“And of course, if this second cycle doesn’t work out, we will move to egg donation”…
My consultant drops this into our discussion so carelessly, the obvious next step in my fertility journey. To her, it is routine, no need to pause for thought.
Reeling from our first failed IVF cycle, I feel the room flicker in and out of focus. She must have collected someone else’s records! She has moved on to discussion of our imminent protocol for IVF cycle two, and I am left sitting uncomfortably in my chair, tapping each of my fingers against my thumb, jagged, staccato.
We walk outside and I drink in the sunlight. My appointments have become a battleground, a space of distrust and unease, where once I sheepishly smiled and followed instruction. That first time around, when I was told that our embryos had not made it to blastocyst, that I could stop administering the progesterone, my mind had reeled back over every moment of every appointment, dragging over the terrain of all the forms and the tutoring and the caveats, but found no indicators: not once had I been told that those fulsome follicles might be false hope, that I might wake up groggy and sore to a week of stern warnings and ultimately abject loss.
“…..we will move to egg donation”…
I quite literally no longer believe my old friends, spoken words. They are tricky and trying and I am too exhausted to decipher them.
So I research. I discover egg donor directories, characteristic matching, the enhanced possibilities of success. I play with each new fact, I scroll through pictures of chubby babies, held up in their parents’ arms, smiling and oblivious and home. I know we have another cycle of IVF ahead, but all the while, I’m planning this new sci-fi future, where at the very least I can give my husband his own biological child, his blue eyes with the green fleck, his gentle nature, his practical brain.
And then one evening, stuffing McDonalds golden arches fries guiltily in my mouth in the front of our car, some new words of egg donation tumble past my lips: “what would we tell the child?”… And we both blink in disbelief at this next ethical conundrum.
I love to look at my mother and see the future of my face, the same high cheekbones and deep set eyes, wrinkled and pure. I love to look at old photos of my father, trace his knobbly knees with my finger and know that they are mine. My husband and his two brothers are facsimiles of one another, a little different with each new copy.
I let these ideas rumble through my brain:
A part of this journey for us all is stumbling upon questions of ethics, of family, of philosophy that those who conceive naturally might never imagine. With each complex consideration, we become more sure of who we are – we discover the light and shadow of our own identities. We grow as humans and, even as we learn what we are comfortable with, we develop new found empathy for others’ choices. I feel my judgements evaporate like hot steam from the pavement on a Hong Kong night. I advocate for myself: when I am faced with “And of course…” from the mouths of my medical professionals, I challenge them, and myself, to scramble toward my limits, to explore the broad horizons.
Last week, we cancelled our high dosage Frozen Embryo Transfer. Our second cycle of IVF left us with one lonely fighter emby, who took his time growing, too late for immediate transfer. Every day, I will wonder about him locked up in Harley Street, who he might become if he even survived thawing. (And I secretly say he! Because my heart believes it… When the closest you have come to pregnancy is the fertilisation of an egg in a petri dish miles away from you, an embryo, a spattering of cells, is your child). But for now, I have to follow my heart, my philosophy. I have to abandon ‘obvious’ choices, and embark on a path that feels entwined with my identity – for isn’t conception itself an extension of this?
So this time, we will try natural IVF, I will nurture my eggs and hope that without the onslaught of violent drugs and perverted hormones, they will have what they need to mature beautifully. My mind, always addled with plans, contingencies, critiques, indecision, is – for once – speaking with my heart. No matter the result, this time around our treatment is intertwined with our beliefs and there is nothing ‘obvious’ about it. No, “And of course…” in sight. Our journey yet will require of us many more ethical deliberations and impossible decisions, but for now, for once, we are at peace with our choice.