Saturday, April 3, 2021

This Is Where I Leave You

I hate to be a blog tease (I realize I left you on a cliffhanger), but I've decided to take a break from blogging.

I feel the need to refocus my energy and attention on my familial and professional commitments as well as honor my own and my loved ones' privacy.

I'm unsure if this will be a temporary or a permanent break, but it feels right to step back for now. Infertility treatments (and the mental and physical tolls they take) along with raising a toddler and two teens can really wear a mom out!

So...goodbye for now. Thank you for your readership! 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Come To Mama

I woke up on transfer day at 4 a.m., unable (or unwilling) to sleep any longer. The transfer was still 11 hours away. So much time to kill. While I was perusing food apps (and cursing the fact that nowhere delivered breakfast until 7:30 a.m.), my husband called with the baby report. Other than feeling like he had "stayed up too late at the slumber party," they were both fine. It was like our daughter didn’t even notice I was gone!

All was well in Minnesota, but in Sacramento, I felt antsy. I did my progesterone shot, then cued up a PopSugar cardio video, but the moves were too jarring, there were too many squats, and I felt uncoordinated. Within 15 minutes, I lost interest.

Outside, the sky was lightening from black to bruise-blue so I decided to go for a walk. But while 40 degrees in Minnesota is balmy, in Sacramento it’s frosty. My long-sleeved athletic shirt and shorts were not enough coverage. I decided that I might as well run to warm myself up, and was glad I did. There was a loop around the neighborhood the hotel was in, so I did laps. I ran until I got tired, and then I did one more lap. If the transfer was successful, it would be a year until I could run outside again. The route took me past West Coast IVF several times, and each time, I said a little wish/hope/prayer that our embryo was thawing well and that the transfer would be successful.

I returned to the hotel sweaty and wild-haired. I stopped at the front desk to ask about breakfast options and was handed a “breakfast bag,” which was even worse than it sounds; it contained a mass-produced danish, an old orange, an oatmeal raisin granola bar, and an orange juice box. That was definitely not going to hit the spot. I longed for the delicious breakfast buffet I’d enjoyed the last time I stayed this hotel. (Thanks, coronavirus.)

I checked the food delivery apps again and venues were finally open for business, so I ordered two torpedo-sized egg-white veggie omelets with red potatoes (one to eat, one to save for the next morning). I showered while I waited for breakfast to be delivered, then devoured my meal, along with several handfuls of trail mix. I was famished.

I was also scatterbrained. There were still five hours to go until transfer time. I had planned to get some work done, but I couldn’t focus. I thought about giving myself the day off, but I was too restless to do something relaxing, like watch Netflix or read a book. Instead, I spent an hour perusing the T-shirt options on Target’s website. Another traveling lesson learned: always try on the clothes you plan to wear before your trip. Out of the three shirts I’d packed, one had unexpected stains on it and another got dirty en route (note to self: traveling is messy, wear all black next time). I couldn’t wear a stained shirt to the embryo transfer, right? It seemed like a bad omen.

The cheapest, least ugly shirt on Target’s website was beige and had red words in a heart shape that said, “Show more love.” I liked the design but was unsure about the sentiment. It was a little demanding, wasn’t it? Was I, the wearer, telling you to show me more love? All I could think was how my treatment coordinator was going to find the irony in that message, given what a Karen I’d been to her for the past six months.

I ordered the shirt for same-day delivery and did some work until it arrived. Then I ordered enough Chipotle for lunch and dinner, packing one of the meals away in my mini-fridge for later.

After a super salty chicken salad with chips and guac, I set out for a walk. I could actually see my surroundings now – and how beautiful they were. Spring was well underway in Sacramento. It was 65 and sunny. The air smelled sweet. There were budding trees! Flowering trees! Lemon trees! (I have a thing for trees.) Also: wild turkeys. Are they Sacramento’s version of squirrels? There were herds of them everywhere. Though Sacramento is kind of dumpy, the weather was so insanely gorgeous, especially after coming from snow-carpeted Minnesota where we’d just had two solid weeks of subzero temps. It was hard to imagine having any problems in this kind of climate.

“Let’s move!” I texted my husband alongside a picture of a tree with pink, flowery petals.

“Say when!” he replied.

Transfer time was coming soon, so I returned to my hotel room for another shower, only realizing after the fact that I shouldn’t have used the scented soap (embryos don’t like scents, apparently). I put on my new shirt. I meditated and prayed about the embaby. Now, there was no ambivalence. I was so glad I was going ahead with the transfer and I had to admit that I was willing to do this whole infertility routine again as many times as it would take to get pregnant.

Doing the transfer was kind of like riding a bike (or déjà vu). I walked to West Coast IVF, arriving way too early (as I’d done the last time) but this time with a rapidly-filling bladder (because sometimes I do learn my lesson). Nothing about the clinic had changed. The same white leather sofas sat unoccupied in the same waiting room with waves painted on the wall.

Back in the transfer room, a nurse checked my bladder with an abdominal ultrasound. It wasn’t quite full enough yet, so she went over all the post-transfer instructions (rest for 48 hours, no sex, don’t worry about bleeding). No new information there.

Then the embryologist came in with an image of the embryo, which had survived the thaw just fine. (All that agonizing over a backup profile for nothing!) 

She wasn’t as in-depth with her description of the embryo as the embryologist I had last time. I couldn’t tell if this was because the embryo didn’t have as many brag-worthy qualities to talk about or if something was wrong and she just wasn’t saying so. At the end of her spiel about “assisted hatching,” she asked if I had any questions.

“What’s the grade of the embryo?” I asked. The last time, I had a grade one.

“A two,” was all she said.

I tried to contain my disappointment.

“It’s good,” she said, which did not make me feel any better. Is “It’s good” in California like when Minnesotans say “That’s different”? (Because that’s definitely not flattery where I’m from.)

“It’s expanding,” she said.


All the doubts about our profile choice came flooding back. Was ours a subpar embaby? Or did this embryologist just have bad bedside manner? Maybe she did this all day, every day, and didn’t get excited about any embryos anymore. I couldn’t tell. But as soon as she left the room, I started frantically Googling “Grade two embryos.” What I found was…inconclusive? Obviously, grade one is the best. But grade two seems to be…good enough?

The doctor came in and went over the risks of transfer with me. I put on my blinders – especially regarding the part about endometrial infections – and signed off. Then it was showtime. I changed and got into position. The doctor and nurse came in. The nurse held the ultrasound wand over my womb while the doctor inserted a speculum, followed by a catheter. Then the nurse called the embryologist and we waited. Time for awkward small talk. We discussed streaming services, each of us recommending a show to the others. Mine was The Crown. The nurse’s was The Mandalorian. The doctor’s was Anne with an E.

Finally, when we were about to run out of entertainment-related chatter, the embryologist came in and we watched on the monitor as the doctor shot the embryo inside me. The motion was so small and slight on the screen. It was over in the blink of an eye. 

The nurse printed off an image. “Baby’s first picture!” she trilled. I appreciated her enthusiasm.

After the embryologist confirmed the embryo was inside of me, I was allowed to dress and empty my bladder. When I came out of the bathroom, my treatment coordinator was waiting to congratulate me and walk me out to the lobby.

“Show more love,” she said, eyeing my T-shirt. “I like that.” (I knew she’d notice. Ugh, I felt like such a hypocrite.)

“It looks like you got a good embryo,” she continued, perusing my file.

She went over the lab work protocol with me – beta HCG tests on days nine and eleven post-transfer. She told me to give her a head’s up after I had my blood drawn done so that she could “stalk the fax machine” for the results. And then she dropped the “good embryo” phrase into the conversation again. The need to remark on it twice confused me. What other options are there? They’re not doling out bad ones, are they?

I kept all my mind-whirring to myself and simply departed with: “Thank you for putting up with me. It’s been a long, hard journey.”

I walked slowly back to the hotel, soaking up the sunshine. The weirdest part about an embryo transfer is that you expect to feel wildly different – and you don’t. You feel just like you always do. New life was potentially forming in me at that very moment but I couldn’t feel anything. All I could do was pray and mentally will the embaby to implant...

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Up In The Air

By the time departure day rolled around, I was full-on excited for the embryo transfer. That afternoon, our daughter had a long nap in my arms. Then I prepared to leave for the airport. I had been explaining to her for a couple of days that Mommy was going on a trip but that I would be back very quickly and, in the meantime, Daddy and her sisters would take good care of her. Whether or not she understood is anyone’s guess – and whether or not I really believed everything would be OK was up for debate.

One of the main stressors for me in deciding to go forward with the transfer was the travel. The last time I had been away from my baby was nine months prior, when I was in the hospital with endometritis. I was terrified of how hard this would be – for her and for me. Would she sleep? Would she cry so hard she choked – and end up in the ER again? How would my husband, who hadn’t watched her for more than three hours at a time – take care of her for two days straight?

When I put my daughter in her car seat to go to the airport, I started crying. It was physically painful to think of being separated from her. It was like my chest was being torn open. I continued to sniffle all the way to Terminal 1, half-hoping that my husband or my teens would talk me out of it, but they were all being supportive instead. (The nerve!)

“You have to help me be strong and not try again if the transfer doesn’t work,” I told them. “Because I don’t want to do this again. It’s too hard.”

“Stop talking like it isn’t going to work!” my older teen said. “You have to manifest success!”

She was right, but I was having trouble summoning positive thinking. I began to cry again when we arrived at the airport. I said my goodbyes, affixed a medical mask, cloth mask, and face shield to my face, and was thrust into the throng of fellow passengers streaming into MSP.

I’ve mentioned before that I am not a traveler (in fact, the last time I traveled was 18 months ago, for the transfer of the embryo that became my daughter). You wouldn’t think that traveling is something you could be good at, but I guess you can. And I am not it. Traveling makes me feel like I have to learn how to be human all over again.

As soon as I entered the airport, I got very nervous and hot and my face shield fogged up. I could hardly see, much less navigate the security line gracefully. I fumbled to find my ID in my fanny pack (not as convenient as I thought it would be) and couldn’t get my cell phone boarding pass to scan. Then I got flagged going through security.

“Is there anything that could poke me in here?” the guard asked as he opened my backpack. I thought this was a test because I hadn’t “declared” my injectable progesterone, and now they’d caught me.

“I have syringes in there,” I said.

“In what kind of container?” he asked.

“A plastic baggie,” I said, wondering why he didn’t know this already, given that my bag had just gone through the X-ray machine.

“You have trail mix?” he asked.

“Yes…” I said, wondering if he was food-shaming me or just making small talk.

He pulled out the quart-sized bag of salted nuts, raisins, and dark chocolate M&Ms that I had specially mixed for stress-eating purposes.

“This was the problem,” he said. “It just comes up as a blob on the X-ray.”

He gave me my backpack and munchies back and sent me on my way. (In hindsight, I wish he’d have confiscated the trail mix; I swear I gained five pounds in as many days from consuming it.)

I decided that since I had time and nervous energy to burn, I would trek to a particular restaurant to try its award-winning turkey burger and sweet potato fries. It was on the other side of the airport, but I was eager to walk. Unfortunately, I miscalculated how far away it was on foot; it took me almost 30 minutes to get there. I placed my order with the bartender, only to have her tell me they no longer offered either item and I could use a QR code to see the current menu.

“You know how to do that, don’t you?” she asked.

“Of course!” I said, though of course I did not. (I’m more Luddite than tech-savvy when it comes to smartphones and their capabilities.)

Ten minutes of fruitless tapping on my phone’s screen later, she saw I was having trouble and came around the bar to help me. She couldn’t get it to work either and eventually just gave me her phone. I ordered a chicken sandwich and tots, then sat on the barstool and sweated for 15 minutes, worrying about the proximity of the maskless diners on either side of me, until the bartender handed me my food in a plastic bag.

I was cutting it close, so I had to haul ass to the other end of the airport, pausing at an empty gate along the way to shovel the food in my mouth. As I ate, I people-watched. The saddest thing about the airport now is that everyone is absorbed in their screens. All. The. Time. I hate that aspect of the modern world. It almost makes me not want to bring a baby into it.

Speaking of babies, I saw several families with young children and infants rolling their strollers down the concourse casually, as if there weren’t a pandemic going on. I wondered if it was a mistake to not bring my husband and our daughter along or if I was right to be cautious. I felt downright suspicious of everyone and their sneezes, coughs, and maskless snacking. I played musical chairs, trying to figure out the safest place to plop down, only to have someone sit too close to me, forcing me to find a new spot.

I had a moment of panic when I reached my gate. There were so many people waiting to board. I could still call all of this off, go home, have a regular evening, forget the baby dream. But I got in line with everyone else.

The flight was full according to pandemic-era standards: middle seats were empty but all the other ones were occupied. When I arrived at my seat, I found a young woman there; as I explained to her how the alphabet seating chart worked, everyone behind me became annoyed and impatient. Finally, she moved to her proper seat and I settled in. The other traveler in my row was a tech bro – non-threatening and definitely not interested in conversation, for which I was grateful. (I guess screens do have their upsides…) A baby made itself known behind me, though I couldn’t tell how old they were from their fussing. Instead of making me irritated, though, it made me long for my own daughter and all of her own unique noises.

It seemed as if we were going to depart not only on time, but early…until the captain announced the plane had to be de-iced. Cue one hour of sitting on the tarmac, waiting. It was like being stuck in the longest, most cramped car wash ever. I got very antsy and started fantasizing about standing up and telling the flight attendants that I just couldn’t do this, that I needed to go home. I wondered if it was possible to get off an airplane, if that ever happens, if people just change their minds and demand to de-board (is that even the term?). Then I thought that if I did that, everyone would be mad at me, so I just stayed put and wondered how I was going to get through the next four hours without going insane.

The flight was very uncomfortable. I don’t know how any body (not a typo) puts up with air travel. My back hurt, my neck ached, my gut bloated. There was turbulence on and off. I watched three episodes of The Crown before I started doing that drowsy head-bob thing. I curled up as best I could against the window and tried to sleep.

When we finally landed and I stood up to retrieve my carry-on suitcase, I got to see the baby behind me. She was olive-skinned and blonde-haired and so, so beautiful sleeping in her mama’s arms. For a baby on the plane, she had been totally well behaved. Toward the front of the plane, I noticed a preschooler with brown hair who was crying on her daddy’s shoulder; he tried to comfort her by flipping up her purple unicorn hoodie. It reminded me of my daughter, whose nursey is unicorn-themed and whose favorite color seems to be purple. I felt a sting of longing for her and wondered if this was a fool’s errand. If it was, it was too late now to reverse course.

Once I got off the plane, things started to look familiar. Unlike my last trip to Sacramento, I did not get lost in the airport on the way to ground transport. I knew not to hail my Uber until I was almost outside, so the driver didn’t wait (and charge me for it).

“Is it OK if I’m on a call during the ride?” my Uber driver asked when I got in his car. “It’s my boss.”

“Of course,” I said, feeling lucky that I didn’t have to answer any personal questions and decide whether to tell the truth about my trip or make up a lie to prevent further questioning. He spoke rapidly on his Bluetooth in another language, dropping in a few English words like “civil engineer” and “resume.”

“I’m a master electrician,” he explained after hanging up. He was trying to get a gig on a construction project with a guy he knew, hence the phone call. “It pays way better than driving for Uber. I drive seven days a week and I still don’t make enough to support my family.” 

He explained that he and his wife were immigrants, though she didn’t speak English or know how to drive. She stayed at home with their six(!) kids, all of whom were distance learning(!).

“Habitat For Humanity is building us a house,” he said. “In six months, I will be a homeowner!”

“Congratulations!” I said.

I wanted to ask more about his kids: When does he see them if he’s working so much? How old are they? Why so many? But the ride was over before I had the chance.

I returned to the same hotel I’d stayed at previously, but it felt less luxurious this time with the pool, gym, and restaurant closed due to the pandemic. My room seemed neglected – the thermostat had a low-battery warning and the clocks were all the wrong time. Still, I had a little burst of energy and felt the need to nest, so I whipped out the Clorox wipes and wiped down every surface I could. I put my clothes away. I washed my face and put on my pajamas and did a few yoga stretches before getting in bed. My husband had texted me saying the baby fell asleep just fine and everyone was doing well. I left my cell phone’s ringer on the highest volume anyway just in case.

I’d chosen a corner room, hoping for peace and quiet, but what I didn’t realize is that my room faced the interstate. The traffic outside my window sounded like the vehicles were cruising right through my room. If that wasn’t enough disruption, the heater made a noise like a plastic bag being crinkled over and over again every few minutes. I put on my headphones and turned up my “calming music,” but it was no match for the foreign sounds of the room. I missed my baby in bed with me, and our familiar sounds – the whirr of the fan, the glug-glug of the humidifier.

Just when I thought I would never fall asleep, I did…and dreamt I was surrounded by people in public, trying to find a private place to do my progesterone shot (an infertility-related twist on the recurring dream I have about not being able to find a private place to pee).

My sleep was fitful, but when I woke up, it was finally transfer day

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Good Fight

When we last left off, I was supposed to have a calm, mature conversation with my husband about his feelings and fears regarding the embryo transfer.

I’ll spare you the suspense: I fucked it up. Despite talking through the strategy with my therapist beforehand, I came at my husband guns a-blazing. Instead of listening to him, I spewed all my anger at him. I spat dark predictions of what would happen to our marriage if we canceled the transfer. I swore. I made him cry. (Though to be fair, he’s a crier. It doesn’t take much.) I didn't comfort him. I didn’t want to force his hand, but when I thought about calling California IVF to cancel the transfer, hot tears pulsed in my eyes.

After expressing his fears (“I’m staring down 50. I don’t want to be ‘old dad.’”), he tried to smooth things over. He hugged me, said he loved me, and reminded me that we were a team. He tried to be cute and asked our daughter if she would be kind to a little sister.

This did not assuage me. Strangely, it made me angrier. I wanted him to want another baby, and it was so obvious he didn’t. The desire was just not there for him. That’s not to say he wouldn’t love another little girl once she’s here – in fact, he said exactly that. But was that enough?

We weren't getting anywhere (surprise, surprise) and it was getting late so I said we should just stop for now. I needed a moment to process. Questions I asked myself: Am I being unreasonable? Do I secretly want to abandon this dream, too, but I'm making him do the dirty work? Is this an “opportunity” for me to be the bigger person and stop pushing in order to keep the peace? Do I have it in me to do that? Or is that just another form of ego? How do I let this dream go and not expect him to "make it up to me"? Could he ever do that? Why am I wrestling so hard with this? How do I "solve" it without blowing everything up?

I tried to meditate and pray my way to clarity, but I couldn't feel God in this situation at all. I felt abandoned and stuck. I Googled “How to discern God’s will with having children” and came across one helpful blog post by a mother of eight(!). She wrote about how people do not choose how many children they have. God does. Even if you try to take control from Him (i.e. use birth control or the rhythm method or have a vasectomy), He finds a way around it if you are really meant to have a child.

This advice resonated with me. We were not deciding whether or not to have a child. We could try our best by going forward with the transfer, but God would determine whether or not it was successful. We could also opt out, and who knows? Maybe we would get pregnant spontaneously. (Is there an infertile couple out there who doesn’t indulge this fantasy? I doubt it.) Or maybe we were not meant to have more children and no matter what we did or didn’t do, there would be no more children.

In that sense, there was really no “right” or “wrong” way to go about this. No matter which path we took, God would decide whether or not another baby would come to us. Reframing the issue this way lightened the load.

In quiet moments, I kept coming back to wanting to try, at least once, because I didn’t want to regret not trying five or ten years down the road, when it would definitely be too late.

After a cooling-off period, I asked my husband if there was room for compromise. Could we agree to try once and then give up if it doesn't work? He seemed amenable to that. But that would put a lot of pressure on the impending transfer. What if it failed and I wanted to try again? Could I just leave those two unused tries on the table? The gambler in me had her doubts.

I huffed and puffed and stewed and silent treatment-ed my husband for a couple of days. Then, I don’t know what changed exactly, other than I became convinced that the transfer was happening and my husband didn’t resist. There wasn’t one conversation where we “decided” to move forward; it was more of a silent acknowledgment that the decision had already been made, maybe months ago, and we were finally just submitting to the decision.

Two days before my departure date, my treatment coordinator called my husband to get his consent for the transfer. “You have it,” is all he said. It wasn’t as effusive or excited as I would have liked, but it was enough.

So that was that. I was going. Now I just needed to get to Sacramento

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Indecision City, Population: Two

Embryo transfer date confirmed, backup profile selected, and medication protocol underway, I should have felt settled and satisfied. I felt neither.

A lot had changed since December when we were last approaching an embryo transfer. Our daughter was now mobile and her personality was asserting itself. She was insatiably curious, increasingly stubborn, and needed constant supervision. I’m not complaining (I am nothing if not curious and stubborn myself), but somehow, I’d forgotten that taking care of little babies was actually a breeze compared to burgeoning toddlers.

Our daughter was now sleeping through the night again, but I found myself awake at 1 a.m., staring at the ceiling, wondering if we were being reckless in pursuing the dream of another child.

When my husband and I discussed it, we went 'round and 'round the same concerns about having a sibling for our daughter: Do we have enough money? Can we handle more stress? How will another baby affect our marriage? Will we need to hire help? Can we afford that?

When my husband rattled off all these concerns, any rational person would agree that having another baby was crazy. Ah, but when it comes to babies, I am not a rational person. When I saw siblings out in the world playing together, or I witnessed a sweet moment between my teens, I’d think, “Of course the baby should have a sibling.”

And yet, we'd finally scraped together some balance in our days. In addition to working and parenting, I had time to exercise and meditate and pray every day. I had my body back – no, even better: I was 15 pounds thinner than I was pre-pregnancy. Life was pretty good. Why mess with it?

But then I thought about how every milestone our daughter hit – standing up and clapping are her latest adorable achievements – were the last of these kinds of milestones I would see if there would be no more babies, and that made me sad.

When I rattled off the pros and cons of having another baby in my head, it was clear there was only one pro: that the baby would have a sibling. On the flip side, there were so many cons: health risks, financial strain, marital stress, energy depletion. But I couldn’t bring myself to cancel the transfer – and my husband seemed stuck in a state of resigned inaction.

“I wish there was a professional decision-maker we could go to,” I told my husband after we rent ‘round and ‘round again discussing all this. “We’d give them all the information we have and then they’d decide for us.”

“You want a stranger to make this decision?” he said.

“At least that way, if it was the wrong decision, we could blame the misstep on them.”

My husband thought this idea was ridiculous.

“Well, I would throw ridiculous amounts of money at someone to make decisions for me right now,” I replied.

I mentally toyed with the idea of abandoning the dream of another child and just focusing on our daughter. On easy days, I would dote on our daughter and feel my heart swell with how much I loved her. I would think, “She’s enough – more than enough. Why do I need anyone else?” And on hard days, I would think, “I don’t have the desire or the energy to do all this again from day one.”

One early morning, my husband made this announcement: “I don’t think I can be a good parent to any more children.”

I’ll admit: I’d had similar thoughts. I knew another baby would not get as much affection and attention that our daughter does. There just aren’t enough arms and energy. I also didn’t want my children to grow up in a household with unhappily married parents – though I suppose we were at risk of being unhappy regardless of how many children we had.

But my fears hadn’t outweighed my hope. Not yet. Especially not after my lining check ultrasound, which revealed an incredible 17mm of cushion in my baby house! (For reference, 8mm is the minimal endometrial lining thickness required for a transfer.) Mine was so impressive, the sonographer said, “You go, girl!” 

My husband was not wowed by my super-womb. He was a dark, toxic cloud that loomed over what should have been a time of delightful anticipation. This was why I hadn’t wanted to cancel the transfer in December – I knew that given too much time to contemplate, one or both of us might change our minds.

“Are you saying you want to cancel the transfer?” I asked my husband after he dropped the aforementioned truth bomb.

My husband started to cry, which confused me because I thought canceling would make him happy, right? Didn’t he want to be relieved of the pressure?

“Do you think it’s easy for me to tell you this?” he asked.

It seemed easy enough. He said it, didn’t he? Or did he? What was he saying?

“If you’ve decided we can’t go forward, then you call West Coast IVF and cancel,” I said. “You explain to them that you’ve had a change of heart – if that’s what this even is. I’m not going to be the bad guy.”

Of course, my husband didn’t want to do that. Or maybe he wanted to, but he was afraid of my reaction. So our discussion fizzled out, only to be reignited every few days when something would set us off.

Would canceling the transfer be a relief? Or would it welcome in a new wave of grief? It was easy to pretend I would be calm and regret-free post-cancellation when I still had the transfer scheduled. It’s like fantasizing about breaking up with someone you’re still sleeping with at night and drinking coffee across from every morning. You don’t know how devastating it will be until you actually end it and have to confront the gaping chasm of emptiness where their presence once was.

Also: this wasn’t just a decision about a transfer, or even about a baby – it was about the end of an era. What would it feel like to close the door on my fertility, forever? I wouldn’t know until I got there.

I took to Google, seeking answers. I researched outcomes of only children (because, while I have two teens, the age gap between them and our daughter is 16 and 17 ½ years; our daughter would basically be growing up as an only child). All the studies said that only children fared just fine; they are no more likely to experience loneliness or depression than people with siblings (though they are more likely to be obese, interestingly). Only children are, however, more likely to be successful as adults.

So, there was that – the rational, scientific take on whether or not to have another child. But what about the emotional value of siblings? On this, the internet seemed divided. There are many only children who say they desperately wanted a sibling growing up and/or wish they had one now, as adults, to lean on. There are also many people with siblings who point out that growing up together doesn’t guarantee any kind of bond. Sometimes siblings are close, but they aren’t always. I could certainly think of examples of both scenarios in my family and social circles.

As for the infertility community, I didn’t even bother asking their opinion. Women who have experienced infertility are all incredibly supportive when someone is undergoing treatment, but don’t you dare drop even a hint of ambivalence on their social media spaces. It’s as if the first rule of Infertility Club is: Never, ever give up! No. Matter. What.

“Are you still hellbent on doing this thing on Friday?” my husband asked me one morning.

“It’s on Monday, not Friday,” I replied, frustrated that he couldn’t even remember the timeline of when I was supposed to fly across the country to get pregnant. “And I’m withholding any decision-making until I speak with my therapist.”

I think my husband thought my therapist would talk me out of the transfer. I hoped for the opposite – that she would encourage me onward. Of course, what I got was typical therapist spiel: objectivity and non-answers. Don’t get me wrong; it felt cathartic to talk it all out with Shania. But her conclusion was: “It’s not the decision itself that matters; it’s how you two come to a decision together.”

It reminded me of a column in The Atlantic by therapist Lori Gottlieb (whose perspective I usually love) in which a woman was considering divorce because her husband refused to give her another child. Gottlieb essentially told the woman to coddle her husband’s feelings and accept that she might have to smother her baby dream so that her husband could take more naps. (This is my ruthless interpretation, which is naturally biased given that I’m going through a similar situation; others will probably read it differently.)

I told Shania that my husband and I have talked this thing to death and we just keep having the same conversation. I already know his fears about moving forward (money, stress, relationship quality) and his fears about not moving forward (my anger and resentment). I know why he sticks his head in the sand (he’s afraid of my reactions; as he probably should be). What new information could possibly come from another conversation?

Shania gave me a set of questions to ask my husband and encouraged me to be non-threatening when listening to the answers. She told me to be present in the process and to avoid charging ahead to the outcome. 

But instead of feeling curious and compassionate about what my husband was going through, I was infuriated. Why did it seem like he got to make this decision, not me? How could we make a decision together if we couldn't agree on how to proceed? And when it comes to having a baby with IVF, there really is no such thing as compromise. You either do it or you don’t.

During our session, Shania acknowledged how frustrating it was that I’d spent the last six months filling out paperwork, fighting with West Coast IVF, undergoing procedures, and taking medications, only to have to contemplate canceling the transfer this late in the game. If we were going to shut down the baby factory, what the fuck had I spent the last half-year doing? Was it all for nothing?

“It’s like training for a marathon and not getting to run it,” she said.

Yes…but no. It’s like training for a marathon and being told you will never run again, even though you’re raring to go and your body is perfectly capable.

So here we are, on the cusp of one of the most important decisions of our marriage – if not our lives – and I’m instructed to just sit back and listen (’cause that will go well) while my half-packed suitcase awaits next to the bed...

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Hurry Up And Wait (And Deliberate)

After a hellish month due to my baby’s breathing issues, I finally received a new embryo transfer date, for late February. Though the health drama had been giving me second thoughts about moving forward, once I saw the treatment calendar, I was all in again.

I giddily booked my travel arrangements and scheduled my ultrasounds. I refilled my prescriptions. I calculated the due date and corresponding astrological sign of the potential baby-to-be. I brainstormed new names. I attached to the idea of her. I let myself feel hopeful again. 

Then I received another email from my treatment coordinator. She’d forgotten that I wasn’t on birth control. (Of course I wasn’t…because she told me to stop all medications in December!) The embryo transfer date was null and void. I would have to wait for my next period and reschedule. Again.

I lost it. I went full Karen on the clinic manager. (Again.) I threatened to pull out of the contract, demand my refund, and pursue treatment elsewhere. Of course, I didn’t want to do that, because it wouldn’t get me pregnant any faster.

A nurse called to talk me off the ledge.

“There’s still a chance you could keep the transfer date,” she said. “When was your last period?”

“December 26,” I told her. And that one, as far as I could tell, only happened because I stopped all the fertility meds when my previous transfer was canceled.

“Are your periods regular?”

“They haven’t been,” I said. I explained about my missing period in the fall and the Provera I had to take to get it back. There had been nothing “regular” about my cycles since…oh…2019, before I got on the infertility treatment roller coaster.

“We need to figure out if you’re growing follicles,” she said. “Because if you are, your body might be releasing hormones that could interfere with the medication protocol.”

I didn’t know the details of my follicular count, but I knew that in the past, it had been puny. The nurse reviewed my last baseline ultrasound and my SIS and confirmed there wasn’t much happening in the follicle department – but was that because I had been on birth control? Or because I was old?

“One advantage of being a seasoned woman,” she said (and, yes, that was the term she used), “is that we don’t grow many follicles. So I think we should do an ultrasound, see what’s going on in there, and if it’s not much, then we could potentially go straight to Lupron and stay on track for late February. What do you want to do?”

It was a risk, diverging from the tried-and-true protocol that had worked when I got pregnant with a donor embryo the first time, but at this point, I was feeling desperate. I had re-entered West Coast IVF’s program back in August and I still hadn’t had a transfer. I didn’t want to wait anymore. I wasn’t sure I could.

“Let’s try,” I said.

And so, the following Monday, I trekked to Dr. Baby-Maker’s clinic, where I once again submitted myself to another baseline ultrasound. As the sonographer readied the machine, she asked about my infertility journey so far. I told her all about the tooth ordeal and the canceled transfer in December. The tone of her voice indicated she truly felt sorry for me. Pity was nice, I guess, but what I needed more were answers.

The sonographer quickly found three small follicles (nothing to write home about) on the left ovary. As for the right? It was playing hide-and-seek. The sonographer maneuvered the wand in a thousand uncomfortable positions and she simply could not find it.

“I think it’s right behind this bowel activity,” she said, indicating what looked like a pulsing tube on the screen. Basically, I think she was saying that I was full of shit. (‘Cause that’s not mortifying.)

She dug around a little while longer, then (I think) gave up, grabbed a screenshot of something oval-esque, and called it an ovary for the report’s sake.

“I’ll send this off to California right away,” she said. “Hopefully you can get going already.”

I had my doubts, but later that day, I received confirmation from the doctor that I could start Lupron and keep the February transfer date. Hooray!

My treatment coordinator soon called to make sure my concerns had been addressed. Since she asked, I told her that there was one other unresolved issue: I felt uncomfortable with our backup embryo option, the one that included an egg donor who had a relative with schizophrenia and an unclear family history of mental retardation. I wanted to see more profiles – specifically those with proven fertility.

To make things easier, I told her I was open to any race. It was something I’d been thinking a lot about over the past several weeks. White couples adopted BIPOC children all the time; why would this be any different? It would be challenging, of course, and my husband and I would have to educate ourselves and immerse our child in her culture, but we were willing and eager to do so if it meant a healthier baby.

Within hours, I had a new backup profile in my inbox.

This profile had already been successful for another West Coast IVF patient. Unfortunately, that was about all that it had going for it. The egg donor’s family has a history of obesity. The sperm donor’s family had a history of high blood pressure, stroke, pneumonia, melanoma and breast cancer.

I didn’t hesitate to turn that one down. There had to be better options. And since I’d complained, the clinic seemed more willing to offer them to me.

The next backup profile arrived – and I fell in love with it.

The egg donor was athletic, articulate, and creative. Her favorite movie: The Princess Bride. Favorite book: The Great Gatsby. Favorite season: spring. And her health history was impeccable. The sperm donor was fit, entrepreneurial, and clearly had a sense of humor (“Love dogs, think fish are hilarious, cats are demon creatures”). His personality absolutely burst off the page. His family health history wasn’t flawless, but there weren’t any concerning patterns.

I looked up the sperm donor’s ID on the Facebook group for the sperm bank. Picture after picture of babies made from his genetic material came up. The sperm donor’s genes were clearly the dominant ones in all of his offspring – but his genes and my family's looked nothing alike. The kids were adorable, but it would be obvious to everyone that this baby wasn't “ours.”

I was concerned about how this baby would handle questions about her origins. I thought of a line from the children’s book we have about donor conception that goes, “To make a baby, you need a seed from a man, an egg from a woman, and a nice warm tummy to grow the baby in.” I imagined our future child stuck having many interactions like this:

Random Person: Are you adopted?

Future Child: No, I’m donor-conceived.

Random Person: What’s that?

Future Child: To make a baby, you need a seed from a man, an egg from a woman, and a nice warm tummy to grow the baby in…

It seemed unfair to subject a child to incessant questioning, not to mention racism. And yet, I could feel the good vibes from this profile. It also had one current pregnancy, a better track record than our chosen profile, which had a negative pregnancy test and a chemical pregnancy to its name.

I had to ask myself: Did I want the fantasy of a baby (who might look like my husband and me) or did I want a flesh-and-blood baby (who would definitely not look like either of us)? I could clearly imagine myself with the baby from our chosen profile; I wasn’t sure I could see myself with the new one. (Though I know I would love any baby put into my arms.) 

The clock was ticking. My coordinator needed a yes or a no. And she needed to know which profile was primary. If I chose the new one to be my primary, I would have to give the old one up (because the new one had multiple female embryos available, so I wouldn’t need a backup). 

My husband was firmly on the side of the new profile, his reasoning being: if we’re going to do this, we want it to work. My younger teen agreed. My older teen and I were waffling. We didn’t want to let go of the old profile. But what if the transfer with the old profile failed? I’d be kicking myself for months over wasting all this time and money. 

I wished for the impossible (of course I did): that we could transfer one of each and let fate decide, but I was pretty sure the clinic wouldn't allow that, and I didn't want to risk twins. (Imagine explaining twins genetically unrelated to us and one another!)

Ultimately, I let myself be persuaded by reason. The new profile had the best chance of success, so that was the one I was going to choose.

But on the morning I was supposed to send back the confirmation form, my printer refused to print. I tried once, twice, three times. There was still ink in the cartridge, but the text wasn’t printing clearly. I signed up for a free trial of Adobe and tried to e-sign it, but the document wouldn’t let me edit a section of the document where I needed to print my name. “Is this a sign?” I asked aloud to no one in particular.

If it was a sign, I ignored it. I ordered a new ink cartridge, got it installed, printed off the confirmation page, and signed it along with my husband before the day was done.

“We’re sure about this, right?” I asked him.

“I’m done discussing this,” he said. (All this deliberation had begun to sour him on the whole endeavor. Topic for a future post...)

I emailed the signed confirmation form to my coordinator. So that was that; we were letting go of the old profile and would be transferring a female embryo from the new profile in late February.

Only a few minutes after sending the confirmation, my treatment coordinator responded, confused. Did we want the new profile as the primary? Or as the backup?

I stared at the message for a long time, unsure how to respond. It felt like all day, the signs were saying, “Don’t let go of the profile you love.” Now she was giving me another chance to change my mind. Should I take it?

I typed up my email response, with two lines: “Primary” and “Backup.” I copied and pasted the profile numbers – the old one for primary, the new one for backup. Then I swapped them. But I couldn’t press “send.”

I tried to imagine how I would feel months from now, pregnant or not, if I let the old profile go. Even worse: what if someone else got pregnant with that embryo? What if I saw a picture of that baby in the West Coast IVF Facebook group? Would I feel like she should have been “mine,” just like I did with my baby’s only full genetic sibling who was growing up halfway across the country? (I would give anything to have had another embryo from her profile available. Then there would have been zero deliberation; only celebration.)

Something in me again said, “Try.” I had to give the embryo I wanted most a chance. If the transfer was unsuccessful, the new profile would still have an embryo ready and waiting. (Though the age gap between my baby and her little-sister-to-be would be close to two years at that point.)

I told my coordinator to keep the old profile as the primary and the new profile as a backup. And then I told myself to stop deliberating. (‘Cause that works.)

This process revealed traits in me I didn’t recognize – and didn’t like. I used to be so decisive and now I seemed so wishy-washy. Also: why, after I pushed and pushed to get what I wanted (in this case, a backup profile worthy of being a primary profile), did I reject it once I got it?

And, most pressing: now that preparation for the next transfer was underway, why did I suddenly feel so ambivalent about moving forward at all, with any profile? 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

New Year, Same Bullshit (Part Two)

Only a few weeks after my baby’s choking episode led to an ER visit, and the night after my baby had an adenoidectomy to prevent that from ever happening again, there I was on my knees, giving back blows to my baby until she threw up a pool of mucus. My husband had called 911, but the few minutes until the ambulance’s siren neared our house felt like forever.

Soon a pair of 20-something EMTs stormed through the door; one had a bright blue mohawk and the other was a nervous Nelly. Both acted as if they’d never seen a baby before. Nervous Nelly couldn’t get the pulse oximeter on the baby’s finger or get a look in her mouth with a flashlight. If these two were the rescue crew, I wanted to tell them to go the fuck home because they would be no help.

Nervous Nelly said another ambulance was on its way. Meanwhile, two pairs of cops arrived. One pair just came into the house, no introduction or indication of what the hell they were going to do in this situation. Their intimidating energy was huge and sucked all the air out of the room.

The dog was barking, the baby was crying, and we were all just standing around waiting for the second ambulance. Finally, it arrived, with two middle-aged EMTs. One was an Alpha asshole but the other one was kind and calm. They asked if we wanted a ride to the hospital (not because they cared but because they wanted permission to bill us). At that point, the baby seemed better. She gazed quietly at all these strangers in the house.

I looked to my husband. “Should we drive?” I asked.

“I don’t want her to choke on the way,” he said. “Or to get in an accident.”

He and the EMTs convinced me to go with the baby in the ambulance – my first (and hopefully last) ambulance ride ever. The vehicle seemed to be all metal on the inside and the lights were blindingly bright. The EMTs strapped the baby onto a stretcher, which was terrifying for her and me. She started wailing again, then choking. I told the EMTs she couldn’t breathe, but they wouldn’t take her out of the harness. Then she threw up mucus again, soaking her onesie. No one was reacting, but I was pretty sure this was not normal.

We set off. The Alpha EMT drove and the nice one sat in the back with me and the baby. The baby calmed down once we were in motion, though now I was upset. The EMT told me I could take my mask off. There was snot streaming down my face. He radioed some information – all in code, it seemed – to the hospital. He talked to the baby sweetly and stroked her finger. I couldn’t believe how unshakeable he was – or how he did this day in, day out, and stayed so incredibly chill.

Because we arrived at the hospital in an ambulance, it seemed like we got special treatment. There was no waiting for triage this time. We were shuttled immediately into a room in a part of the ER I hadn’t seen before. A nurse came in right away, with toys for the baby. A doctor soon followed. No one knew what exactly was going on, but the “episode” seemed to be over. The doctor’s best guess was that the baby had some post-surgery inflammation that made it hard for her to breathe and led to the vomiting, but that she was no longer in imminent danger. Since the baby seemed stable, the doctor said we could just continue using Afran over the weekend (but no longer than that, because it can cause rebound inflammation) and that we should call the ENT on Monday.

We were waiting on the discharge paperwork when a different, older nurse came in and said the baby was due for some Tylenol. I almost said, “We’ll do it at home. Just let us leave.” But I said OK, because I was being Minnesota Nice. The nurse held the baby’s head and I tried to squirt the Tylenol in her mouth, but the baby started crying and choking again. We managed to get the medicine down by taking little breaks. The nurse quietly said, “I’m going to go share what just happened in here with the doctor…”

And then the parade began. One doctor after another came in, all seemingly doing the same exam and offering zero solutions – other than staying the night for observation. At this point, it was around 2 a.m. so we were already halfway through the night by my estimation.

“What do you want to do?” the doc asked.

“I want to go home but I’m afraid to,” I said.

“Then you should stay,” he said. “Otherwise, you might just end up coming back.”

The dealbreaker for me was that they said if we stayed, an ENT would see us in the morning. At least that would be faster than waiting for Monday morning and trying to schedule an appointment.

The baby cycled from calm to crisis mode, because the health care professionals kept doing things to her. I was reminded of the “cascade of interventions” often referred to in unmedicated childbirth circles, in which one medical procedure begets another. First it was a chest X-ray to make sure she hadn’t swallowed anything (of course she hadn’t). Then a COVID test (negative). Then they wanted to do an IV but two nurses were unable to find a vein. The second time they attempted, they didn’t even use anesthetic, which was awful to watch because I knew the very first moment they caused her pain by the way her face contorted. Then they gave up because I was bawling and the baby was inconsolable. They turned down the lights and left us alone and she finally took a bottle and fell asleep.

Around 4 a.m. they transferred us to a room. The adrenaline I’d been running on had worn out. I was beyond exhausted. But the nurse had to go through the same 10,000 questions as everyone else and then her oximeter wasn’t working and she had to troubleshoot that before we could settle into the plastic-covered pull-out sofa. The baby and I slept maybe 90 minutes before she woke up, seemingly in pain and hungry. My husband, who had been sent home with a list of things to retrieve (the irony that we had been so well prepared for the surgery stay and now we had nothing, not even a bottle, was not lost on me) realized he’d forgotten the bottle liners and the nurse had to hunt some down (of the wrong size) while the baby fussed.

Finally, a bottle came together and the baby ate and we ordered breakfast. We felt normal for a little while. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. (Recurring theme.)

Around lunchtime, a team of six doctors crowded into the room. We repeated the events of the last 24 hours yet again. I tried to ask the same question, in different ways, several times, because the doctors didn't seem to get it. 

“We were in the ER several weeks ago because the baby was choking on mucus,” I said. “They told us to get her adenoids out. We did that, but she’s still choking on her mucus. Is it possible the adenoids weren’t the problem and something else was missed?” 

The group of doctors didn’t have any answers, much less a treatment plan, other than three doses of steroids administered over a 24-hour period, Afran for a few days, and Flonase for a month. But they wanted to see what the ENT had to say first before finalizing anything. The only problem was no one knew when the ENT was coming. (Must be nice to be making a gazillion dollars a year and have to answer to no one, even when you’re on call.)

Unfortunately, the ENT that came was not the same doctor that did the surgery. It was the emotionless, unhelpful ENT I spoke to on the phone the previous night. His bedside manner wasn’t any better in person, making me wonder why he ever chose to work with children. He towered over my husband, the baby, and me. His eyes were a weird tiger orange and he had pinpricks for pupils. I don’t know what drugs he was on, but they must’ve been good. He did not examine the baby or even touch her.

“How is it going?” he asked.

“Fine, now,” I said. “But she always does well during the day. It’s nighttime that’s the problem.”

“Do you want to go home?”

“Yes, but I want to understand where the mucus is coming from, especially since we removed her adenoids. Why is she still having the same problem?”

“Adenoidectomy doesn’t treat mucus,” he said. “In fact, I’ve never seen a child this young get an adenoidectomy. But I’m not surprised she’s congested. Try saline spray.”

“Saline spray? Are you fucking kidding me?” I thought. I’d been doing saline spray since October. For the record, I’d also tried vapor rub, three kinds of nasal aspirators, and an angled pillow.

The ENT was infuriating to talk to. It was as if he was saying, “This is normal,” and “Except it isn’t,” simultaneously. He told us to follow up with our ENT on Monday, which totally boggled my mind because they work for the same practice.

After he left the room, I watched him through the window in the door. He put on his jacket right there at the nurses’ station and went back to his Saturday. (Asshole.)

The group of doctors circled back. No one knew what was going on and they didn’t know how to help, other than throw the same medications at the problem that we’d already tried and that had failed us before. (Except for the three-dose steroids. Those were new.) They shamed me for co-sleeping, suggesting that I stack cans of tuna underneath a Pack ‘N’ Play mattress (I shit you not) and make her sleep there instead. They also said that if the sleeping situation didn’t improve, she likely had acid reflux (despite the fact that she had not one symptom) and we should see a pediatrician about it. (“Isn’t that what all you people are?” I wondered.)

After several more hours of waiting for discharge paperwork, we were handed a bundle of prescriptions and sent home.

A week passed. The another. While we didn’t have another “episode” requiring an ER visit, the baby now had a new snore and was not sleeping through the night. In fact, we’d reverted to a newborn-esque schedule, with her waking up two to three times a night because of the congestion and then needing aspiration and a bottle to fall back asleep.

We returned to the ENT. He said the next step would be a sleep study to rule out sleep apnea. (Another night in the hospital. Oh, hooray.) I agreed, but when I called to schedule the sleep study, I was told we would have to wait until six weeks post-surgery or we might get an inaccurate read.

And so, we soldiered on. Sometimes I coped just fine with fragmented sleep. I got up, ran, and went about my day, juggling parenting and working from home like an expert octo-mom. Other days, I found myself reverting to self-destructive coping mechanisms, like baking a batch of cookies, then picking and eating the chocolate chips out of them (an old anorexic pastime). Or I zoned out by buying baby stuff online that I would inevitably return when remorse hit. I tried to pray but just ended up crying. I came to dinner puffy-eyed and defeated more than once.

To say the month has been rough would be an understatement.

Just when I hit what felt like rock bottom, I got an email from my West Coast IVF treatment coordinator: I had a new transfer date