Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Oh, Baby!

The second trimester is most pregnant women’s favorite time, and for good reason. In my case, the nausea ebbed, my appetite roared back to life, my breasts became centerfold-worthy, and a rotund, firm bump formed despite my minimal weight gain. Goodbye Pillsbury doughboy body image, hello sexy fertility goddess!

I had been on pelvic rest for 15 weeks. While sex was the last thing on my mind during the first trimester of pregnancy, now that I was into the second trimester, I was warming up to the idea of being intimate with my husband again. While it was easy for me to put sex on the back burner in the interest of protecting our growing baby’s wellbeing, the temporary celibacy was a lot harder for my husband. It all came to, um, a head when I (literally) caught him with his pants down watching something I did not approve of. After a multi-day argument, a lot of tears, and his profuse apologies, I realized that I needed to take some responsibility for the situation – and just shut up and put up.

This realization was based in part on a Christian book I'd been reading called Sexperiment by Ed and Lisa Young, a married couple who claimed that having sex with your spouse for seven consecutive days could turn your marriage around. That seemed excessive to me, but I recognized that more sex couldn't hurt my marriage.

One early morning, my husband and I were lounging in bed lazily and his hands started meandering…and for once, I didn’t object. Those old-time tingly feelings started and I didn’t want them to stop. I wanted more, more, more. The wanting felt good, too, because I hadn’t desired anything sexual since before getting pregnant. Now, I wanted to feel everything – and oh, did I. Thanks to pregnancy hormones, my senses were turned up to 11. My body felt ripe and luscious. The sex was passionate, animalistic...and dare I say, the best of our seven-year marriage.

Afterward, I was all disoriented and trembling.

“Why did we ever stop doing that?” I wondered. (Answer: the health and wellbeing of the baby, of course.) We were both still worried about harming the baby. I tentatively turned on the light. No blood.

The sex renaissance was a lifesaver for our marriage. Where we were previously tense and snippy with one another, we were now both in good moods and more likely to say “yes” to one another’s requests.

I was quickly reminded about the problem with great sex, though: you want to have it again and again, all the time. A nice problem to have, in the big scheme of things.

Another nice problem to have: needing to shop for maternity clothes. It had been 15 years since my previous pregnancy and the last time I purchased maternity anything was in an era when pregnant women tried to hide their bumps. Now, showing off in skintight clothing was the norm. 

As much as I wanted to go on a shopping spree, I also figured that since this was my final pregnancy (or so I thought at the time; to be continued…), I didn’t want to break the bank for apparel I was only going to wear for a few more months. So I simply bought two pairs of my favorite Gap yoga pants one size bigger than usual as well as a large long-sleeved shirt to wear beneath my pre-pregnancy sweaters and hoodies which still accommodated (and actually hid) my growing belly.

The two maternity clothing purchases I did make were totally Minnesotan: a pair of maternity tights (to wear beneath the yoga pants on frigid winter days) and a big down coat from Old Navy on deep discount. Even though its unfashionable design made me look like I was wearing a stack of inflatable tires, I didn’t care. I liked feeling cozy and completely ensconced from the cold. The coat left me with plenty of room to grow, too.

At my 16-week appointment, the ultrasound showed that the subchorionic hematoma was gone. The baby was three days ahead of schedule with a heart rate of 150 BPM. 

I felt more bonded with the baby and was excited to share the pregnancy news with our families. 

My husband and I decided to tell them at our Christmas get-togethers – one with my mom, one with my dad, and another with my in-laws. We had no idea what their reactions would be, but we hoped they’d be just as excited as we were. 

In hindsight, we should’ve known that our big announcement, like everything else related to this pregnancy, would not go as planned…

Sunday, September 27, 2020

My Little Womb Mate

The first trimester of pregnancy is the hardest to get through.

Morning sickness – a misnomer if there ever was one – had arrived in earnest around week seven, and overnight, my favorite foods, like my homemade gluten-free crispy chicken or “banana bites” (banana slices topped with melted dark chocolate and peanut butter, then frozen) were suddenly unappealing. Even smelling ripe bananas in the cupboard made my stomach churn. Brushing my teeth made me feel like I was going to barf.

And yet, I spent an inordinate amount of time each day obsessing about, and shopping for, food.

Blueberry muffins, mango popsicles, Honeycrisp apples, tortilla chips, fish sticks, hamburgers – every day was a different craving, and whatever I’d craved the previous day now turned me off. With one exception: potatoes. I could consume potatoes in any form, all day, every day: baked potatoes, tater tots, waffle fries, crinkle fries, hashbrowns, sweet potato home fries…I could have sworn this baby was Irish based on my potato cravings alone.

I tried to obey the cravings in the hopes of assuaging the nausea, but after eating, I’d feel seasick, as if I were stranded on the deck of a small boat in the middle of the storm with no land in sight. I’d curl into the fetal position on the couch and try not to vomit.

“I feel like you’ve gone somewhere,” my husband said one night.

“I have,” I said. “The land of nausea.”

Because I had reduced the intensity of my exercise regimen due to the subchorionic hematoma, my body image was also tanking. I felt doughy and hated looking at myself in the mirror. My husband’s perception was different. He thought I was a “sexy mama.” I felt anything but. When I elaborated aloud about how gross I was, he replied, “I’m going to ignore you right now. It’s going to be hard to support you while ignoring you, but that’s what I’m going to do.”

Soon we made it to OB-1. No, not a Star Wars reference. That’s what Dr. Baby-Maker’s office called the first official prenatal appointment at eight weeks gestation. It was a huge milestone in pregnancy because the risk of miscarriage drops after that point.

The appointment was epic: a blood draw, a flu shot, a urine sample, an ultrasound, a long talk with the nurse, then a breast exam, pelvic exam, and pap smear. I was given a huge folder of reading materials – what to eat and not eat, safe and unsafe medications, warning signs to look out for and prenatal tests to consider. It was an overwhelming welcome to the Preggo club. All told, I was at the clinic for 90 minutes.

The best part was seeing the baby on the ultrasound. The sonographer called her a “gummy bear baby” because we could see her stubby little arms and legs. The baby seemed to be facing us and waving. There was also a cord visible, meaning the placenta would soon be up and running. She was measuring three days ahead of schedule and her heartbeat was a strong 174 BPM.

In the clinic’s bathroom, I noticed a tampon wrapper in the garbage. I was so grateful that I hadn’t bled in several days…a dry streak that ended that afternoon, when, while walking the dog, I felt a gush, as if I had just peed myself. I cut my route short and went home, where I discovered I had bled through my shorts. My hands shaking, my heart racing, I put a pad in my panties and called Dr. Baby-Maker’s office. A nurse told me that bleeding after an internal exam was not unusual and that I should call in the morning if it continued. There was nothing to do now but pray and wait and hope.

“I seriously don’t understand the ups and downs of all this,” I wrote in my journal. “I just made peace again with being pregnant and having a baby and living with the nausea. It would be especially cruel if the worst came to pass today, after seeing her cheerful shape on the ultrasound and getting the ‘Congratulations!’ from the nurse.”

By morning, the bleeding had eased and what was left of it had turned brown, indicating old blood. I called Dr. Baby-Maker’s office anyway to check in.

“You just had a scan yesterday,” a nurse reminded me curtly. “As long as you're tapering, you don't need to come in.”

I felt like I had garnered a rep at the clinic as “the girl who cried blood” and silently wished I had my own ultrasound machine at home (and the ability to read the scans myself) so I could check on the baby whenever I needed reassurance.

One night at dinner, my husband referred to the baby as “the little traveler.”

“She’s not a traveler! She’s staying put!” my eldest teen said.

“But she travels with your mom everywhere she goes,” my husband clarified.

“She’s more like my roommate,” I said. “No, my womb mate!”

My womb mate and I were attached at the hip…or something in that vicinity.

By Oct. 31, I was officially 12 weeks pregnant. Halloween brought another milestone in the pregnancy – my final progesterone shot. After injecting myself for the last time, I stuffed the syringe in my sharps container and threw all my medication paraphernalia away. It felt like a little victory – three long months of medication done.

“I didn’t know if we’d get this far. But we did,” I wrote in my journal. “I hope time just keeps passing and the baby keeps growing and persevering and that my body can do its (natural, supportive, life-sustaining) thing.”

Making it this far came with a new source of anxiety, however. Because I had sustained a pregnancy to the 12-week mark, my contract with West Coast IVF was now considered complete. We would not be eligible for any more embryos – which was fine so long as the pregnancy sustained itself and resulted in the birth of a live baby. But if, God forbid, I miscarried after this point, we would be out of chances to get pregnant.

At my 12-week prenatal appointment, the baby had grown enough to be seen with a regular ultrasound instead of a vaginal one. Her profile looked perfect and her little limbs were moving. Her heart rate was 154 BPM. 

Of course, the sonographer also saw the bleed in my womb, too. It was smaller than the previous ultrasound and appeared to be old blood, but it was still there.

Dr. Baby-Maker greeted me in an exam room with her usual sunshiney disposition. I felt like Eeyore in comparison.

“You’ve been here a million times but I haven’t seen you!” she said.

She didn’t seem concerned about the subchorionic hematoma – which, oddly, concerned me. This woman was never worried.

“It’s reassuring that it’s not growing,” she said about the bleed. “It’s not small, but it’s not huge, either.” 

She said I could return to more vigorous exercise but should continue abstaining from sex. At 16 weeks, I would have another ultrasound and she hoped the bleeding would be resolved by then.

I sent my husband and my teens the ultrasound picture as soon as I left the clinic.

“Whoa! That’s a baby!” my husband replied. Then he added: “I mean our baby! I mean two other people’s genetic material.”

“She’s huge!” my older teen said.

“She THICC,” my younger one chimed in.

I liked looking at the baby's picture and thinking about her being born, but I still didn’t know how to allow myself to feel the joy of pregnancy. I felt emotionally flat. I knew that numbing out wouldn’t stave off any heartbreak if the worst came to pass, but I didn’t know how to disregard my fear and have faith that it would all work out.

With each passing day, though, I felt more confident that this pregnancy was going to progress. I soon found myself saying, “When the baby comes” this and “When the baby comes” that. My husband and I started talking about nursery paint colors and other baby-related preparations.

“We may not have told anyone yet, but in our minds, this is happening,” I wrote in my journal. “She’s coming. And we will be ready.”

My depression had lifted. And in its wake, a whole new state of being overcame me, and took me (very pleasantly) by surprise...

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Welcome To The Rabbit Hole

I was almost eight weeks pregnant and too many mornings began like this: I’d awake in the dark around 4:30 a.m. and be unable to fall back asleep. My mind would spin awful thoughts.

“I am worried that I didn’t fully contemplate what 18 more years of motherhood means, that I underestimated how hard pregnancy is on my body, that I’m not up for this, that I should have appreciated my freedom and selfhood and health and should not have tried to improve on a situation that was perfectly fine by all standards,” I wrote in my journal.

I didn’t like these thoughts but I didn’t know how to stop them, either. It didn't help that because of the subchorionic hematoma (and subsequent pelvic rest), I was unable to exercise at my usual level of exertion. (Exercise has always been my most effective anti-depressant.)

One morning, while waiting for my husband to wake up, I sat at the kitchen table and Googled, “IVF pregnancy ambivalence.” An article came up about abortion after IVF, how it’s the fertility industry’s “dirty little secret.” One woman in the story was anorexic and freaked out when she started to gain weight. Another discovered her husband’s infidelity and decided she couldn’t have a baby with him. Others aborted because of fetal illnesses or birth defects. And some just changed their minds. One source quoted in the piece said, “You don’t know how you’re going to feel until you’re there.” I understood that sentiment – and it scared me.

My husband came downstairs and I slapped my laptop shut before he could see what I was reading. I was ashamed to even be reading about abortion. It went against everything I thought I knew about myself and my faith and my beliefs. The older I become, the closer to the pro-life end of the abortion debate spectrum I get. My fertility challenges only made me more conscious of how precious life is, and how wrong it is to terminate a pregnancy when there are so many women out there desperate to raise a child. So why did the article resonate with me?

I felt like we were in the midst of an unintended pregnancy – not that I’d know what that felt like because all of my pregnancies have been meticulously planned. But I imagine this is how someone in that situation would feel – sideswiped. We’d been so laser-focused on getting pregnant (and perhaps doubting to some extent that it would ever happen) that we didn’t think about what life would look like if we succeeded.

Now, I wondered if staying pregnant was good for me. (Which seemed like something I should have figured out before all the fertility treatments.) But if we’d made a mistake, what were we supposed to do? I could never terminate a pregnancy and I didn’t think I could carry a baby to term only to give her away.

Days passed in a blur. I struggled to get through each one and at the end, I’d crash and cry, eventually passing out on the couch while watching Homeland

“Is this level of depression normal for you in pregnancy?” my husband asked.

I didn’t know how to answer that. It had been 15 years since I had last been pregnant. I couldn’t remember how I felt then. I did feel like I was in crisis mode now, though.

Back to my therapist’s couch I went. I unloaded all my fears and worries.

“These feelings are all normal and to be expected,” Shania said.

“They are?” I asked. “Because there is no ambivalence or fear in the What to Expect When You’re Expecting index.”

She laughed. “You’re older and more aware, so you worry more. It’s just part of being present.”

She told me that worry was a form of preparation; money worries were a sign to squirrel funds away. Worry about caring for a baby meant it was time to expand my support network.

I told her how the genetic link – or lack thereof – with our baby suddenly felt very important. Pre-pregnancy, I didn’t think it mattered.

“The lack of a genetic link is a loss,” she said. “People who use alternative ways to grow their families often feel disappointment around that. You need to grieve it.”

I confessed to my darkest thoughts about abortion and adoption.

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” she said. “If you were unable to function, if you kept coming in week after week with doubts, then maybe we could have that conversation.”

I was grateful that she refused to walk down that ugly alleyway of my mind.

“I remember when you first came to see me while you were contemplating all this. You were very thoughtful about it – and very excited,” she said. “Is it possible that the fear and worry are due to hormones? That, and your creative mind working overtime?”

For some reason, I didn’t want to admit that hormones could make me, well, crazy. But maybe they had. Shania encouraged me to talk about my feelings so they didn’t fester or spawn shame. I didn’t have anyone to talk to outside of my husband and my daughters (and I didn't want to scare them with some of my thoughts), so I looked into support groups. To my surprise, there were support groups specifically for women expecting after infertility.

“I swear, the women that have gone before me have thought of everything,” I wrote in my journal. “God bless them.”

I never attended a meeting, but knowing they were out there reassured me that just because you get pregnant doesn’t mean everything is hunky-dory. It’s not all decorating the nursey and posting bumpdates on Instagram (both of which I was too afraid to do in case it might jinx something).

Around this time, I also discovered the book Baby Love by Rebecca Walker. It was the first book I’d ever found that addressed ambivalence in pregnancy. And while Walker had plenty of it, to the point where she wondered if termination would be best for everyone, she noted that babies are not ambivalent. Babies want to survive

It was an ah-ha moment for me. No matter how hard the ambivalence was, no matter how scary the bleeding, no matter how awful the nausea, my baby wanted to be here. She was a fighter. Who was I to get in the way of her coming into the world?

I recommitted to having this baby. Now I just needed to get through the rest of the first trimester...

Monday, September 21, 2020

Bloody Hell

The bleeding started when I was six weeks pregnant. At first, it was just a mucusy little string of red on toilet paper. Then the cramps came on. My heart sunk. Since I’d miscarried three times in the past, I knew what this meant: the beginning of the end.

I silently berated myself for the things I’d done that could have caused a miscarriage: they ranged from the obvious (too much exercise) to the absurd (a face cream that contained willow bark). This was all my fault somehow; of that, I was sure.

I was also convinced that once you start miscarrying, nothing you do makes a damn difference anyway, so I went to the gym. While slogging away on the Elliptical, I thought about how unfair it was that I only got to enjoy being pregnant for a week-and-a-half. I wanted more time with my little one. “Please, God, let this baby live,” I prayed over and over.

When I called Dr. Baby-Maker’s office to report the bleeding, the nurse told me to come in right away for another beta hCG and an ultrasound. Suzy, the upbeat sonographer who’d told me I had a “miracle lining” just a few weeks before, now guided the ultrasound probe inside me and said, “I’m going to be looking for a sac.”

I held my breath and tried to decipher the grainy black-and-white images on the screen. I couldn’t see anything.

Finally, she spoke: “I don’t just have a sac; I have a baby, too!”

She pointed out a flashing line – the heartbeat. Praise Jesus.

“Baby looks as perfect as you could hope for,” she said. “And I don’t see any internal bleeding. You can breathe a sigh of relief now.”

Did I ever.

“The cramps are likely just a result of your uterus growing,” she said. “But just in case, you’re on pelvic rest. That means no sex and no aerobics until your next ultrasound.”

She sent me home with pictures labeled “YS” (for yolk sac, which nourishes the baby before the placenta develops) and “BABY.” Later, a nurse called to say my beta hCG was a whopping 5,811. Hallelujah. Everything was OK.

My relief lasted three days. Then, at 4:30 a.m., the bleeding started again – a brownish red, enough to necessitate a panty liner, similar to how my periods usually start. Unable to sleep, and with nothing to do until the clinic opened at 8 a.m., I sat at the kitchen table and prayed.

Then I did what I swore I would never do: opened What to Expect When You’re Expecting and flipped to the chapter on miscarriage. Though I’d been through this three times, it didn’t make the experience any less terrifying. Reading about miscarriage was like it was like going into a haunted house I’d visited before; it was familiar but still scary. The information wasn’t even that helpful, and might have been a little too hopeful.

Assuming the worst, I not only went for my usual morning walk, but I also elongated it, detouring through the woods in the dark and the fog. It took me almost an hour, and that whole time I prayed and thought and hoped and wondered.

When I returned home, I checked my panty liner again. The bleeding hadn’t increased with the exercise. I felt strangely calm, like I was being held, that I would be OK no matter what.

I called the clinic at 8 a.m. on the dot. They told me to come in right away. When I arrived at the medical building, I shared an elevator with a very pregnant woman. She pressed the button for the third floor, which I thought was odd, because all pregnant women go to the fourth floor, where I was going. The elevator opened, Preggo got off, realized she was on the wrong floor, and got back on again. She did this motion with her head, as if to say “Where is my brain?!” and I wanted to say something nice to her, like, “Hey, I’m in the same boat,” but I couldn’t. My embaby might have already jumped ship.

Sonographer Suzy wasn’t in that day. (Where was Suzy? I wanted Suzy!) I had a serious sonographer, who did nothing to assuage my anxiety. She inserted the dildo-like ultrasound probe, all business.

I said another silent prayer: “Dear God, whatever happens, please just be with me.”

Then the picture came up on the screen and…there was the baby! She was even a little bigger than last time. But I couldn’t see the heartbeat, so I got scared. The sonographer found it and showed me – all 116 beats-per-minute (BPM) of it.

“Bleeding with IVF babies is perfectly normal as long as it stays brown,” the sonographer said. She removed the probe; it was covered with brown sludge. “If this is all it is, you’re fine.”

And it was fine…until the brown bleeding turned red two days later. A gush between my thighs woke me up at 3:30 a.m. When I got to the bathroom, my panties were soaked through, stained scarlet. There was a blood clot on the toilet paper. I debated for almost an hour over whether or not to bother the on-call OB because 1) I was too Minnesota Nice and didn’t want to wake them up and 2) I didn’t see what they would say that would change the situation anyway.

Finally, I called the answering service and a man who sounded very awake for 4:30 a.m. took my information. Shortly thereafter, an OB from Dr. Baby-Maker’s practice called me back. We’ll call her Dr. Cranky because she was the least compassionate female OB I’d ever spoken to (and would have to speak to again in a postpartum emergency; story for a future post). Her voice was so hoarse and scratchy it was obvious that I’d woken her up.

“If you soak through a pad in an hour, go to the ER,” she said. “Otherwise, call at 8 a.m. for another scan.”

I was sick of scans. I wanted an actual doctor to do an internal exam and tell me if my cervix had opened, because that’s what it felt like was happening.

“I want to say ‘fuck everything’ and go for a run,” I told my husband after hanging up the phone.

“Do you want to bleed out?” he asked.

No, I didn’t. But I also didn’t want to sit all Zen-like on the bed and wait for the inevitable to happen.

I made some tea and my husband and I went on a walk. As we neared the turn-off toward our home, a fox ran right across the path in front of us. It stopped and stared at us, totally calm as if it knew us, then continued on its way.

"I think that fox was our baby's spirit," I said.

“I was thinking the same thing,” my husband. He squeezed my hand.

When I called the clinic, they scheduled an ultrasound – and a nurse practitioner visit. I knew that couldn’t be good.

A nurse called me back as soon as I arrived and took my blood pressure and weighed me.

“I just did this on Friday,” I told her.

“I know,” she said. “I saw you. We have to do this every time.” (“As part of a prenatal visit,” is what she didn’t say.)

While she did the blood pressure, I stared at a chart featuring all the different kinds of birth control. It read: “Without protection, you have an 85 percent chance of getting pregnant in a year.”

“Ha! I wish!” I thought. Even with IVF, I doubted my chances were anywhere near 85 percent in a year. I thought about how much I hated the birth control pushers and all the bullshit sex ed women are subjected to, the way educators make it seem like you could get pregnant at any point in your cycle with just one solitary drop of sperm, when in fact getting knocked up after age 35 was harder than we ever could have imagined.

When the serious sonographer came into the ultrasound room, I felt like I was going to cry. (“Where is Suzy?!” I wanted to say. “I want my miracle friend, Suzy!”)

“How are you doing?” she asked.

“Not too good,” I said, fighting back tears.

The ultrasound machine wasn’t on, so we had to sit there for a minute waiting for it to warm up. The screen saver featured a cheerful pregnant woman with her doctor. Cue slew of expletive-laden thoughts here.

The sonographer seemed extra cautious, like she was preparing to deliver bad news. She pulled up the image of the baby and then…a heartbeat! 118 BPM! Measurements showed she was still growing and was now two days ahead of schedule.

I didn’t know how to react. I had been really sure this time that it was all over. I wasn’t happy; I was shell-shocked.

“I’m sorry for freaking out,” I said. “But I’ve had miscarriages before and that blood clot was really scary.”

“I understand,” she said.

I wasn’t sure that she did.

“At some point will the doctor examine me and check if my cervix is closed?” I asked.

“I can see it on here,” she said. “It’s closed.”


“You’ll go see the nurse next. Just tell her everything.”

In the exam room, there was a flip chart about women’s reproductive health on the windowsill. It was open to the section on menopause. The ovaries looked all dried out and shriveled.

When the nurse came in, I told her “everything.”

“This is very common,” she said. “Pregnant women are in here every day bleeding.” (That did not make me feel better.)

“You have what’s called a subchorionic hematoma,” she continued. “It’s the most common cause of first-trimester bleeding.”

(I would later Google this, of course, and learn that only 1 percent of pregnant women have subchorionic hematomas. While they tend to go away on their own, they are also related to miscarriage, placental abruption, and preterm labor.) 

“Is there some way to stop it?” I asked.

“I’m sorry, no.”

The bleeding-freakout-ultrasound cycle continued every few days. In addition to measuring the baby (who continued to grow ahead of schedule), the sonographer also calculated the size of my “bleed” every time I had a scan. 

After every appointment, I’d send off the images of the healthy, growing baby to my teens and my husband. They’d all express relief, but I couldn’t join in. I desperately wanted the baby to be OK, but I was simultaneously preparing myself for bad news. The emotional tumult was taking its toll on me. If pregnancy was going to be this fraught, if every morning I would wake up wondering if I would miscarry, I wasn’t sure I could handle it. Miscarriage almost seemed preferable to living in a constant state of dread (and I say that as someone who wouldn’t wish pregnancy loss on their worst enemy). If I did miscarry, I was confident that I would never, ever, try to get pregnant again. This was it for me. It was too hard.

My thoughts became darker and more frightening. I couldn’t even share them with my husband. But there was one place I could unload them – with my therapist, Shania…

Friday, September 18, 2020

Big Fat WTF

They say the 2WW (two-week wait) is the hardest part. They’re right. After my donor-donor embryo transfer, time slogged along. It felt like my life was on pause until a pregnancy was confirmed or denied.

I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to feel during this ambiguous time, but I didn’t feel bonded to my embaby, if she still existed. My husband and one of my daughters started speaking to my stomach as if the embaby could hear them. But she didn’t feel “real” to me yet. And, as anyone who’s ever had a miscarriage can relate to, I was unsure if it would ever feel real. Even if a pregnancy was confirmed, would it feel real before the eight-week mark? (When the risk of miscarriage drops.) Would it feel real at 12 weeks? At 20? Was there really any safe zone when it came to pregnancy?

Five days post-transfer, as soon as I woke up, I peed on a stick. Only one blue line appeared. This is what women trying to conceive call a Big Fat Negative (BFN). My heart sank. Apparently I was attached to the idea of this baby.

Then the toxic thoughts rushed in. Thoughts like: I wish I had never started down this path. It’s already been so much heartbreak. So much time and money wasted.

Questions arose: Is West Coast IVF a snake oil salesman? Did the clinic give me a defective embryo? Should I have transferred two embryos in case one didn’t take? Does God not want my husband and I to be parents together? Why wouldn’t He want that?

The day of the BFN was a Sunday, our one kid-free day of the week, so my husband and I went to our favorite lake. Normally, we would have gone on a long run, but I had been trying to not raise my temperature or my heart rate just in case the embaby was trying to implant. But the BFN made me bold. “Fuck it,” I thought, and started running. Once I started, I didn’t want to stop. I ran almost six miles.

Later, at church, I felt like I wanted to cry, but held the tears back. My husband and I just exchanged sad glances throughout the service that silently said everything we couldn’t form words around.

As I do when I’m disappointed, I went into planning mode. My husband and I decided that if this cycle had indeed been a bust, we’d shell out the extra $3K for a second embryo on the next transfer, even though it increased the chance of twins to approximately 50 percent. Fantasizing about two little ones kept my mind occupied and gave me hope. If I truly wasn’t pregnant, I was eager to get started on the next cycle.

Eight days post-transfer, I woke up from a dream in which I took a pregnancy test, but instead of two lines, the result came up as two crosses. I took this as a good sign and when I woke up, I immediately peed on a stick. The first blue line appeared and then…slowly…a second one came into view, though it was substantially faded compared to the control line. Given that the test was negative a few days ago, and now there was a faint line, it was moving in a positive direction (quite literally), right?

The next morning, I repeated the process and…the second line appeared again and was darker!

I immediately texted pictures of my BFP (Big Fat Positive) to both of my teens and to my husband, who called me to say he was cautiously optimistic. “I want to see the blood results before I jump up and down,” he said.

I wasn’t going to wait to jump up and down. I was excited and happy and grateful to God. I couldn’t stop smiling. It was the furthest along that we’d made it in the fertility journey; why not celebrate? I even tacked the positive pregnancy test to my bedroom wall so I could look at it frequently and reassure myself. (It's still there today.)

Ten days post-transfer, I gladly presented my arm to the nurse at Dr. Baby-Maker’s clinic for the beta hCG test. The difference between a urine test and a blood test is huge. Basically, a urine pregnancy test tells you whether you are or aren’t pregnant; there are only two options. A blood test measures the amount of hCG (aka the pregnancy hormone) in your blood, telling you how pregnant you are – the higher the beta, the better (and a really high number can indicate twins). Also, the hCG should double every few days (if that doesn’t happen, it can be a sign of miscarriage), so fertility clinics do a second test a few days after the first to confirm the pregnancy is progressing.

According to West Coast IVF, anything above a 30 was a positive pregnancy result. 

My first beta hCG: 227!

My second: 765! 

Pregnancy confirmed, my treatment coordinator gave me a due date of May 15.

“May is coming up so fast!” my husband said.

“Are you kidding me?” I said. “It took eight months to get pregnant and now it’s going to take another eight months to meet the baby. Nothing about this has been, or will be, fast.”

Within days, my symptoms started: I could suddenly smell everything (for better or worse), my boobs outgrew my sports bra, I was burping all the time, I had the slightest nausea in the evenings, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open past 8 p.m.

“You might experience some bleeding,” my treatment coordinator warned me. “It’s very common in IVF patients. If it happens, don’t be alarmed. It doesn’t necessarily mean miscarriage.”

I brushed off her comment. “I’m not bleeding now and I’m not going to start!” I thought.

The only problem was, it wasn’t up to me. And six weeks in, I started seeing red

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Made In California

‘Twas the night before transfer, and all through the house…

I was running around like a madwoman trying to get out the door and to the airport on time.

I don’t travel. I don’t mean I’ve never traveled (after my divorce, I traveled plenty; most of it involved crying in hotel rooms and cutting my trips short because I got too lonely). I mean that at 38, I was as much of a homebody as a person can possibly be. There was nowhere I’d rather be than in my own house, following my routines, surrounded by my family, and eating my homecooked food. But if traveling was the only way to get to an embaby in my womb, then by God, I was traveling.

After a rushed dinner of stir fry, followed by a progesterone shot, the whole family piled in the car and we raced to the airport. Of course I forgot to check which airport I was departing from – until we arrived at the wrong one and bothered to consult my flight schedule. (Did I mention I don’t travel?) Still, I managed to make it to the right airport on time. At the curb, I kissed my husband and my teens goodbye, thinking, “The next time you see me, I’ll be pregnant!”

Though I had planned to sleep on the plane rides, my first flight was too turbulent and the second found me seated next to a pair of bros who wanted to talk (not to me, to each other) about Tony Robbins and their exes’ horoscopes and the law of attraction (welcome to California). I finally landed in Sacramento after midnight, well past my usual bedtime. The airport was deserted. I’d never taken an Uber before (in Minnesota, we drive our own damn selves), and after wandering around in the dark for a while, I found someone to show me where the pick-up spot was (accruing a late fee in the process). This all seemed like a really good way to get murdered and I wished we’d spent the extra money so my husband could come along. My driver didn’t talk much, but he did put on a Christian album. Unfortunately, it was heavy on “blood of the lamb” stuff, so it didn’t assuage my anxiety. From the back of his sedan, I gazed out at the dark city I wouldn’t have time to explore.

In a hotel room that felt too big for only me, I washed my face and fell into bed. When the sunshine woke me up in the morning, I headed to the hotel “gym,” which was just a room packed with two treadmills, an Elliptical, and a weight machine. A pair of 30-something women lifted light weights together in the corner. Even with my headphones on full blast, I could hear their conversation word for word in the echoey room. One of them, a rep for the CBD nutrition industry (oh, California), all of a sudden said to her workout companion, “Did I tell you I’m pregnant? Eight-and-a-half weeks!”

I swear, when you’re trying to conceive, it seems like there are pregnant people everywhere – and they won’t shut up about it.

After a shower, I loaded up on scrambled eggs, potatoes, bacon, and fresh fruit at the hotel’s breakfast buffet. Then I returned to my room and did the same pregnancy meditation I’d been doing for months; first, a calming female voice asked me to cleanse my chakras, then she guided me through visualizations: seeing the positive pregnancy test, imagining a baby bump, designing the baby’s room, and giving birth. “Know that by visualizing these moments, you will create them,” the voice said.

Visualization was just one of the techniques I used to prepare my body for the transfer. I’d also been eating pineapple core daily, placing a hot water bottle over my abdomen every night, wearing socks constantly to keep my feet warm, and eating mostly hot (as in cooked, not spicy) food. Whether or not any of these rituals were effective, I didn’t know for sure, but it felt good to do something, anything, that I thought might help my embaby “stick.”

West Coast IVF was within walking distance of my hotel, but going there on foot with my suitcase in tow may have been a mistake because I got lost and had to ask a passerby for help (recurring themes). When I arrived at the clinic, I was stinky with sweat. I had been told embryos are sensitive to scents, so I had skipped my usual applications of deodorant, plus lotion or makeup, prior to the transfer.

I sat on a white leather couch and stared at the waves painted on the opposite wall. “Highway to the Danger Zone” was playing on the stereo. “Papa, Don’t Preach” came on soon after. (Seriously, why isn’t anyone overseeing the music selection at fertility clinics?)

A nurse ushered me back to a treatment room, where an ultrasound showed that my bladder wasn’t full enough for the transfer, so I was given a couple of water bottles and told to pound them while the nurse reviewed the post-transfer instructions.

After the procedure, I would be considered PUPO (Pregnant Until Proven Otherwise). Travel home was OK, but I was expected to otherwise be on bed rest for 48 hours. No activity that increased my heart rate or body temperature was allowed. Sex was off-limits. And no matter how impatient I was, I was advised not to do an at-home pregnancy test because of the potential for false negatives or false positives. My beta hCG (a test that measures the amount of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin in the bloodstream, which indicates pregnancy) would be taken at 10 days post-transfer and, if pregnant, that number was supposed to double by day 12 post-transfer.

The transfer was quick and painless. (I detailed it in a previous post; you can read it here.) Afterward, the embryologist left the room, but no one else moved. My legs were still splayed open with the doctor wedged between them. He made small talk with me about my travel plans. He and the nurses were impressed that I was going straight from the clinic to the airport. The doctor told me that in the old days, fertility clinics used to hire cars to take patients home, and that the newly impregnated women would lie down in the back seat and try not to move too much. But statistics failed to support the efficacy of this technique. He was trying to be reassuring, but now I wondered if I should have booked another night at my hotel. I couldn’t really afford it, but given how much this little embryo had cost us, maybe taking it easy one more night would have been wise.

The room got quiet again. I really needed to pee but was too polite to say anything.

“We’re just waiting for the embryologist to confirm the embryo was transferred,” the doctor finally explained. She was back in the lab somewhere, looking at the transfer tube under a microscope, making sure there wasn’t a stowaway embaby there.

A moment later, the phone rang. The nurse picked it up. The tube was empty, meaning the embryo was indeed inside me. I was free to go.

An Uber driver in a red polo shirt and a cloak of cigarette smoke came to fetch me. He asked me where I was from and what brought me to town. Apparently, he failed to notice the huge IVF sign outside of the clinic where he picked me up and I was unwilling to share my big news with a stranger.

“A minor medical procedure,” I said.

“They don’t do those in Minnesota?” he asked.

“They do, but it’s much more expensive.”

“Really? That doesn’t make sense.”

No, it didn’t, but I wasn’t about to give him a crash course in infertility procedures and pricing.

At the airport, I ate a Tex-Mex-style lunch, thinking with every bite that I was nourishing my baby (!) and gave myself a progesterone shot in a bathroom stall (harder than it sounds, but I was becoming quite the pro at this). Two plane rides later, I touched down in Minneapolis. I was exhausted from the whirlwind trip.

“You’re here, but you’re not, really,” my husband observed on the ride home.

I understood what he meant. While I was gone, all I wanted was to come home, but now that I was home, I longed for the bright, quiet space and solitude of my hotel room. When I walked into our house, it smelled weird, like it had been locked up all summer. Our dachshund-beagle mix was super excited to see me, though; he even humped my leg hello.

Now came the hardest part: the notorious two-week wait (2WW). But like every other woman who’s done IVF, my patience ran out far before the beta hCG blood draw appointment and I did the one thing you’re not supposed to do: I peed on a stick

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Bump In The Road

If you thought cold feet only happened with weddings, think again. Doubt can sabotage anything, and as my transfer date approached, it made me question whether or not the donor-donorembryo idea was wise. And as Oprah says, “When in doubt, don't.”

The trigger was financial. I’d been keeping a Google spreadsheet of all of our fertility-related healthcare expenses so that I could deduct them off our taxes. One day, I highlighted the column and looked at the total. Holy shit. We weren’t even pregnant yet and we had already spent over $35K! That included the vasectomy reversal, reproductive therapist appointment, bloodwork and ultrasounds, medications, and the donor-donor embryo program fee, but I hadn’t even factored in travel to West Coast IVF for the transfer yet. And what if it didn’t work the first time? I’d have to shell out for another round of ultrasounds, medications, plane tickets, and accommodations.

We would never spend this amount of money on anything – not on our house, or continuing education, or even our own health. It was my entire annual salary from the most lucrative year I’d had in over a decade as a freelancer. I might never see money like that again. And now it was all gone.

Or was it? We could still cancel the cycle with West Coast IVF and get our $21K refunded, minus an administrative fee. But if we did that, I was sure they’d never let us back in the program if I changed my mind in the future.

There's no room for ambivalence in infertility. You're either in or you're out. And I wasn't sure where I was anymore.

My fears: that I wouldn’t get pregnant. That I would get pregnant and that something would happen to my husband or me after the baby was born, making one of us a single parent. That I would regret having a baby. That I would love the baby but that we would be so broke that I’d have to take a job I hated – and that would take me away from the baby – to replenish the funds we spent making the baby.

My hopes: that I would get pregnant on the first try. That we would all live long and healthy lives. That having the baby would make us deliriously happy. That the money we spent on bringing our baby into the world would be replenished, one way or another, and if it wasn’t, that it wouldn’t matter because we’d love her so much.

“Money is rational. Having a child is emotional. That’s why you’re having a hard time,” my husband said when I admitted to my newfound confusion.

If money were not an issue, I would be all in with the donor-donor embryo program. But money was an issue. So ‘round and ‘round my little squirrel brain went.

If I thought too much about it, I would get angry – angry that there were couples out there that not only got to make babies for free, at home, but couples who got pregnant accidentally – no appointments, no procedures, no expenditures. Just “Whoops! We made a baby!” People who didn’t even want to be parents got pregnant all the time. It was so unfair. 

As strong as my faith was, God sure had a lot of explaining to do about why infertility was a thing. 

“I wish I could just call up the God Hotline and talk to Him. I don’t like feeling so afraid and alone. I don’t like feeling like I’m taking everything into my own hands. I don’t like not knowing what the future holds,” I wrote in my journal. “I cycle back and forth between freaking out and trying to trust.”

My husband was not pushing one way or the other. He wanted whatever I wanted. If only I knew what I wanted! Oh, to be a man and be able to “take it or leave it” when it comes to having kids!

I couldn’t escape the crazy-making deliberation on my own, so I made an appointment with a therapist who treated me in my 20s when I had an eating disorder. We’ll call her Shania. She was still beanpole skinny, with dark curly hair and a take-no-prisoners attitude. And she was still good at calling me on my shit.

After explaining the fertility circus we’d been through over the past seven months, I told her I was having doubts about moving forward.

“Who is the baby good for?” Shania asked.

Good question. I had to sit with that for a minute.

“For me,” I finally said.

I divorced my teens’ dad when they were both still in diapers. We had joint custody, so when my daughters were little, I only saw them half of the week, and on my days, my mom helped me out a lot – maybe too much. There were times I felt like I didn’t get to raise my own kids, and when I was with them, I was completely overwhelmed with the responsibilities of being a single mom while also trying to establish a career, find love again, and recover from anorexia. I hardly needed to explain this to Shania – she’d gone through it with me in therapy.

“Having another baby would be a reparative experience,” Shania stated.

“Exactly!” I said. “Reparative” was the perfect word. “Though I don’t think my family will see it that way. I feel like my mom thinks I’m a bad parent and is going to wonder why I’d want to have another child.”

“You’re not bad at parenting,” Shania said. “You were parenting the best you could under bad circumstances. Those girls were always taken care of – either you cared for them or you found care for them. You didn’t take such good care of yourself, though.”

She had me there.

“How do you want to parent differently this time, with this baby?” she asked.

“I’d like to not get divorced and just be there for her all the time,” I said. (As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized that “being there for her all the time” was likely impossible, but it’s good to have goals, right?)

Shania had other probing questions, which I attempted to answer:

Q: On a scale of one to 10, where are you emotionally and intellectually with wanting to have the baby?
A: Emotionally: nine. Intellectually: seven.

Q: What is your gut telling you to do?
A: It changes. Today, it says, “Go for it!”

Q: Could you wait another six months, or even a year, and then decide?
A: Sure, we could, but we’ll just be that much older.

Q: Is the embryo transfer a rock you have to turn over to get closure with the fertility challenges?
A: Yes, I think it is.

“There is no right or wrong decision here,” Shania said at the end of the session. “If I felt strongly one way or another, I’d try to steer you in that direction.”  

That was not entirely helpful, but her lack of conviction somehow strengthened mine. I wanted to do this. No, I had to. I needed to know that I had tried everything in our power to have a baby. If the Universe or God or whoever is responsible for reproductive outcomes wasn’t willing to grant us the opportunity to be parents, I would find a way to accept it and move on. But I wasn’t going to give up. Not yet.

When I told my husband we were sticking with our transfer date of Aug. 27, he said, “Fuck it, let’s roll!”

I liked that philosophy. I just hoped it was the right one.

Now I just had to get to Sacramento

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Just Say 'Yes' To (Fertility) Drugs

Our embaby match accepted, it was time to pump my body full of hormones to prepare for the transfer. Like many an IVF warrior, I dropped hundreds of dollars at a specialty pharmacy and came home with armloads of medications. I set all the pills, patches, syringes, needles, vials, and a sharps container on my dresser, turning my bedroom into a drug den.

I’d heard horror stories about how fertility drugs made women “hormotional,” headachy, fatigued, acne-ridden, and bloated. I’d watched YouTube videos of beautiful young women injecting themselves with medication, leaving bruises behind on their otherwise impeccable abdomens, thighs, and butts. I was scared of the side effects – long-term and short-term – but I also remembered a line by Brene Brown: “Daring greatly is being brave and afraid every minute of the day at the exact same time.” I was both, and that was OK.

The protocol started with birth control pills, used to suppress ovulation and control my cycle. I was wary of the seemingly innocuous pills because in the past, they made my depression worse and caused weight gain despite my overzealous exercise regimen. But the pill must have improved since the last time I tried it, because for the three weeks I was on it, I had no side effects.

Next up was a daily injection of Lupron, which would put my reproductive system into medical menopause. I’d never injected myself with anything, but Dr. Midler had given me a helpful motto: “A pinch and an inch,” meaning I should stick the needle in a pinch of belly fat at least an inch away from my belly-button. I sucked the liquid drug into the thin needle, stabbed it into my belly fat, and plunged the medication into me. It stung for a second, but wasn’t painful. I did these injections daily for three weeks. Again, I had no side effects.

Then it was on to estrogen patches, used in fertility treatments to bolster the endometrial lining where the embaby would implant. Every two days, I unwrapped a pair of patches from their girly-colored packages and plastered them on my love handles. Aside from gluey, gray square outlines left behind on my skin when I removed them, I had no side effects. If I got pregnant, I would continue to use these until 12 weeks gestation.

In addition to starting all these drugs, I went into Dr. Baby-Maker’s office regularly for vaginal ultrasounds. A sonographer would insert a dildo-like probe inside me and I’d watch her guide the wand around, capturing images of my womb that I couldn’t interpret. At my lining check, which would decide whether or not the transfer could proceed as scheduled, I was hoping for an endometrial lining measurement of 6 to 8 mm. Mine was 14 mm. “That is a miracle lining,” my (favorite) sonographer, Suzy said. I beamed. I was so proud of my body and grateful to God that we’d made it this far.

It was all going so well…until about a week before the transfer, when I was told to start progesterone.

Progesterone is one of the hormones that help sustain a pregnancy. In synthetic form, it’s often mixed with oil, making it thick and difficult to inject…unless you have a huge needle. My West Coast IVF treatment coordinator sent me written directions on injecting the drug, walked me through it on the phone, and then I supplemented her guidance with a YouTube video featuring a no-nonsense Nurse Linda who demonstrated how to do the shot in the upper outer quadrant of my ass. It all looked easy enough – because it is easier when someone does it for you. But my husband was of no help in this department (just the sight of needles made him queasy), so I had to inject myself.

I used a wide needle to aspirate the progesterone out of the vial, then I had to change to a thinner (but very long and no less intimidating) needle that I would jab into my hindquarters. Changing needles was tricky, and caused my hands to shake and my whole body to sweat profusely. In one of my first attempts, the wide needle wouldn’t twist off and I ended up perforating my hand three times and bleeding all over. When I tried with a second needle, the cap came off crooked and bent the needle beneath it. I had to toss it all in my sharps container and try, try again.

But getting the syringe prepped wasn’t even the hard part – sticking the needle in my own butt at a 90-degree angle was. I was stabbing myself blind. After swabbing the injection site with alcohol and inserting the needle in my gluteus maximus, but before plunging the medication in, I had to pull up on the plunger slightly to make sure I hadn’t hit an artery (if I had, there would be blood in the syringe, and I would need to remove the needle and reinsert it elsewhere). Every time I did this, I felt like I was in an outtake of Pulp Fiction. When no blood came up, I breathed a sigh of relief. The few times it did turn crimson, though, I freaked.

There were other injection mishaps, too, of course. I didn’t always remember to shut the bedroom door, and more than once our dog or cat (or both) charged into the room and catapulted on the bed when I was mid-injection. Sometimes, no matter how hard I pushed on the plunger, the liquid didn’t budge. (This can happen if the medication is too cold. Some women carry the vial of progesterone around in their bra for a few minutes before injecting to warm it up.) Other times, I forgot to bring the alcohol wipes and Band-Aids over to the bed to clean up after the injection and I ended up bleeding on the sheets.

I decided to try injecting myself in the top of my thigh instead, and found that while it made my quads marathon-sore, if I alternated thighs each night, and massaged the area after the shot, it was much easier than trying to give myself the shot in the rear end. But even if the injections went off without a hitch (which was rarely), they left big gray bruises on my pale skin that turned to moldy green hues before slowly fading away.

I came to dread the 8 p.m. reminder on my phone to do the progesterone shots. But the only alternative was progesterone suppositories, which weren’t as effective, had to be inserted several times a day, and were said to be very sloppy. Given the choice, stabbing myself every night seemed preferable to fingering myself multiple times per day and having a constant sludge in my underwear.

It was going to be a long 12 weeks. Then again, if I was still injecting myself with progesterone three months from now, that would be a blessing because it would mean the pregnancy had survived.

“This transfer better work the first time,” I told my husband. “Because I’m not doing all this again.”

While my body was ready to receive a donor-donor embryo, my mind started playing tricks on me. Maybe it was the hormones, but as transfer day approached, doubts crept in. Did we really need to do this? Were we prepared for a potential miscarriage? Could we afford another kid? Were we crazy?

I couldn’t figure this out on my own and I knew it. So before I boarded a plane to Sacramento, I needed to get my head shrunk…

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me A Match

It was a match made in…well, a laboratory if we’re being honest. But it was a match, and that was all that mattered.

On July 16, my husband and I received a 62-page report on the egg and sperm donors that made our potential embaby. The report detailed their basic physical attributes (pictured below), plus generations of family health history, sexual history, reproductive history, and lifestyle details.

The egg donor profile provided information I never would have thought to ask for (like if she had exposure to certain chemicals or had ever engaged in prostitution) and things I felt were nice to know but ultimately superfluous, like the number of body piercings (two), her favorite movie (Pirates of the Caribbean), favorite book (Wuthering Heights), and favorite food (spaghetti).

The egg donor described herself as “happy, independent, compassionate, curious, grateful. I am a beautiful angel. I am a rare gift from the gods.” (Also, clearly, humble.) She was artistic – a singer, dancer, and painter. She had two children, both 8-pound, 7-ounce girls, both spring babies born on or after their due dates.

The sperm donor was Christian and described his artistic ability as “meager,” but he could play guitar and piano. He was athletic, with a background in football, tennis, baseball, and wrestling. He described himself as “spontaneous, tenacious, outgoing.”

The red flags were few. The egg donor had both chlamydia and herpes in the past, but since neither of those posed a risk for the embaby, they weren’t reason enough to reject the profile. There was a handwritten sample from the sperm donor, which made me wary because his handwriting was sloppy and he had misspelled “experience.”

But other than those minor flaws, nothing gave me pause. And that’s what surprised me. How did they have such pristine health histories? Were they lying just so they could donate and get paid? Or was it just that, in your early 20s, you don’t tend to have major health problems, nor do your parents?

Questions aside, when I saw the donors’ reasons for donating, I was sold.

Hers: “I want to help a family experience the amazing feeling of children. I am making someone’s dreams come true.”

His: “Because my aunt is barren and I witnessed their struggle and problematic procedures of trying to
have a child, so I figured I could help and do my part to help other families.”

When asked how she would think of the child(ren) she helped create in the future, the egg donor answered, “I would be happy if I think anything.”


My husband and I signed our acceptance page the same day we received it and mailed the $21K check; unusually fast, if the Facebook Group for West Coast IVF patients was any indication. A moderator made the point that “there is no perfect profile,” but that didn’t stop patients from lengthy debates about what parts of the profiles they could accept (like hair color, height, or age) and those they couldn’t (like obesity or marijuana use). I recognized that my own genes wouldn’t win any popularity contests if put to the profile test, and was therefore grateful that such healthy people were willing to share theirs.

For me, there was no deliberation, no debate. This was our embaby. Now I just had to prepare my body to receive her. How? With lots andlots of drugs

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Assisted Reproduction Is Not For Wimps

If, in order to get pregnant, every couple had to go through what couples experiencing infertility have to go through, there would hardly be any people in the world.

Old-fashioned reproduction doesn’t require vetting, but donor embryo programs do. In order to get matched with a donor-donor embryo at West Coast IVF, I had to have an hour-long informational phone call with a treatment coordinator, a medical consultation, and a couples therapy session with a psychologist who specialized in reproductive issues. All this to determine if my husband and I were suitable parents for an embryo created in a lab with the gametes of strangers.

You would think that the scheduling of all these things would be streamlined given that West Coast IVF had been in business for almost 15 years. You’d be wrong. The communication with West Coast IVF was a nightmare. At first, I blamed it on the time zone difference, or Californians’ lax approach to punctuality. But no. The clinic was either overloaded with desperate, empty-wombed women just like me or they just didn’t have their shit together. Probably both.

I became so frustrated with the dozens of unanswered emails and epic rounds of phone tag that I joined a private Facebook group of fellow West Coast IVF patients just to see if this experience was normal. Unfortunately, it was. One member said that navigating the administrative side of West Coast IVF “requires the patience of a saint.” And yet, the clinic managed to make babies. Tons of them. I know because I scrolled through all their pictures in the Facebook group while I waited for my umpteenth phone call to be returned.

Slowly, we made it through the steps, and soon it was time for the last one: our session with a reproductive therapist. When we arrived at the therapist’s office, there was an embryo recipient disclosure form with our names on it in the waiting room. It asked us to acknowledge the issues that might come up with a donor-donor embryo, such as: “I acknowledge that I might not feel how I expect to feel about embryo donation after the fact.” I couldn’t imagine feeling anything but elation, but I put my blinders on and initialed away.

The therapist ushered us back to her lived-in office where a "Fuck Infertility" mug adorned her desk. She was middle-aged, with funky glasses and bright orange hair. An East Coast transplant, she was forward and no-nonsense. We’ll call her Dr. Midler because she reminded me a little of Bette Midler in Beaches.

The appointment was intense; we were grilled on our and our family members’ mental and physical health histories, which were unflattering, to say the least. Rattling off all of the illnesses that have afflicted our relatives, I felt grateful that we weren’t passing our genes on to an innocent new being.

Then it came time to discuss why we chose to pursue a donor-donor embryo. I had prepared my lines ahead of time and made sure my husband knew what to say, too.

“I just want to give our baby the healthiest start possible,” I said. “This wasn’t how we planned it, but I’ve made peace with it.”

When Dr. Midler asked about our concerns, I said I didn’t want our baby to feel like a product we had purchased or to feel like she couldn’t look for her donors when she grew up.

Dr. Midler informed us that we couldn’t control how our baby would feel about her conception or whether or not she would want to seek out her donors or other genetic relatives. What we could do was be open and honest and have an ongoing dialogue with her about it.

Research has shown that it’s best to tell donor-conceived children about how they came to be from early on. Dr. Midler encouraged us to make our baby’s conception story a part of the narrative of her life from the very beginning, to normalize it. She gave us reading recommendations to help us do just that.

“Have you thought about if you want your baby to have a younger sibling?” Dr. Midler asked.

I laughed – because I laugh when I’m uncomfortable.

“I have, and I think that would be really wonderful,” I said. “But my husband will have to speak for himself.”

Cue deer-in-headlights expression. My husband had clearly not contemplated this at all. He fumbled for words for a minute.

“I just got used to the idea of one little person running around. I’m not sure about two yet,” he finally said. “It’s a conversation we’ll have to continue at home.” (Over a year later, it’s still ongoing. Ha. Story for a future post.)

We discussed our fears regarding telling our families about donor conception. Just announcing a new pregnancy was going to be a shock to them, so what would their reaction be when they found out we’d used a donor-donor embryo? (Chances were, they didn't even know what that was.) We were worried our parents would think we were selfish for deciding to have another child and for spending all this money to do so when I already had two kids.

“It’s not selfish,” Dr. Midler reassured us. “It’s not unusual for couples, when they remarry, to want something of their own.”

I hadn’t felt like we needed permission to want a baby, but when she said this, I realized maybe we did. And now we had it. 

But I doubted our families would be understanding.

“Everyone defines family differently,” Dr. Midler said. “For some, genetics are very important.” She launched into a story about a couple she worked with who had been infertile for seven years. One day, a social worker called them and said, “Do you want to become parents today?” Apparently, a mother had surrendered her newborn baby to a hospital.

The point of the story was that as overjoyed as the adoptive parents were, their families didn’t consider a non-blood relative to be “family” and ostracized the child. I knew Dr. Midler was trying to prepare us for reactions like that in our families; all I heard, though, was the fantasy of getting the “Do you want to become parents today?” call. Unfortunately, those out-of-the-blue adoption stories seemed like urban myths. Everyone in the infertility community had heard of one, but no one had actually been the recipient of that type of miracle.

Speaking of miracles, Dr. Midler wanted to know what we would do if we found ourselves pregnant with twins? This seemed like a silly question to me, as we'd already decided to transfer just one embryo (despite a very enticing offer from West Coast IVF to add a second embryo to our transfer for only $3K). But there was a small chance (around 1 percent) that our single embryo could divide.

“It’d be hard having twins, but we’d make it work,” I said. (What other answer was there?)

“What if you had triplets?” Dr. Midler asked. “Would you consider selective reduction?” 

Selective reduction is a medical euphemism for abortion. Basically, a doctor advises a woman pregnant with multiples on which fetuses are healthiest, then “reduces” the pregnancy to twins or a singleton.

“I don’t think I could do that,” I said.

Dr. Midler turned to my husband. I couldn’t fathom he’d have an opinion on this – but he did.

“I’d be OK with it if it meant the other two babies would be healthy,” he said.

I was flabbergasted. Dr. Midler and my husband stared at me expectantly, like I was the monster for not wanting to kill my hypothetical baby.

“I guess I’d have to make that decision if and when the time came,” I said. (Statistically, it probably wouldn’t.)

Dr. Midler shared that she’d had a “26-weeker” and that is was “gruesome.” I didn’t understand from her story if the baby survived or not. I was too afraid to ask.

Thankfully, we moved on to the educational part of the session. Dr. Midler showed us how to administer shots, both the ones in the belly and in the butt. My husband squirmed just watching her plunge down on the empty syringe; it was clear that I was going to be on my own when it came to anything involving needles.

And with that, our time was up.

In hindsight, we should have listened better. Instead, we’d been focused on making a good impression and getting reassurance that what we were doing with other people’s genes was OK. We were like many couples struggling with infertility: so focused on getting pregnant that they take a “by any means necessary” approach and throw caution to the wind.

There were a lot of points Dr. Midler made that went right over our heads that would come back to bite us in the ass later. But we didn’t know that then. We were just relieved the session was over and happy that we’d “passed.” Dr. Midler confirmed she’d send a letter summarizing our session to West Coast IVF. There were no more hoops to jump through.

“What a rollercoaster!” my husband exclaimed.

“More like a slower-coaster,” I huffed. It was early July. We’d been at this for six months – almost the length of a pregnancy – and were still not pregnant. The irony was not lost on me.

I was also aware that in the grand scheme of things, we were “lucky” because six months is nothing in the infertility world. The women who do this for years on end are truly warriors. Infertility is grueling AF.

But the administrative hell was over now. We were on our way. Now all we needed was a match