I don't have a happy ending yet, but maybe one day I will. At any rate, here's the story of Jenny and Mr Wren and their thus far unsuccessful quest for a nest full of hatchlings. Maybe you can relate to some or all of it. It's going to be a long story and I don't apologize for that. It's my story and I'll take as long as I want to tell it. Why don't you just pour yourself a glass of sweet tea and set a spell while I recollect.....
June, 2004: The lovebirds get married. When people ask us if we want children, we laughingly say that we want between "zero and one" kids. Meaning that we aren't really sure if we want any and we certainly don't want more than one. We have no reason to think that we are anything but hot fertile breeders. If I forget to take my pill in the morning, I make him use a condom that night. I'm afraid my loins are going to start dropping fruit ANY MINUTE NOW and I'm not quite ready. Infertility is something that happens to other people. My BFF is going through it and I'm sad for her but it's a remote sadness, sympathy without understanding.
January, 2008: Our nest is ready. After seriously discussing it for over a year, we decide the time, although not completely perfect, is right enough to start our family. One child sounds like a good idea, after all. My BFF had adorable twins through IVF, and we love them like our own, but agree we would never go through such drastic measures to have children. Give myself shots? <shudder> Yeah, right. We will try it the old fashioned way and if it's not meant to be we'll just adopt. But of course it's meant to be. I stop taking the pill and we start picking out names.
September, 2008: Our nest is empty? WTF? We've been fucking like minks and still no sign of rugrats. How is this possible? We've been taking suggestions and trying them all. Have sex every night for a month. Got it. Keep your legs in the air for half an hour afterwards. No problem. Lie on your left side afterwards. With my legs in the air or not? No worries, I'll try it both ways. Get drunk and get on top! Sounds like fun, I'm game. But I'll have to hop off afterwards and get my legs in the air, OK? Take Geritol. Why not, I'm already taking an impressive array of exotic supplements suggested by random people on the internet: maca, DHEA, resveratrol, royal jelly, and a pill made from pine needles or some such thing, what's one more? Besides, the lady who recommended it has 6 kids and 14 grandkids so she must know something, right? Just relax! Hey. You try and relax lying on one side with your legs in the air while you're drunk and burping up vitamins.
|This movie poster was too risque for France. |
But I thought it was completely appropriate for my blog.
October, 2008: Our feathers ruffled, we turn to science. My OB/GYN runs standard tests, finds nothing wrong, refers us to local fertility clinic. We have our first visit with the elderly Dr C, who combines the youthful vitality of the Cryptkeeper with the mental acumen of Grandpa Simpson. It's painfully obvious Dr C should have retired sometime during the Reagan administration but I don't think I need much from him anyway. I've done my research, I know what my options are and my mind is made up, I will not do IVF. No needles, no way, no how. I'm quite certain all I need is an IUI, a swift little turkey baster up the yin-yang; deposit Mr Wrens's swimmers exactly where they need to be at exactly the right time, a lucky egg will be there waiting with open arms and boom! We'll be pregnant. So it doesn't really matter if if the doctor is older than dirt and looks like someone should just feed him some applesauce and put him to bed.
My tests all come back normal. Mr Wren's tests are slightly wonky. Not horribly alarming, but it's enough for us to earn our first official diagnosis: "mild to moderate male-factor infertility."
December, 2008: Mr Wren has been taking L-Carnitine and Acetyl L-Carnitine daily and never had another abnormal test. Any relief I felt that maybe all of this was his fault was short lived. Something is obviously wrong, though, because two IUIs and two 2WWs and 16 HPTs have all added up to one BFN. We can no longer tolerate Dr Magoo's bumbling shenanigans and ask to see another doctor at the same clinic. We meet Dr S and at first his slick, fast-talking schtick is such a welcome change from the slow and incompetent muttering that we overlook his resemblance to a game-show host. Besides, who cares if he acts like Monty Hall as long as we get a baby as a parting gift. Because by now we are pretty strongly fixated on wanting a baby. We read his arrogance as confidence based on results. We sign on with Dr S.
|"Let's Make a Baby! Is it behind door #1, door #2, or door #3?"|
His first order of business is to remove several fibroids. The largest of them had been dismissed by Dr C as something that "could just be a shadow, or could just be the way you're built," but was determined by Dr S to be in fact a 9mm fibroid that needed to be removed before we could do IVF.
Cause oh yeah, we're doing IVF now. The IUIs had required trigger shots and follicle-stimulating injections, so I'd had to get over my fear of needles anyhow. And now that I'd crossed that threshold, well, IVF does have a much higher success rate. Dr S loves to talk percentages, and said that with IUI my chance of getting pregnant was only 12% but with IVF my odds rose to 60%. So we're on board to do IVF just as soon as he removes these pesky fibroids.
January, 2009: Carving the bird: Dr S performs an abdominal myomectomy, slicing me open, fiddling around in my uterus for awhile and taking out the offensive tumorish fibroids. As a result, I will never be able to have a vaginal birth, since the surgery weakened the walls of my ute and it can't be trusted now. He says I'll have to have a C-section when the time comes. My scar makes it looks like I already did, except I gave birth to a four pound tubroid instead of a baby. I tell the doctor he should have installed a zipper instead of stitching me up. I am still under the influence of anesthesia at the time.
My 40th birthday is spent in a hospital room, with an unexpectedly complicated and painful recovery. Mr Wren's birthday is within a few days of mine, and he spends it keeping me company in that same hospital room. I feel a little guilty. Neither of us got a cake this year, but at least I have morphine. He just has greasy takeout from Five Guys. But what's one shitty birthday in the grand scheme of things? We start saying the mantra of the infertile "it will all be worth it in the end."
February, 2009: Ready the nest: it's our first IVF and I'm sure it's going to work. My uterus is smooth and fibroid-free, and Dr S reported that he didn't see any endometrioisis or other problems while he was mucking around in there. My giant box of needles and drugs arrives from the online pharmacy and Mr Wren turns out to be quite good at giving injections. Who knew that growing up with a diabetic cat would turn out to be so useful later in life? I'm surprised by how little the shots bother me. You do what you have to. It will all be worth it in the end.
My body, however, does not want to play along. My estrogen is low. I'm not making very many follicles. Dr S adjusts my dosage, I work on visualizing lots of little eggs popping up like zits in my ovaries. They end up retrieving six eggs. I say "that's more than enough for an omelet." I am fucking hilarious when under anesthesia. Even with ICSI, our fertilization report is dismal. We end up with one lowly embryo, lopsided and fragmented, but the internet tells me that lots of ugly embryos go on to make beautiful babies, so we wait and hope. Negative. Dr S says I was a "poor responder" and I'm crushed. I've never done poorly on a test in my life. Our diagnosis has changed to "Premature Ovarian Failure." He suggests donor eggs and Mr Wren and I both say "nope, no way, no how, not gonna happen."
June, 2009: This nerdy bird has been doing tons of research and returns to Dr S squawking questions and suggestions. He does not appreciate my efforts and so the conflict between us begins. I insist on doing an Estrogen-Priming Protocol for this cycle. I'm also eating all-organic fruits and vegetables and doubling up on my supplements. I've read The Infertility Cure and taken it all to heart. I'm doing acupuncture and getting lots of exercise. I'm in the best shape I've ever been in. I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and goshdarnit, I'm ready to make a baby. He adds HGH to my daily cocktail and now I'm up to three injections a day. No biggie. It will all be worth it in the end.
Another egg retrieval, more hilarity ensues while sedated. Things look better this time, eight eggs yield two viable embryos. We transfer on day three and one of them looks perfect while the other one, eh. Still. It only takes one and THIS time it's going to work. We know it. But we're wrong. Another failure. The embryologist says my eggs are small, and dark, and have a thick shell. These are not good signs. I have bad eggs.
July, 2009: This is what it sounds like, when doves cry. We grieve our failures and weigh our options. They are not encouraging. We spend a boozy afternoon drinking vodka tea lemonades on the side porch and discussing everything from adoption to donor embryos. Nothing is decided, but it's clear we're not going to give up without a fight. Now that we've begun to visualize our lives as parents, any other imagined future seems pale and empty. We agree on one thing, though. As long as we have each other we'll be ok. We develop a new mantra: no matter what happens, we love each other.
October, 2009: I turn to Mr Wren in the middle of the Costco parking lot and announce I want to use donor eggs. I want to have his baby and I want to carry it, I want to know our baby from before it's born, and this is the only way to do it. We know that we'll tell the child how he or she was created, and decide this means our child will always know just how very, very much they were loved and wanted. We make up our minds right then and there, and hug and cry next to the cart corral while people load industrial-sized boxes of laundry soap into SUVs all around us. We agree to purchase the shared-risk plan that will cover three complete cycles, 100% of our money back if we don't have a baby in our arms by the end. Who could resist a deal like that? We're Costco shoppers, we like to buy things in bulk and that's one heck of a warranty.
March, 2010: We've signed all the paperwork and are waiting to be matched with an egg donor when I realize that my period is a week late. You can set your watch by my Aunt Flo, so I know something's up. I google "irregular periods"and decide my hormones are out of whack because I'm entering the early stages of menopause. A few days later I'm feeling nauseous and maternal so on a whim I pick up a pack of HPTs on my lunch hour and holy shit I'm pregnant! Mr Wren and I laugh and laugh at the irony. All those assholes who told us to "just relax and stop worrying about it and it will happen" were RIGHT. Unbelievable. All that time and money and trouble spent on experts and those flippant dumbasses were right all along. I enjoy the hell out of being pregnant....for about 24 hours.
Then I get my beta result from my OBs office: 36. This ain't my first rodeo. I know pretty much exactly when I conceived and that the number should be at least over 1000 by now. My suspicions are confirmed two days later back at the fertility clinic, when my second beta is 9. Dr Gameshow delivers the bad news: instead of taking home the grand prize, we get to listen to his prepared lecture on "biochemical pregnancies" and how they're usually caused by bad eggs. Well, that was fun and all, and I guess it's good to know that I can get pregnant, sort of, but in the end we're back where we started. No matter what happens, we love each other.
June, 2010: Egg shopping, pt I. We are given the profiles of three potential egg donors. It's like being handed a random stack of resumes and having to hire someone without any other information or interview. An anonymous questionnaire with no photos. But it's an easy choice: one of the donors has my height and coloring, and loves doing crafts with her kids. She also loves to take pictures and edit them on the computer.
|Sorry, did you say something? I was busy editing this picture that I took.|
September, 2010: We are counting our chickens before they're hatched but how could we not? This definitely is going to work. We're using donor eggs, of course it will work. It has to work. It doesn't work. They transfer two embryos and neither of them stick. Afterwards, they tell us our donor's eggs weren't that great - they were "watery." I realize later that she would have been 29 when she filled out the donor application but was over 30 by the time she donated. Maybe we should have chosen someone younger? Doesn't matter, I blame myself for the failure anyway. No matter what happens, we love each other. I cling to this truth, but still the sense of inadequacy and defeat is overwhelming.
October, 2010: There was one frozen embryo left over from last month's cycle and we transfer it right away. Another negative. Ever the game-show host, Dr S suggests we see what's behind Door #2 and select another donor.
It's getting really difficult to keep writing this. Reliving all these cycles, each round of hopes that rose anew only to fall again, is feeling less therapeutic and more torturous. The pain of each failure feels fresh. Damn, I hope there's a point to my doing this.
November, 2010: Egg shopping pt. II. By now our clinic has entered all their donors into a database and added childhood photos of the girls. We go to a website, enter a code, and click through the profiles. Now it feels like online shopping, but without any user reviews to help inform our decision. It would be so helpful if the donors came with star ratings. This time, we won't consider anyone older than 25. We pick one with green eyes and a sweet apple-cheeked baby picture. I don't feel as connected to her as I did the previous one: our selection is based on her health and medical history more than her personality. The new online profile has more questions for the donors, and one of them asks for her "favorite book." She left that question blank. I have a hard time getting past this. I've been reading since I was 4 and I've never not had a favorite book. Also, her favorite color is orange. Orange! My least-favorite spoke of the color wheel.
But I read more about epigenetics and become convinced that I'll exert enough prenatal influence on my baby to counteract any illiterate, orange-tinted genes he or she may inherit.
December, 2010: Angry birds!! Despite a perfect cycle, a healthy batch of embryos, and a day 5 transfer, we have failed again. I still blame myself but this time there's another, more likely culprit. The embryo transfer was performed by the doddering Dr C (Dr S being out of town that week) and the entire procedure was a fiasco. His shaky old man hands couldn't thread the catheter through my cervix and when he finally did, he went too far and jammed the thing into the back of my uterus. Ow. By the time he finally got my embies inside me, I was cramping and crying in frustration. Dr S later agrees that the bad transfer may have doomed my chances on this cycle. We demand that Dr C never be allowed near my lady parts again. We are sad and broken and have a very blue Christmas indeed. We take several months off to lick our wounds.
May, 2011: Hope is the thing with feathers and ours is taking wing again. We have two good embryos left over from the previous cycle and are ready to transfer them. Dr S thinks we've just had a run of bad eggs and bad luck, while I suspect something else is going on. He agrees to do a round of endometrial scraping before the transfer, because studies have shown it increases implantation rates and I wont stop chirping about needing to do something different this time around.
I've been knocked down so many times that hope is a very small thing indeed, with only a few feathers, just barely holding on to the edge of my soul. But something does feel different this time around. Mr Wren notices that this is the first cycle where I don't glumly announce "I know it didn't work"at some point during the wait to see if it worked. Because, wonder of wonders, it did work. Six days after my transfer, a faint second line appears on my peestick. I don't even have to squint or hold it under the light to see it. I'm pregnant!
|Picture of the actual peestick. Yes, I took a photo of it.|
BUT. At 6 weeks, everything is normal and perfect and beautiful: a strong heartbeat with embryo, sac & fetal pole all looking and measuring exactly as they should. At 7 weeks, the same. 8 weeks, textbook. We are stunned and overjoyed. It seems the Universe has finally decided we've suffered enough and is cutting us a break. I love our baby with every ounce of my being and never for a moment feel it is anything less than ALL MINE. I've forgotten everything about the donor except her unfortunate color choice. Dr S is calling this our "miracle baby"and tells us he's going to talk about us at an Assisted Reproductive Technology conference, as a case study in not giving up when initial betas are slow to double. He gives us the best statistic yet: 90% chance of carrying this baby to term, and we graduate from the fertility clinic to the OB/GYN.
At our first visit, there is no heartbeat. Our baby died. Forget all the other stats, it's 100% over.
I wrote about it in my very first blog post. The rest of my journey is chronicled elsewhere in this blog. I don't have it in me to recount it all again here.
Gah. It's taken me almost a week to write this, and I'm emotionally wiped out. Looking back over it all, I understand why, when I run into people I haven't seen in a few years and they ask me what I've been up to, I struggle with what to say.
We've taken road trips, enjoyed vacations with family, renovated our home, and had successes and frustrations in our professional lives, but infertility has been the overriding theme of our narrative these past few years and it's impossible to tell our story without it.
Oh, and lest you think the irony of our original statement that we wanted "between zero and one" kids has escaped me, it hasn't. I've eaten those words many times over, now that we are stuck with exactly that situation. Oh, Karma, you're such a bitch.