(This is a piece of creative nonfiction that I did this week. I really felt like writing about the fertility treatments we went through, and once I started I couldn’t stop! A lot happened–it was an intense time in life. Anyway, that’s why this is just a bit longer than anything that would qualify as a ‘blog post.’)
Recently I was out walking in the nearby fields and saw this chalkboard set up in front of a plant shop. Top left it says, “Mein groesster Wunsch ist” which means, “my biggest wish is.”
I read through the wishes and noticed that ‘Schnuffis’ appeared twice. I’d never heard of the word, but since two people on one board used it to describe their greatest wish, I figured it’s important. I could only find it on Germany’s Urban Dictionary and it means, “A combination of kissing, nuzzling, and sniffing all at the same time.” Which sounds interesting, I guess.
The sample sentence they offered is, “Every day I give my fat bunny a good schnuffing.” Um, okay. Awkward.
Anyway, among the wishes for money, healthy grand parents, and a random thought about someone named Nils being an ‘ass face,’ I was especially touched by the one to the very left, just below what looks like a pointer finger tied over with string.
It says, “Ein Baby mit meiner Partnerin!”
Just reading those words brought back the not-so-long-ago time in my life when Todd and I went through fertility treatments. We wanted a baby so badly. It seemed like everywhere I looked, I saw pregnant people. (Opposite concept as The Sixth Sense, actually.)
It tormented me to see women with their belly-led waddles on Hauptstrasse. Was I ever going to be that person? Or was I going to go through life without experiencing what it’s like to have a baby inside me? Without giving birth? Without being someone’s biological mother? (I’m a stepmother of two.)
I couldn’t imagine living out my life without those experiences. The longing was unreal. A feeling that maybe only those struggling with fertility issues can truly identify with.
All I wanted to know was whether or not it was going to happen. I had to know the answer. So, I spent an obscene amount of time on Google doing desperate searches, trying to determine my chances of success. I visited every community board on the Internet, reading about people’s treatments and whether or not they’d been successful.
On many of the sites, there were multiple pages of dialogue that said things like, “Thinking about you today when you do your FET. This is your time! XX” It was obvious these women had gotten to know each other over a long span of time, posting about what step in the process they were at this time.
They spoke the acronymic language of infertility, with ET, BFP, LSP, BFN, CM, DOR, DPT and so many other letter clumps I eventually learned to decode in their sentences.
You could almost smell the residue of jealousy when women posted about having ‘snowflakes’ (or extra fertilized eggs from an IVF cycle.)
And, beneath everyone’s posts they kept a running tab of what they’d been through so far.
As I went through these boards I read, more often than not, about people having BFN’s (Big Fat Negative pregnancy tests,) or falling betas or chemical pregnancies or taking breaks for financial and/or emotional reasons.
Ultimately, these boards convinced me we weren’t going to be successful.
But, we were.
Months after Laken was born, my mom said, “Did you ever go back to those message boards and share your success story?”
And, the answer was no. Of course, this made me realize that there are probably lots of stories with happy endings out there, but people don’t usually take the time to stop what they’re doing, run backwards, drop back down into the trenches and let the others know.
After all, once you’re out, you’re out! But, that doesn’t do much for the would-be mothers looking for scraps of hope and comfort. I certainly could have used some.
So, now that I’ve just celebrated my first Mother’s Day, I’m finally going to share our story of how Laken (who Todd likes to call our little Frankenstein baby) was conceived.
I know this is a super long post—but the infertile road takes time. Fertility treatments are like a slow, steady grandfather clock. They’re methodical. Slow and distinguished chuck-chuck-chucks of sound leading the minute hand over to the hour.
But the biological clock is a spaz. It’s one of those incongruous double tickers where the minute and second hand battle for attention. The type of clock that dares you to throw it against the wall.
Put the two clocks together in one room and you have the beat that fertility marches to.
So, on that note I’ve just figured out how I want to shape this post and I’ve also given myself permission to take as long as I need to tell this story.
Todd had a vasectomy right after his now seventeen year-old daughter was born. I guess getting a divorce, reconnecting and falling in love over Facebook with a former colleague, marrying her, and starting a whole new family just as his two grown daughters moved out of the house wasn’t part of “the plan?”
He didn’t expect to father a newborn again at 46 years old?
I still ask him, “If someone told you way back then that you’d be a new father again at 46, would you have believed it?”
He just rolls his eyes, shakes his head, and laughs.
Our neighbor, good friend, and landlord (all tied into one dreadlocked being) decided to get a vasectomy reversal, too. Power in numbers, right?
We found Dr. T and all filed in together to make tube-reopening appointments.
Dr. T had a family picture hanging up on his wall that we all found strangely comforting. He had a million children. The father of so many offspring must know a thing or two about sperm flow.
We couldn’t help but notice he was on the ‘elderly side.’ Perhaps he was dipping into his patient’s stash and using it to impregnate his wife?
It made good gossip. Honestly, we didn’t care either way.
Both surgeries took place. He asked for 900 Euro in cash, which all of us found totally shady but did anyway. At least we weren’t paying the typical price for a reversal in the States (which is 8,000 bucks.)
Just before they put Todd under, the nurse (who was young and had a very large chest, mind you) started waving around a razor and asked me to leave the room so she could shave off his pubic hair. I stood, awkwardly, just outside the door and listened to the brisk ‘tsk-tsk-tsk’ sounds coming from inside. Apparently, she did not use shaving cream.
Post surgery, Todd spent a lot of time holding frozen bags of peas to his nuts.
When he walked, he was John Wayne.
For a full year, it was unclear whether or not the reversal worked. Todd gave sperm samples every three months. At the clinic they had a fancy little ‘sexy room’ set up with dirty magazines and a hospital bed with fresh paper sheets.
But, he chose to do the deed at home and drove with the container buried under his armpit to keep things warm, alive.
Dr. T said no sperm, which was bad, but cells from the epididymitis were in there, which was good.
On my laptop, Google automatically recognized my most used search term: early signs of pregnancy.
I bought ovulation kits and peed on sticks, waiting for smiley faces to appear.
We were very gun-ho. We both kept saying, “I just feel like the surgery worked.”
Starting at this point until the end of fertility treatments, I became hyper aware of everything going on with my body, both internally and externally. I paid attention to things that I never would have before, like the slightest cramping, my reactions to smells, my body temperature, discharge.
I focused so hard it’s like I thought I might feel the moment when a fertilized egg attached to the uterine lining.
Approximately one year post-surgery, Dr. T told us there were still no ‘sperms’ in Todd’s sample.
He recommended a fertility clinic in Ludwigshafen. Wished us the best.
I found it hard to believe him. Had he really checked? Maybe driving the sample over there, rather than using the sexy room messed things up? And, who asks for 900 Euro cash pre-surgery? Had he even really done the surgery? Maybe we were falling into a “stupid American” trap and being robbed.
Meanwhile, our dreadlocked neighbor/good friend/landlord and his girlfriend got pregnant. So my theories were wrong. One surgery had just worked, and the other failed.
On to Plan B.
One day, while watching Ellen, Michael J. Fox was a guest. When she asked him how he maintains such a positive attitude about his Parkinson’s disease he replied, “I don’t believe in imagining the worst case scenario. If you think of the worst case scenario—and then it happens—you’ve lived it twice instead of just once.”
I decided to adopt that attitude.
In the Ludwigshafen waiting room, Todd and I kept laughing and joked around and I was aware that we were putting on a bit of a show for the receptionist. It wasn’t exactly on purpose—but I could see us instinctively wanting to prove that we were a fantastic couple and very deserving of having a child; it was a bit of Hey, look at us, we laugh together all the time! How perfect would we be as parents?
Perhaps, if they liked us enough, they’d be more attentive to our sperm and eggs.
Out past the reception and towards the row of Sprechzimmern were large, colorful prints of this little blonde toddler boy with a bowl cut hairdo and a shit-eating grin on his face.
Something about him bothered me. He was posed to look too cute—mouth hanging open and cheesing hard for the camera–and I can’t say that I got a very maternal feeling when I looked at him. In fact, I found him completely annoying.
Todd noticed a little box with children’s books stacked inside. He pulled out the one on top and it was about a squiggly little character named Willi who, as you can imagine, was a sperm.
As part of our efforts to kill time over the next totally unanticipated, completely absurd two-hour wait, we read all about his considerable adventures in fertilizing an egg. I’ll tell you one thing—the author told it straight! Even the onomatopoeia was risqué.
Finally we were brought over to the doctor.
“Hello. My name is Dr. Schmidt.” He spoke slowly and enunciated each syllable of his words, like robots speak. He was extremely pale. His nose, ears, eyes and mouth ran together like they were one singular feature. He was literally the most nondescript person I’ve ever seen.
He indicated inside his office and motioned for us to take a seat at the two chairs in front of his desk. He followed us and sat down, shuffled some papers on his desk, and then looked up at us again with a small, professional smile.
“Hello. My name is Dr. Schmidt.”
“I must sincerely apologize for this wait,” he went on, and he put down his pencil before meeting our eyes with the most honest look of regret I’d ever seen. “We had another couple with a…with a problem to address and it was necessary that we see them first. I am very, very sorry.”
Suddenly, Dr. Schmidt gave a little shake of his head and cleared his throat before starting yet again. “Hello, my name is Dr. Schmidt.”
At this point, I had to avoid looking at Todd because I was afraid I would either start laughing or crying.
I felt sorry for the guy—it was 7 p.m. and he was obviously very ill. Rather than bed and tea, he faced a set of would-be parents staring at him with confusion due to the three introductions, red faces due to their aggravation at the two hour wait, and wide eyes due to the hope for a good prognosis.
He immediately launched in to urging us to consider the sperm donor route.
“It’s the best option. We could try to do a surgery and extract sperms. But, even if we do find sperms in there, the chance of us being able to use them to fertilize your eggs is very low. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.”
At the end of the appointment we thanked him and I asked, “Is there somewhere around here you’d recommend we go for red wine?”
We sat at a restaurant across the street from the clinic and had one of the more intense conversations of our marriage.
In Todd’s mind, we shouldn’t waste any more time and just go the donor route. We’d already spent a year pretending his reversal worked, experiencing ghost pregnancy symptoms, and feeling disappointed. Enough was enough.
But I wondered if we’d regret not going as far as we possibly could to try for a biological child. Shouldn’t we take every last possible step before exploring other options? Otherwise part of us would always wonder, “what if,” right?
We decided to give ICSI a try. ICSI is a form of IVF that developed in the 1990’s where a woman’s eggs are harvested and individual sperm are injected into them.
Ludwigshafen wasn’t going to work, though. It was 38 minutes away by train and fertility treatments are a time commitment, above much else. They require you to visit the clinic every few days over a period of weeks for ultrasounds.
So, we switched over to the Heidelberg Kinderwunschzentrum, which had a seemingly worse reputation (I have no idea why that is) but was literally down the road from work.
Nothing speaks love like getting eight incisions in your testicles.
They put Todd under, poked holes, and snipped and tugged out testicular tissue with the goal of cultivating living wigglers. The samples were stored in airtight tubes.
We were told there was a fifty percent chance that usable sperm would be found.
My job was to transport these tubes from the hospital to the fertility clinic. I guess the hospital didn’t want the liability in case something happened to it en route? There was something about this whole step that smacked of risk. On one hand, I thought—isn’t it a bit strange that I’m going to be trusted with such an important part of the process? Shouldn’t they take care of it?
But, I suppose the same question was going through their mind. If anyone is going to be in a car accident, or mugged, or get lost, or lose a bit of testicular tissue from any other number of ways, let it be the ones who are hoping to conceive. I get it—uncomfortable, but I get it.
I took a taxi to the fertility clinic and gripped the container firmly with both hands.
Once again, Todd held frozen peas to his privates.
And we waited, knowing that if it worked we had a shot at having our own biological child. And if it didn’t, we’d be banking for sperm. It was a major intersection in the process. I tried to imagine both outcomes, and tried not to panic.
The next morning Todd stayed home from work, recovering, and was supposed to call the clinic at 8 a.m. to find out the verdict. I called him from work just as soon as I could (which ended up being 8:35, right after homeroom ended.)
“What did they say?” I asked, choking on my own heart, panting.
Well, the guy hadn’t called yet; Todd lost track of time because he was watching cartoons. Men!
We hung up and I called back at 8:45. It was busy. I called back at 8:50.
Success! I reached him. And success! Sperm.
One cycle of ICSI cost 7,000 Euro (or 8,500 dollars approximately.) This was painful, but in the States it would cost closer to 16,000 dollars per cycle. If Todd had never been sterilized, my German insurance would have covered most of it. (We’d have paid 2,000 Euro.)
The doctor gave a three-minute tutorial on how to give myself the daily shot of Gonal in the stomach.
She turned the Gonal pen to the appropriate dose, attached a needle, pinched her belly, and indicated where to stick it in.
“There might be some tenderness and bruising,” she said. “So switch sides every day.”
I couldn’t believe how quick and nonchalant she was about these instructions. Was I in any way qualified to be doing this? Me, the person who still needed my doctor to say, “One, two, three, ouch” when giving me a shot? Were three minutes of instruction enough? Didn’t people go to school to learn how to do this?
Thankfully Anna, one of my best friends, was also going through fertility treatments and willing to show me the ropes.
She came over the next morning and helped me with my first ‘jab.’ (She’s British and they refer to shots as jabs, which sounds a lot less intimidating. I always referred to them as a ‘shot’ when telling others what I was going through.)
My hands shook, badly, but we got through. In truth, the needle was a lot slimmer than the type they plunge into the skin for vaccines and whatnot. Not that I ever admitted that out loud.
After a while I got used to it, and it even became a strange source of pride. “I have to give myself shots in the stomach every day,” became my number one boastful descriptor of what fertility treatments are like. After the whole process was over, I almost missed it. I guess it was just one of those things I never thought I’d be capable of.
Gonal, by the way, makes you mass-produce eggs. When I think back to what it felt like, I can’t imagine it’s much different from what actual chickens experience. As the eggs multiplied and crowded my uterus, I felt heavy and like something unnatural was going on inside my body. I walked slowly. If I hit a bump on my bicycle, everything jostled uncomfortably.
In addition to Gonal, I often had to give myself a shot of something that suppressed ovulation. Then, every few days I went to the clinic for a vaginal ultrasound (always so uncomfortable, especially as my uterus gradually loaded up with eggs.)
And then there was the nudity.
When you go to a doctor in the States, I’m always amazed that they give you a paper gown that covers up 90% of your body. Doctors conduct entire physicals or pap smears without, apparently, ever seeing you naked. I like that. I’m that girl who changed in the bathroom before gym class.
Germany’s a bit different. I was instructed to undress completely from the waist down in a little makeshift changing room. Then I had to walk out naked, lay down on the examination table, and open wide with my feet on the stirrups.
But, I got used to that too. I got used to making appointments during my prep or lunch at work, rushing over on my bicycle, getting naked, and being prodded with what looked like a huge plastic dildo to have my follicles checked.
I did make one little mistake.
On a Sunday, I’d been instructed to give myself a Gonal dose that was three times as large as normal. When Dr. Seehaus indicated this—i.e. the sudden leap from Gonal 150 to Gonal 450, I was a bit surprised. I’d only read about poor responders needing a dose that potent to stimulate their ovaries. My follicles were developing just fine.
Ever afraid of messing something up, I kept asking, “So, on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday I do 150 and then on Sunday through Tuesday I do 450?”
“Yes,” the doctor said, in her cool way.
A side note—Dr. S was a woman in her late forties, early fifties I’d say. She had short, spiky blonde hair and blue eyes. She wasn’t friendly. But, she wasn’t unfriendly, either. I think the best word I can use to describe her is “cool.”
When she answered my questions her responses were clipped, definite, and didn’t give one word more than what she thought was necessary. She smiled, but I got the impression she forced it, made it part of her job. She looked uncomfortable with warmth. With my American-bred exuberance.
Perhaps she had to be this way? I suppose in a job where you’re dealing with desperate couples who want what is definitely life’s most intense and enduring gift, you have to leave emotions out of it. I can only imagine it’s the type of job that in order to survive and deliver news like, “You are not producing mobile sperm, or your chances of having a baby are 5%, or even worse” you can’t be the type of person who invests emotionally.
I preferred her coolness. I couldn’t explain why, but I did.
She was a no bullshit type of gal. The splash of cold water against my nervous heat. When we asked what our chances of success were, she said 35% without the slightest bit of emotion. She made no apologies for reality. Dr. S moved about her office and conducted business with an authoritative energy I never doubted.
But, I did pause a bit at the 450. That seemed like a lot of Gonal. When I’d been on it for only five days, the dose 150 IU, I grew a dozen follicles. To give myself three times that dose in a single day seemed a bit suspect. That’s why I asked her again, and that’s why I expressed my concerns to Todd after the appointment, but his thought—as was mine—was that the doctor knew what she was doing and I should just trust.
Sunday I took the dose and it was a lot of fluid to push in to my stomach. It was hard to hold the pen steady and push all the way to the end until it had emptied.
I didn’t feel well for all of Sunday—my throat didn’t just hurt; it burned. I drank as much water as I could get down and gargled salt water at least six times, but nothing helped. I was also incredibly exhausted and canceled the plans we’d made with Anna and her husband Michael to play miniature golf.
I won’t bore you with the details, but it was my fault. A complete misunderstanding.
I was absolutely terrified that I’d ruined the cycle, that all that medicine was going to make me hyper-ovulate or that I’d develop thrombosis and die.
But, Dr. S checked my eggs and said everything was fine. In fact, the follicles were all a good size. Ripe, so to speak. She set a date for later that week to give myself what’s known as the ‘Trigger Shot’ so that I’d ovulate.
I forgot to bring one of the biggest requirements for retrieval surgery—a fresh pair of socks.
It was so that the surgeons didn’t have to breathe in ‘dirty foot smell’ while doing the egg collection. They gave me a plastic pair to use.
“The anesthesia is the same stuff that Michael Jackson used to take,” the anesthesiologist told me. “It will make you sleep for 15, maybe 20 minutes. You’ll wake up feeling great—like this. Then you can go out for breakfast or something for an hour, come back, and we do an ultrasound to make sure everything is okay.”
I’d never had general anesthesia before. I guess I expected someone to say, “You will be feeling very sleepy soon” or “Nighty night now” but they didn’t. One minute I was just laying on my back on a gurney surrounded by doctors wearing surgical masks, the anesthesiologist making jokes, and the next minute I was in the recovery area. It felt like that period of time was wiped out of existence. I just skipped over it.
When I woke up, my mouth was wide open and dry with saliva paste. I tried to lick my lips because I could feel Todd watching me, but even that seemed too much.
Ten minutes later I was wide-awake, feeling like nothing happened, and was given the go-ahead for breakfast.
“We were able to retrieve 21 eggs,” the embryologist said. “You’re going to have 21 babies!”
We went across the street and had a full spread—coffee, fruit salad, cheese, croissants, Nutella on rolls, and an hour later went back to the clinic.
They gave me yet another pelvic ultrasound and said that everything looked fine.
Of the 21 eggs, 12 were mature and were going to have ICSI done to them. I could call the next day to see how many fertilized.
The next day I called at noon, more nervous than I’d ever been in my life. And, in my panic and nerves, I could not understand a single word of what she said to me in German.
This person at the other end of the line was telling me the fate of my eggs, and whether or not we were any closer to having our baby, and I swear I could not pull one word out of her sentence.
So, I was asked to call back in 20 more insufferable minutes and this time a doctor who spoke English informed me that they’d had, in the end, 11 eggs to work with and 5 fertilized.
Over the next days I did obsessive Internet research to try and find out how many of my five fertilized eggs might make it to blastocyst phase, and therefore be strong enough to put back in my womb. I read that each egg had a 20% chance. This number darted like a rat through the crevices of my brain, tormenting me until the next appointment.
The only thing that made me feel better was an email from my sister, who has a PhD in applied mathematics;
“Now, let’s do a statistical experiment:
You have five independent fertilized eggs, each with a 20% chance (or 0.2 probability) of developing into blastocysts. This follows the binomial distribution. Therefore, the probability of getting one success out of five trials is given by:
(5 choose 1) * 0.2^1 * (1 – 0.2)^(5-1) = 0.41
Therefore, you have a 41% chance of success, not 20%! See! I just geeked out on you.”
In the end, one made it to blastocyst.
All those eggs, and when it came down to it there was one potential life.
I remember when they transferred the egg, they let me watch on a little screen until it was gently planted down.
Outside it was ninety something degrees. I took the tram home and smiled at strangers, gently caressing my abdomen, begging the blastocyst to stay a while, implant and become my child.
I’d read that laughter encourages eggs to implant, so that evening we watched The Heat.
The dreaded two week wait.
That’s how it’s referred to on fertility boards, and I see why.
It’s two weeks of waiting, of listening to your body, of reading absolutely every sensation you feel as a symptom, of literally being unable to think about anything else in the world. It’s prayers, even if you don’t normally pray.
Lots of people spend it on the Internet community boards, typing in their symptoms and asking, “Do you think I’m pregnant?”
Nothing in the world moves slower that those two weeks. You feel every single second of that time. And, in the background, the grandfather and spazzy biological clocks fill up any empty space with their noise.
I went on a little Neckar boat trip with some colleagues. It was this circular boat that allows ten people to sit around a grill, drink wine, barbecue, and drift along the river alongside Heilbronn.
As the day went on, I noticed that the occasional cramps I’ve been experiencing over the past few days were suddenly there—and intensifying. They got sharper as the afternoon went on. But, no…I kept thinking. This must just be my uterus expanding. This is common. Cramps are good.
After the boat docked, I eagerly disembarked and waited my turn at the bathroom.
When I went into the individual restroom, the seven coworkers I was with lined up outside the door. I pulled down my bathing suit and saw that there was blood on the inner lining. My hands started shaking and I dropped the roll of toilet paper onto the floor. But this could be implantation bleeding. I haven’t had that yet. So, it could be a good thing. Or…it could just be spotting.
Feeling lightheaded, I came out of the bathroom and joined the small circle they’d formed by the bike path. They were talking about hair.
Anna leaned in to whisper something in my ear. “Sometimes I’m happy with my hair, but sometimes I wouldn’t mind having a little pony-tail like Jess has.” She indicated our colleague. “It just looks so lush, that jaunty pony-tail.”
“Yeah,” I said.
Carie was talking about her hair, how it’s so thick that doctors have to use a razor and thin it out.
“Do you have highlights, Sarah?” she asked.
“Where do you go to get them?”
“Oh, in the States,” I said blankly, and she nodded and then asked someone else, something, and then they were all comparing prices for cutting hair and about how German hairstylists didn’t seem to know what they were doing.
I just stood there, looking at everyone with this big blank smile on my face, nodding and nodding at things I couldn’t hear, anymore. I had lost complete sense of place. It was like I was standing around, having a very normal conversation when all of a sudden an invisible blockade had sliced down from the sky and boxed me in. I was trying to talk through it, and failing.
When the group moved up the steps away from the boat dock, I finally pulled Anna aside and whispered what was going on.
“Spotting is normal early on in pregnancy. Very normal. This could be a good sign, actually.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I hope so. It’s just—I have cramps. I’m really, really freaking out.”
I paused and checked back in to the conversation, as I was suddenly aware of one of my coworkers making what looked to be apologies for having to leave early.
“Are you leaving now?” I cut in over Anna’s shoulder.
“Yes, unfortunately. I have to head home on the train because we have someone coming to look at our house at 5:30.”
“You know what? I’ll come with you. My stomach is still a little…” I rubbed it and frowned, to validate my excuse.
“No, no. Don’t take the train–I’ll drive you,” said Anna.
“What? No! You stay! I’ll just take the train home, it’s no big deal—seriously!”
Anna shook her head. “You’re priority.”
A few minutes later we were in the car and it was a long, very tense ride back to Heidelberg. I sat up front, both hands on my stomach, paying such close attention to every little tweak of my insides that it was like I was curled up in my own uterus, listening. Moment by moment I did a headcount. Cramps, feel like period cramps, now, not so much. Getting better. Feel like I could be bleeding.
It all felt like I was in a dream. There was a blear and time skipping quality over reality as I walked inside the house. Without pausing, I went in to the bathroom and unbuttoned my shorts. Pulled down my bathing suit bottom. There was dark blood all over it; it had crept all the way up the back.
This was my period. This had to be my period. No.
I drifted up the stairs, feeling high. All the blood in my body had rushed up to my brain and I was no longer making conscious decisions. I opened my sock drawer and pulled out a pregnancy test that has been sitting in there for over a year. We bought it when we still thought that spontaneous pregnancies were an option.
My entire body was shaking and I went to the bathroom, sat down, lowered the test indicator between my legs and managed to pee a little bit over the top. I rested the test on the tub and wiped. More blood was on the tissue paper.
I watched the indicator response slowly comb over with urine before it gave me one cold sliver of red line to indicate a negative test.
I stared at it for a long time. Maybe another line will come. Maybe the hormone levels are low and it just takes time.
But the single red slit was definitive.
I blamed myself—was it because of the Gonal overdose? The fact that I sat in an overheated tram right after my blastocyst transfer? (Apparently heat is not good post-transfer protocol. Humor = good. Heat = bad.)
Eight thousand dollars and a dream. Woosh. Gone. Everything we’d just been through, from fitting in appointments to the school day to the shots and that horrific two-week wait. It was all over.
Now what? Start again?
What if it took us ten more rounds to get pregnant?
A colleague went through fertility treatments, and when I told her we were going for it, as well, she gave me one piece of advice. “Know your stopping point. Make a decision as a couple early on and stick to it. Otherwise you’ll keep going and going and going forever, and you won’t enjoy life anymore.”
Todd and I talked endlessly. How far were we willing to go? How much could we spend without climbing into a financial pit too deep to get out of?
We also had to consider age. Was it fair for Todd to be fifty and fathering a newborn? (And I mean fair to the baby or for Todd.)
We picked a stopping point that felt right to us and went in for round two.
This time I felt like an old pro.
I also felt a little superstitious, which isn’t a normal state of being for me.
We kept the entire treatment a secret until we were able to announce our BFP (Big Fat Positive.) The day I took that test, and all of the days since, have been innumerably blessed. Not always perfect, but blessed.
So, what advice can I give to those suffering in the trenches?
Well, first of all, I realize how completely lucky we were. Compared to what so many other people go through—multiple failed cycles, a cost for treatment that isn’t just steep but impossible, fertility issues bigger than blocked sperm—we had it good.
But the problem is that until we had it good, I had no idea when or if we’d ever have it good. That’s the singular and shared torture of these treatments.
I will say this; you can spend hours on the Internet trying to find the answers to your own personal equation, but you won’t find them. The answer can only be lived.
And, in my opinion, my colleague’s advice about picking a stopping point was spot on. Try to do that.
Another thing I’d suggest is to not delay going to a fertility clinic to get tested. A friend of mine had trouble conceiving for two years, and it turned out that she was just naturally low on progesterone. Once they gave her a supplement, she was pregnant two months later. All that torment, and a test could have resolved it early on. Don’t delay.
Be aware of those clocks. Be aware of a possible ride. I think I was of the opinion that as soon as I wanted to get pregnant my body would take on the constitution of someone in their twenties and it’d happen immediately.
Not the case.
And, finally, if you can—share your success stories on the Internet boards so people like me (who’d never take the advice I gave about staying away from the infertility community boards) can find a little hope and comfort.