. It became his personal challenge to get me pregnant.
We had a followup consult with him and agreed to do some bloodwork. The tests were not generally done except in cases of repeated pregnancy loss. But we wanted answers.
It turned out to be a good call. Two things turned up in my blood. One was a problem with folic acid — simply, it turns out my body can’t break it down and digest it properly. I looked at the doctor in disbelief. “So all the broccoli I’ve been eating has been for nothing?” “Hasn’t done jack,” he confirmed. A simple dietary supplement would take care of this.
I also turned up markers for a blood clotting disorder. Not one strong enough to endanger my own health, but the doc thought it could have been enough to block the tiny blood vessels that formed during implantation. It could have been enough to kill my embryos and could explain my miscarriage too, though no one will ever know for sure why that happened.
Good doctors disagree about this, but we wanted to be aggressive. The treatment for this was more involved: injections of Lovenox, a blood thinner. It wasn’t without complications and dangers, but we were willing to do anything.
As happy as we were to have some Answers, though, we decided another opinion was in order. The second doctor’s opinion was radically different. Both clinics were well regarded. How could they differ so much?
Doctor #2 felt the bloodwork should not have even been done and said he would not treat me with Lovenox. He thought I was borderline for having the problem at all.
In his opinion, the chief trouble was the difficulty of the embryo transfer. He said I needed surgery to correct the less-than-optimal shape of my cervix. He noted that the lining of my uterus was thin and recommended treating that with estrogen. He was impressed with the quality of our embryos and said that made us great candidates for another IVF.
We took that report back to our own specialist and asked him to make a plan for us including everything that he felt was important for us plus everything the second doctor had pointed out. He agreed.
I started taking the folic acid. My doctor didn’t like to put me on estrogen for the lining problem because he said my levels were already good. Instead he recommended acupuncture. Just what I needed — more needles. I had always thought acu was nothing but superstition, but what could it hurt? We ordered the blood thinner.
And we scheduled the surgery to fix my crazy cervix. Apparently the little bugger was not only small and inflexible, but it was also twisty and bumpy. What should’ve been a straight shot into the womb was more like a ride on Gwaazi. No wonder no one could get a catheter in there.
I didn’t like to hear the doc talk about the fix. He asked me if I knew anything about woodworking. He said it would be like planing off the bumpy parts to smooth the road. Planing? I imagined a small, sterile, cheese-slicer-like instrument and shivered.
“Don’t talk about it,” I ordered him. “Just do it.”
• • •
Acupuncture was a strange experience. The doctor was an older woman, very calm and comforting. Once a week, she put needles in my shins, feet, abdomen, and along my spine. When I told her I was stressed and got headaches, she started putting them in my hands, arms and the top of my head. Twice she put them in my temples.
The needles are longish but thin as a strand of my hair almost. Sometimes they hurt a little going in, sometimes I didn’t know they were there until she took them out. Once in I generally couldn’t feel them at all. She put them in, then pointed a warm lamp on me, turned on some relaxing Chinese music, shut off the lights and told me to take a nap.
The idea of sleeping while looking like a human voodoo doll struck me as odd. But it was relaxing, and I usually did nod off a little. Strangest of all — it worked. I noticed very quickly that all my PMS symptoms were gone: no cramps, no headaches. The moodiness I guess you’d have to ask Mike about. I couldn’t tell if my lining was thickening, but we’d measure that later.
The surgery frightened me. I kept thinking of that word, “planing.” My insides had already been through so much. Mike mentioned the names we had chosen for our future children and reminded me who I was doing it for.
Still, I couldn’t help being a little bitter. On the news I saw stories about child abusers, child pornographers, crack whores with children by a dozen different men. I knew people who complained about their kids or the night feedings or the tantrums and told me, “You don’t really want one of these.”
There is no response for those people.
The day of surgery arrived. I had been told not to eat or drink anything after midnight. I wasn’t due at the hospital until noon or so. Around mid morning I started feeling nauseous from lack of food, so I nibbled on a couple of saltines. Those aren’t food, right?
Wrong. I was all got up in hospital gown and booties when the anesthesiologist asked if I’d eaten anything. When I admitted about the crackers, he looked at me in horror and told me he wouldn’t put me to sleep because those crackers could kill me.
I cried all the way home.
We rescheduled the surgery for the next week, and I vowed I wouldn’t eat a darn thing until then. I barely did, too. Every time I got near food I got so upset I couldn’t eat.
When I got back the next week, everyone in the surgery center remembered me. “Welcome back, Cracker Girl.”
Everyone’s a comedian.
• • •
When you are stuck in the throes of infertility, it can be so overwhelming you forget that for everyone else, life is going on. I picked up the paper one day, and it dawned on me that the stem cell research debate was about, well, me.
We hadn’t had any embryos to freeze, but we had wanted some. I had always considered myself pro-choice, though anti-abortion. I had had my embryos in me, and I considered them my children, even if they did only have eight cells.
I decided it would be wrong to create embryos just for research. But if I had any extras, what would I want done with them? It would be a shame to discard them. I thought it might be nice to donate them for research or to another infertile couple. Maybe our struggle could help others.
Then I realized how little people understand IVF. In one article I read, the writer explained IVF by saying extra embryos were created with the hope that all but one would die. It was a slap in the face.
We didn’t hope all but one would die!
We prayed like mad that one would somehow live!
The odds were so against any of them making it. That’s why so many are created. Not to hope they die, but to give the parents a shot at getting a single baby.
Other news stories are just as infuriating. They all make IVF sound so easy, and few of them ever mention how hard infertility is. The one about a couple with a passel of boys, and apparently they felt their family needed to be “balanced” by having a daughter. So they found a clinic that would do IVF, testing the genes to make sure they created a girl.
I’ll take an unbalanced family and be grateful.
Another story that got my goat was one about couples who use preimplantation genetic diagnosis to make sure their future kids won’t have certain diseases. This is a powerful tool, and it is hard to blame anyone for not wanting their child to have to face getting cancer. But what if they created several embryos and all of them tested positive for the mutation? What would have happened to the embryos then? Again, the story glossed over how hard the IVF process is, how uncertain, and how for many people it isn’t some “designer” option.
It’s their only chance.
• • •
The last few months had been grueling. Finding out about our “only chance.” The drugs, the monitoring, the injections, the failure, the surgery, the acupuncture: We were exhausted, physically and emotionally. At last it was time for our trip. Our friends gushed. It was hard for them to see that I would’ve been happier if my travel days were over for at least 18 years.
The vacation was just what we needed to refresh and renew. In the middle of it, while we were in Crete, I began taking birth control pills for IVF #2.
We felt pretty positive going into this one. We’d found lots of problems, fixed them, had plans to fix others. How could we miss?
The second time was a lot easier, partly because we knew what to expect. For some reason, the injections didn’t hurt as much, although the side effects were stronger and I felt sick more often. It was easier to take the frequent ultrasounds in stride, although my doctor called me Cracker Girl at every opportunity. We transferred three embryos back into me.
Again, a long wait. Two weeks — two millennia. The first few days were spent in bed rest, giving the kids a chance to dig in and get comfy. That’s how we thought of them, the kids.
By the weekend, the negative vibes had set in. Somehow, I knew it hadn’t worked. I began to test at home. I lasted four days before crumbling.
Curled up on the couch after work one night, I asked if it was okay to cry now. Mike nodded. He’d already cried earlier, he admitted. I sobbed great heaving, messy sobs, smearing mascara into the couch cushions and frightening the dogs. It was all I could do not to howl. Mike sat nearby and handed me Kleenex after Kleenex.
Why? we kept asking. There was no answer.
I felt so guilty. My thoughts were stuck in the groove: I killed my embies. They were fine and then when they were put in me — they died. What was wrong with me?
I asked Mike what he had been thinking while he had mourned. He didn’t want to say because it was too awful. But it would help me to know. Finally, haltingly, he told me he thought of the names we had picked out and pictured the embryos as our children, lost somewhere and needing us to rescue them.
I was so grateful he had been brave enough to share. He had put faces and names to our sorrow. We vowed: If we were ever lucky enough to have diapers to change or vomit to clean up or crying to listen to all night, we would just remember this day and say thank you.
Friday, the day of my blood pregnancy test, I called in sick to work and sat on the couch, with my little dog on my lap and my big dog at my feet, eating raw cookie dough and doing sudoku puzzles, waiting numbly for the phone to ring with the results of the test.
I swore I wouldn’t cry on the phone, and I didn’t with the nurse, but I did with my mom. She left work, came over, took away the cookie dough and made me a cup of tea instead.
• • •
How do you move forward after that? Life goes on, yet I am still stuck in neutral. What am I supposed to be doing with my life? Where am I supposed to be? Who am I supposed to be?
A friend told me I should just enjoy my husband and my nice house and my pets and my job. It was easy for her to say — she was in the middle of planning her daughter’s wedding. Would I ever have a wedding to plan? A prom picture to take? A report card to sign? A bedtime story to read? A bed to check under for monsters?
Facing life without a family was worse than facing another IVF. With IVF came great pain, but also hope. If we quit trying, there was none.
So we tried again, this time with a different clinic. The new doctor did some things differently, but the result was the same: no baby. Clearly doing the same thing over and over wasn’t the answer. But what was?
We decided we’d do one more IVF, at the best clinic in the country or the world, wherever that was. Hail Mary. If we didn’t try, there would always be that nagging doubt.
Going through in-vitro is grueling, and now we are planning to do it more than a thousand miles from home. Finding a place to stay, arranging leave from work, packing, paperwork, plane tickets. Figuring out how to pay for it all once again. At least working out the logistics has given me something to think about besides all the embryos that have died inside me.
Our plans are almost set now. We’ll be leaving for New York soon. A secret, dark spot in my heart is convinced it will never work for us, but on the chance that spot is wrong, we are going.
Bring on the needles.