My body had just returned to a semi-normal state when the new drugs arrived on our doorstep a week or so before Christmas. The same FedEx guy delivered them. “Happy Holidays”, the guy told me as I signed for the box in between Keeper howls saying “hello” from inside. Getting a refrigerated box delivered to your door is interesting. I mean, what do you think FedEx guy thinks is in it? A few times when we would have to carry the medications into the IVF center (which is connected to the hospital here) we would make sure to talk extra loud about the severed appendage we were carrying in the box while passing commons areas.
The medications this time were Estrace (tablets containing Estradiol, a form of estrogen), a micronized progesterone vaginal suppository (really fun), and my favorite…progesterone-in-oil, a 3 inch-long intramuscular injection that had to penetrate the fat layer so a thick oil could be injected straight into my muscle. It went into my back upper hip, which is a really nice way of saying upper-ass. Right in the buttocks. The real clincher, I couldn’t do these myself because of the awkward angle. The nurse told me I’d need to get someone else to give them to me. “No worries”, Trey informed her, stepping up to the plate. “I’ll give them to her, I’m really good at darts”
(Insert the face you’d imagine me giving him here).
IVF phase 3: Embryo Transfer
On the morning of January 5th, 2017, we woke extra early to avoid bridge traffic into San Francisco for the embryo transfer. We were excited, Trey more so than me. It’s only about a 25 minute drive to the lab where the transfer would be taking place when traffic is clear, but we left a good hour and 15 mins early just in case. I was quiet in the passengers seat most of the ride. It was a cold, clear day with the Golden Gate looking extra reddish-orange against the blue sky. I couldn’t get over this gut feeling I had that something was inevitably going to go wrong. I tried telling myself that I was only thinking this way because of how things had gone over the last few years for us and that this time was different. When I shared my reservations with Trey, he reassured me saying he was anxious too, but that we shouldn’t worry.
But then, as life goes sometimes, my gut feeling ended up being right.
As we drove through the city and made our way to the Embarcadero, I got a call from Dr. Chet. It was about 30 minutes before the procedure was about to take place. He told us through the thawing process (since the embryos were frozen), the male embryo had not fared well and was over 75% “dark”, which meant that the cells weren’t expanding and thriving like they should be, and instead were dead or dying. He told us we would have to transfer in another embryo. We were gutted. There were no more boy embryos to transfer. IVF is expensive and invasive and to have the one shot at us possibly ever having a boy of our own get taken away, was heartbreaking. Trey pulled the car over while I was still on the phone with Dr. Chet. I just remember him looking over at me as he decoded what Dr. Chet was telling me by the reaction I was having, and punching the steering wheel when he figured it out. After I hung up, we both just sat there crying. I stared out the car window at the lobby of the corporate building across from us. Everyone going about their day, bringing back salads and coffees across the outdoor commons area. It was just a regular day. I thought about Jake and the dinosaurs and how much I had always wanted that. I’ll never forget the words Trey told me in that moment. Those words are only for me, but what he said made me feel closer to him than I ever have – even after almost 11 years together. Through talking to him it became apparent that he wasn’t crying because we wouldn’t have a boy. He was crying because of how much he knew I wanted a boy.
We had a decision to make and we didn’t have much time to make it. I had told Dr. Chet I would call him back to tell him what we wanted to do. My body had been preparing for this transfer through the drugs for the past few weeks and in less than 20 minutes I was supposed to be having the procedure done. Did we want to proceed with a female embryo instead? Did we want to try just the male embryo despite it being 75% dark and having a very low probability of implanting? Did we want to put both the male and a female embryo in to still have a slight chance of having a male, but be okay with most likely having a female with the possibility of twins? Did we want to walk away and not do this at all?
In the end, the decision was difficult, but we knew what we wanted to do. More than anything, we wanted a little human. If we had a girl, she’d be the coolest girl ever. If we had a boy, it would be against all odds. If we had twins, they’d be the raddest duo ever. So we called Dr. Chet back and told him we wanted to proceed with the transfer, this time with both the male embryo and a female embryo. He instructed the lab techs and we made our way up to the 7th floor of the fertility lab.
I was a mess going in to the transfer procedure. I took a picture of Trey sitting on the couch in the waiting room before we went in. We were both pretty dazed by the morning so far.
They led us back to a room for the procedure. When they further emphasized that putting the male in would be a low probability of implantation and I heard Dr. Chet say “you’ll likely have a daughter if it’s successful”, I cried. I cried for a lot of reasons. I cried because I had prepared for a boy. I cried because I felt bad for not being more excited about the prospect of having a girl due to how much we had invested in the only male embryo. I cried because it was yet another painful twist in our infertility saga. I cried for not being normal. One of Dr. Chet’s medical students that had been with us for the past few weeks asked why I was upset and I shared with her the disappointment of losing the only male embryo we had. She was really sweet and compassionate and I was glad she was there.
The transfer itself was simple and relatively painless. They wheeled a refrigerated lab over to our room and carefully transferred the embryos from a dish into a pipette before checking with a microscope to make sure the embryos (they are tiny) had been collected from the dish. Once the lab technician gave Dr. Chet the “all clear”, the embryos were transferred from the pipette into a thin catheter that was inserted into my uterus. Dr. Chet used ultrasound to guide the catheter and transfer the embryos. No sedation was needed. Trey sat in the room too and we both stared at the projected ultrasound on the tv that allowed us to see what was happening in real time.
45 minutes later I sat up in the hospital bed and we were given a print out with a photo of the two embryos (really they are just blastocysts at this point) that had just been transferred. We looked at the two microscopic clusters of cellular mass we had created together. What a weird process this had been. The whole thing felt kinda like something out of a science fiction movie. The IVF nurse pointed out the darkness of the male embryo to show us the difference between the two embryos on the sheet they gave us.
I wasn’t sure how to feel after the procedure. I think your body goes through this kind of stressed response when you’re caught off guard by news you weren’t prepared for. You don’t really feel much, you’re just kind of in this state of shock. Like someone has pulled the ultimate rug out from underneath you. This changed a lot. We had left the house that morning thinking about the single boy embryo that was going to be transferred and whether or not the process would be successful and I’d get pregnant. Now we were leaving the lab with two embryos transferred inside of me, one male and one female. Where we had thought our future held a boy (or me not getting pregnant at all), now the future possibilities were different.
Dr. Chet advised me to go home and lay in bed for the next few days as much as I could and “no swimming” (hard to tell a swimmer, it’s a drug).
Then came the longest two weeks of our lives thus far waiting to know whether or not the transfer had worked. I watched 3 seasons of this British baking show vowing to finally put my Kitchen aid mixer to use and master the culinary art of European pastries. It gave Trey and I some time to talk about the likelihood that if this did work out we would have a little girl. Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long to fall in love with the idea. Trey told me he’d teach her to ride a bike and write code and enjoy math. I said I’d teach her about the natural world and how to swim and play guitar. Really, we’d just let whoever we had be whoever they wanted to be.
When it came time to take the pregnancy test, I did the same thing I’d done almost every month for the past 3 years. I was a pro at this. Two lines for positive, 1 line for negative, give it a few minutes before reading.
We had completed the entire IVF process now and this was the closest we’d ever gotten to potentially having a little human of our own. It was a mixture of excitement, grounded in harsh reality. Nothing had worked in the past, we had to remind ourselves.
I sat on the edge of the bath tub staring down at my mismatched socks waiting for the test to complete. A couple minutes passed and I hesitantly glanced at the stick on the sink.
I didn’t want to tell Trey. I didn’t want to ruin his morning too. So I just sat back on the edge of the bath tub for a little while longer hoping another line would appear and it didn’t. I tried another test. Maybe the first one was a dud. I counted the days on my fingers. Maybe I tested too soon. 14 days. It should read accurate by now. I checked the expiration date on the box. 2020. FML. What if I’m doing this until 2020! I wish I could say I gracefully accepted our fate after that, but I didn’t. I was angry, the emotion I often tend to feel instead of sadness a lot of the time. And I dunno, sometimes screaming FUCK THIS SHIT FOREVER just feels a whole lot better than crying about things. Eventually I came out of the bathroom and told Trey. I called our nurse and told her too. She told me to come in for a blood test the next day to know for sure.
The next morning we went in to the IVF center and waited in the lobby for them to call my name. Trey and I told each other whatever happened, we were going on a vacation after this. Not a traveling trip where we go explore, but a full-on vacation – some resort with fruity drinks, a pool, and a beach to just lay around in the sun and veg out. We didn’t have to convince each other. All we both wanted at this point was to be on a beach somewhere, miles away from here. If I wasn’t pregnant, we said we’d go to Mexico (Zika). If I was pregnant, we told each other we’d go to Hawaii (no Zika).
The nurse called us back, gently tapped my vein with her finger and slid the needle into my arm, a sensation I had become all too familiar with. I un-clinched my fist, asked the nurse about her two twin boys, and watched the tube fill with blood. Trey sat across from me. I looked over at him and one corner of his mouth turned up into a half-smile. In my head I could hear him saying “almost done, baby”.
Then we waited.