After my son Emmett received his first round of vaccinations at his two-month appointment (and after he—well we—stopped crying from them), I joked that we weren’t anywhere close to even, yet. Emmett still had about 100 to go until he matched the number of shots I took to bring him into the world via in-vitro fertilization, more commonly referred to as IVF.
Even through the haze of having an infant, the experience of going through IVF is fresh in mind. My individual story is not especially unique or, compared to some families trying to conceive, that dramatic. My husband Andrew and I tried unsuccessfully for about six months to get pregnant naturally. Not one to sit on my hands, we quickly saw a fertility doctor and she gave us a less than 10% chance of conceiving naturally and she recommended going straight to IVF. (The reasons why aren’t really relevant to this story, but suffice to say feeling let down by our bodies was –and has been—tough to reckon with.) To say it was a lot to take in is an understatement and we already had a lot going on between Andrew’s schooling and an upcoming move; so we put family planning on hold and went to Bonnaroo. YOLO.
But eventually it began. I had so many appointments and had to run around to get so many boxes checked. Oh, you have a history of breast cancer in your family? You need to see a geneticist and get a mammogram. Your recent pap smear came back inconclusive; you need to get another one. Your communicable disease immunities have expired so you need to get vaccinated again. You need to order thousands of dollars of meds from a specialty pharmacy in Miami and their hours are weird but they have the best prices so make sure you go through them. You and your partner need to attend this training on how to administer shots into your butt. Here’s the number to call if you faint from an injection (which I did)—make sure you don’t hit your head if you fall (which thankfully I didn’t). This medication needs to be taken on an empty stomach but this one you need to take with food but they should be taken within an hour of each other. Be sure to stay hydrated. Buy some loose clothing for when the hormones make your ovaries go from the size of a walnut to the size of an orange—you’ll be a little “tender” (ha!). No alcohol. No caffeine (including decaf and chocolate). No exercise. No heavy lifting.
And it was tough, but I felt like finally, at least we’re making progress. After nearly a year of feeling like a passive traveler in your own life, we had taken matters into our own hands! In the end, what I found truly difficult were the constant date changes. My nurse warned me that the dates were always tentative, but it was hard to not get attached to them. Regularly things got pushed back—my lining wasn’t thick enough, the doctor wasn’t available until a week later, etc. It felt like the finish line would forever be just beyond our reach.
On top of all of this, you somehow have to still manage your marriage. During our initial appointment with the fertility clinic, we had to sign a number of papers outlining all sorts of contingency plans for any frozen embryos we made. If Andrew dies, what do we do with the embryos? If I were to die, would I let Andrew use a surrogate to carry our child? If we got divorced, who got custody of the embryos? If we finish building our family and have additional embryos left, do we want to donate them to science—or to a couple that can’t create them on their own? I am so grateful to have had such an amazing partner in Andrew but it tested us and our commitment to each other. Remember all those funny scenes in movies with pregnant hormonal women yelling at their partners? Well that was me—except it wasn’t all that funny; I wasn’t pregnant and was on constant edge that I never would be.
But somehow, we made it to the day of the egg retrieval and two weeks later got the news that we had a good number of genetically normal embryos. We were overjoyed. Over the next six weeks, I prepped for and then underwent a frozen embryo transfer—there was a potential baby inside me!! I spent the following nine days trying to distract myself and wondering if that twinge was an “implantation cramp” or just indigestion. Are my boobs sore because I’m pregnant or because I’m on a drug cocktail designed to mimic pregnancy? It was torture.
Thanksgiving morning, we went in for my blood-draw and the numbers were murky. I was sort of-maybe pregnant. They told me to keep taking my meds and come back for another blood draw in two days. If the number had doubled, there would be hope. The call two days later indicated a chemical pregnancy- my HCG levels (the chemical indicating a pregnancy) were nearly nonexistent. I was completely beside myself. Everything felt like a direct insult. My Facebook felt entirely made up of pregnancy announcements and baby photos. I tried to relax and get a massage and my masseur was 8 months pregnant. Two of my sister-in-laws had babies. I pretty much hit rock bottom and zombied through the holidays.
And then, as if none of it had happened, it was time to prepare for another transfer. My doctors told me that every transfer has approximately a 50/50 chance and prior failure is not always an indicator of future failures (especially without a pattern of failures). And so I went a little crazy(ier) in preparation for this transfer. I started doing acupuncture twice a week. Someone online said pineapple core makes your uterus sticky so I ate a ton of it. I distracted myself with decorating our new home and starting a new job. Transfer day came and went with a little less fanfare—we were naturally a little more cautious in our optimism. I had my first blood draw and told the nurse I didn’t want the results until the second blood draw two days later. I couldn’t handle another maybe-possibly situation.
Finally, we got the call nearly a year and a half in the making: I was pregnant. Like, really pregnant. My numbers were fertile teenager levels. I sobbed, we called our families and tried to let it sink in. And then I went back to panic mode.
It was hard to accept after all this time that I was a boring, pregnant lady. I didn’t really believe it until I saw his heartbeat two weeks later. I felt like I couldn’t really trust the pregnancy until my first trimester passed. I didn’t think I could be sure it was all okay until my anatomy scan. I was constantly nervous I would wake up from this dream, empty and alone.
And then I felt him kick. And move around. And have the hiccups! So I began to relax. Braved prenatal yoga. Treated myself to a prenatal massage (or many). I consistently said I wouldn’t really truly believe it until I held the baby in my hands and truly, it’s still hard to reconcile sometimes that the little boy I hold was once inside me.
Nothing about conceiving my son (and subsequently birthing or feeding him—but that’s for another day) went the way I anticipated. Something that should have been an intimate wine-tinted night between man and wife was incredibly clinical, calculated and in many ways, felt artificial. And yet, now that he’s here, I couldn’t care less and in many ways I’m grateful for how he found his way to us. IVF taught me a profound lesson of perseverance and optimism. It introduced me to an amazing group of women to whom I can so keenly and uniquely relate. And it taught me (I hope) some compassion. Looking around the waiting room at my doctor’s office, it was clear that infertility didn’t discriminate. Families are formed in all sorts of unexpected ways and in the end, all that matters is that it’s a family.
-- The Goodman Family