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.

OK…?

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...

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