Brandi (USA): Hope hatching
"Look! It's hatching!"
I peer at a large television screen mounted in the corner. The embryologist points to a small bubbled form escaping the shell of our thawing embryo. "Is that good?" I ask. "Very promising," the doctor replies with a smile.
I wish my partner were here to see this; she is tending to our son in the clinic's atrium. I text a photo of the jail-breaking blastocycst to her as the doctor and embryologist exchange numbers, verifying the petri dish matches the patient ID band secured around my wrist. I tried to remain stoic; this is our fourth frozen embryo transfer (FET).
During our first transfer in 2016, I had felt optimistic right away. Excited, even. As the days ticked on with no sign of pregnancy symptoms, disappointment had taken over. After seven unsuccessful IUI's (inter-uterine insemination), we had been so sure IVF was the right choice. The odds were in our favor. We had even decided on using my wife's eggs instead of my own, not cheap and not touched by our insurance.
Within a week after our first transfer, I would peer at blank home pregnancy tests, not surprised a bit when the blood test came back negative for pregnancy hormones. I had been told to stop all medications and schedule our first post-IVF "WTF" appointment, as it is known in the infertility world. The appointment where the procedure is discussed, reasons it may not have worked, plans for moving forward.
We were heartbroken, and there were no solid answers, but we felt we had a solid plan. After much discussion with our doctor and as a family, we decided on using both of our remaining embryos in a double embryo transfer.
That next transfer seemed so desperate and discouraging, from the beginning. I had burst into tears despite my efforts, as the syrupy sweet lyrics and brooding voices came across the speakers in the reception area. These were the last of our embryos from a reciprocal cycle using my wife's eggs - It had to work!
We were checked in and set up in the procedure room for the transfer, where we would wait for our embryologist to check the status of our thawing embryos. The lights were dimmed, the procedure began.
"Say something, I'm giving up on you"... Sam Redden's voice had crooned through the audio system just as the doctor inserted the syringe containing our precious cargo into my cervix.
As the room was silent, the awkward lyrics became more apparent:
I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you
Anywhere I would've followed you
Say something, I'm giving up on you
Nobody had spoken. I looked at my wife, and though she was being strong, I saw the worry on her face as she waited for my tears to come. The remainder of the procedure had been quick, their clean up so minimal; the entire staff had left the room before the closing lyrics, and I just sobbed into my wife's arms, and though she was trying to be tough, her face was streaked with tears, too.
And I will swallow my pride
You're the one that I love
And I'm saying goodbye
The days ticked by, and I couldn't help but to take home pregnancy tests. I squinted, trying to make out the faintest of lines. I would go in for my blood test eight days later, making small talk with the techs through the painfully slow process as I tried to hold myself together. Before I could even get to my car, my face was damp, and I spent a few minutes sobbing in my car before cranking the engine to life, paying my parking fee, and making my way home in silence, wondering what I was going to do with my life.
Our nurse called with an apology and an offer to schedule our WTF. We decided to put the process on hold.
I threw myself into my career, finished my bachelor's degree and saw the Eiffel Tower. It was a much needed break that reminded me that life had plenty to offer. The trip abroad was refreshing, but tinged with sadness; while the younger college kids immersed themselves in the European party scene, I desperately wanted a family of my own to share this travel experience with. We decided we couldn't quit trying while there was still a possibility of success; we couldn't give up.
I tossed my food diary into the recycle bin upon arriving home. One small step on the road to remembering that I was a human, not a science project, not a fertility machine. I realized I had been stuck in a serious rut of feeling like a failure and an impostor - a fake and a liar, just for not being able to get pregnant. For not being able to do something that came so easily to so many.
Infertility had changed me on a physiological level, as I forgot how to breathe, forgot how to be patient and kind to myself. I was wound so tightly, trying so hard, for something that was obviously out of my control in many ways.
As I learned how to relax and practiced being more kind to myself, an amazing offer was revealed: donor embryos, offered by a couple who shared our fertility clinic! Even the same doctor, we soon discovered.
We navigated the legal process as quickly as we could, and soon we had four beautiful embryos waiting for us. We resumed medications and scheduled our transfer.
Still, I had felt discouraged; scarred from previous attempts. Wondering if this was another step down the rabbit hole, in the wrong direction. This had felt so right in our minds, but our hearts were terribly afraid that history would repeat itself. The science was there, numbers were on our side for IVF, and test results had showed perfect lining, in-range hormone levels, all the things we wanted to see. Donor embryos also have a higher implantation rate, so we were restricted by our clinic to a single embryo transfer, which we happily agreed to.
We were both shocked when our nurse called us to tell us the good news after the transfer. We finally had a beta blood test with a number! A real, whole number! The coming weeks would be filled with trepidation as we waited for the hormone numbers to climb. And they did. We currently have an amazingly smart and handsome ten month old, whom I could go on and on about...
Since our doctor had suggested that transfer attempts made soon after pregnancy are more likely to result in embryo implantation, we planned to try again right away. I started oral medications, suppositories, and evening injections into my glute muscle to trick my body into thinking conception had occurred, priming the uterus to be receptive for the frozen embryo transfer.
I find myself 'back in the saddle' at frozen embryo transfer (FET) number four. This attempt for baby number two, a full genetic sibling for Canyon. I find myself choking back emotion; I don't want to go through this for many more years.
I find myself thinking about every medication order and delivery, every handful of pills, every shot, every appointment leading up to this moment. The anticipation and the fear of let down. The idea of starting back at square one. The funds, the donated embryos... it's all too much to keep inside.
All the previous transfers flash in front of my misty eyes as the lights are dimmed and I am asked to scoot my hips down a little closer to the end of the table. As I slither down, I am remembering our first transfer, how we spent so much time talking about the embryo quality and grading, and how many questions we had asked. The second FET, how sure we were that with two high-quality blastocysts, surely one would have stuck. The third FET, our ultimate success.
As I recall transfers past, a voice suddenly interrupts.
"Are you warm enough, would you like another warm blanket?"
A nurse stands next to me with a freshly warmed cotton cover, snapping me back to reality. I nod that yes, I am warm enough - realizing the question was two part but not trusting myself to speak. Low orchestra music drips through the speakers, a nice change from pop lyrics that always seemed to be the wrong choice. A heavy cotton blanket is draped across my upper body, and I snuggle into the warmth, grateful for a distraction. I wish my wife were here, but I also know I wouldn't be able to hold it together if she gave me a sympathetic look, right now.
The sound of the metal tools against metal tray as they are adjusted is enough the bring the tears forward. This time I don't apologize, though I know everyone sees them. I keep a smile on my face, but strangely, it doesn't feel forced. I have learned how to be more kind to myself, and don't feel embarrassed for the emotions I can't hide. I don't feel my face flush or my heart rate climb with nervousness at being judged. I don't stammer an apology; In fact, I feel stronger than ever knowing that my few tears are okay and acceptable. I know it's a normal emotion and this time, for the first time, I let myself feel it. I feel hopeful in that hatching embryo.
Before I know it, the tears stop and I am watching the rest of the procedure in awe, which is mirrored on a large screen as well as an ultrasound monitor. By the time it is over, I am smiling and thanking the nurses and doctors, truly grateful for the opportunity, the experience, and the amazing staff who made it as comfortable as possible.
Soon, the room is silent and the staff has gone. I am to leave the door open when I exit, and to take my time. I rest for five minutes, my partner and I catching up through texts. Despite her insistence that I stay another five minutes, I have to get out of this room.
I'll never forget the quiet afternoon in the clinic's atrium, as we embraced each other, our son squashed between us. We said a prayer for the little embryo that had been transferred. If a pregnancy was not meant to be, we would still honor this soul, and respect the process for what it was, even if it wasn't the result we had hoped for.
We are now in our second trimester and hope to bring home our baby in October 2018. Despite all the odds, we beat infertility and continue to be active in the TTC community, and are open about our embryo adoption process.
You can find more on on our YouTube channel: MommaAMommaB