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