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

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