Five years ago, I called my sister to tell her that I was pregnant; she happened to be just waking up from a dream where she had given me an egg.
Now we are in the waiting cubicle of an IVF suite in downtown Toronto. She in the massage chair wearing a robe, and me looming awkwardly over her in a glamorous mask and bootie covers. “It feels like this chair is taking my blood pressure from my calves.” We are trying to make each other laugh, pretending that neither of us is nervous.
When I finally got married at 37, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant. But it happened in a flash on our honeymoon and we had a son. I was one of my only friends who openly wanted a second child, while everyone else was hemming and hawing – the disruption, the boredom, the exhaustion of having a child in your late thirties made them hesitant to jump in again. But not me; I always knew I wanted more, just not right away. I was growing my business and enjoying our little family of three. I felt exactly the same, I certainly didn’t feel like I was aging. I did sometimes wonder about the “last” egg….how you never really know.
My sister and I weren’t particularly close growing up. We were separated by a giant chasm of time: six years. It wasn’t until our twenties when we both ended up living in the same city did we really connect. We lived together as equals and those were some of the best times of my life. Having my sister in my life is a big part of why I have been stubbornly sitting on the infertility roller coaster for almost two years. I want my son to have that closeness, someone who really knows you.
The nurse and doctor shuffle us along to the operating room. I wait in the hallway for a few moments and when they take me in my sister is up on the table with her feet in stirrups. She is hooked up to heart and blood pressure monitors.
“What did you say you liked to drink? Shooters? Lemon drops?” asks the nurse.
We make a few comments about our high tolerance for drink. There is an air of frivolity and comfort between the nurses and the doctor, and I am trying to play along to stay relaxed for my sister and I am sure she is doing the same for me. Then she’s drugged up and the procedure begins.
There is a small half door in the wall behind the doctor and it looks like some of the tubes coming out of the beakers are leading into there. It’s the lab. There are beeps and whooshing noises. The doctor gets stuck on one ovary and then finally moves to the other. The frivolity has ceased. All the way through I can watch the ultrasound monitor and see the little needle poking around. The nurses comment on how my sister has a high pain threshold because she isn’t wiggling around. Then the doctor announces that they are done.
“How many did you get,” my sister slurs. “Four,” the doctor replies. “NO! There’s more…..go back …there’s more…..mmmmore.”
My heart dips.
We want more. They had seen seven follicles and thought that there might actually be nine. The doctor and nurses are reassuring. Better to have quality over quantity. Back in the recovery cubicle my sister, still slurring, asks again.
“How many did we get – five?” she asks.
“We got four!” I want to sound excited and happy and thankful.
“Ohhhh no I wanted more,” she manages before falling asleep again.
When my son was two years old, I did get pregnant again – by accident, a good four to five months before we “planned”. My husband couldn’t believe we were having a baby due to the absolute lack of sex that had been going on in our bedroom. I had a new cafe, we had a toddler that didn’t sleep—it was not sexy times. It was however, one time. Then, just as soon as I relaxed into it, I had a miscarriage. I was sad, but not devastated. It wasn’t meant to be. I blithely thought we were supposed to have a baby, when it was more convenient for us.
So began the trying; a summer of love. Which then turned into a fall of resentment as I began reading about infertility and changing my lifestyle. No wine, no coffee, no wheat, no dairy, while my husband continued on as though NOTHING was going on. To make matters worse upon our first month with the fertility centre we discovered that his sperm was AMAZING. Really, the entire office seemed to be a twitter about it.
So it was my fault. I was old, with old eggs. But I was not deterred. I knew if I just stayed positive, kept to my diet of wheat grass and juicing and whole foods, exercised, went to acupuncture and RELAXED it would happen. Sure, sex was losing it’s lustre and my husband was feeling more and more like a stud for hire as I set out the monthly schedule but hey, I thought, at least we’re doing it!
As the fertility treatments increased, and the months went by with no baby, my panic and stress hit a new high. As my hormone levels started to swing wildly month to month, I began to seek out more and more alternative protocols.
Those who have been through the infertility struggle know of its hollowness. There is self-loathing – why can’t I do this this? Why did I wait? Why can’t I just relax? There is panic and fear. And, oh my, there is jealousy. So very much jealousy. Jealousy of total strangers because they are pregnant. It is that gut wrenching twisted jealousy of friends who are pregnant. You don’t want to feel it but you do and it eats a little hole inside of you. There is the financial strain. The emotional turmoil it puts a marriage through. The loneliness. No one ever wants to talk about it. It’s just too depressing.
The business of infertility sucks you right in because – this person, herb, meditation, vitamin, diet or exercise might be the one. My favourite whacked out idea that was being peddled is the idea that the baby chooses you to be the parent. Ergo if no baby chooses you it must be because you aren’t meant to be a parent or in my case you aren’t a good one.
I started to believe that I wasn’t getting pregnant because I didn’t deserve another child—I wasn’t a good enough mother to the first. Worse still, I was haunted by a decision I had made in my early thirties to not give an egg to a woman who had asked me through my aunt. At the time I didn’t understand fully her desire and what everything would entail. I also knew she already had one child so I thought she was being greedy. Now I was being punished for my selfishness. I wished I could just stop wanting another baby so much. Why was I being so selfish? Why can’t I just be happy with the beautiful family I have. I know I am so lucky to have one.
As the fall rolled around, I stepped up my acupuncture to twice a week and started a diet that included lamb soup made with Chinese herbs and more soup with poached eggs, no chicken pre ovulation and then chicken post ovulation ( chicken makes your uterus “hold on” ). There was still no baby. In vitro fertilization was the next step. I knew women my age (now a geriatric 42!) who had had success so we bit the bullet and opened our wallets. We did try one cycle of in vitro but it was canceled after 6 days because my body did not respond to the drugs. I had 5 follicles but only one grew and they don’t go through with the retrieval if there aren’t at least 5 eggs. After spending four thousand dollars on the invitro drugs we learned that I was not a good responder and the cycle was cancelled. That was it. Our last shot and all it took was six days to be over.
There is a level of weirdness in the infertility journey, when daily needles become no big deal and trans vaginal ultrasounds begin your day twice a week. Not to mention all the lifestyle changes I had made and now I was thinking about my sister’s egg with my husband’s sperm. WEIRD. But beautiful too. She said she felt it was meant to be. I tried to imagine her child and my child and what our child would look like. We were going to have couslings.
I call the clinic two days after the retrieval and one day after my sister has returned home to Santa Monica and the nurse sounded very stern when she says, “Erin, you know you got four eggs.”
“Yes”, I say.
“They all fertilized.”
I cry. They all fertilized.
We had been disappointed that there were only four but they reassure us we just need good eggs. And they are good eggs!
The day of the transfer I arrive ridiculously early. The trusty old massage chair is there. I spend the hour getting massaged and texting with my sister while my husband takes our son to his ski lesson. Through all the treatments we have tried to keep his schedule normal. He knows we are trying to have a sibling for him. He knows his auntie “Lala” is giving us an egg. When the IVF (just a bit confused) was cancelled in the fall he saw me crying and wrapped his arms around me and said, “It’s ok Mommy maybe our baby is coming next year.”
The room for the transfer is like a slightly larger ultrasound room and it doesn’t have the same amount of equipment as the retrieval room. There is the same half door in the wall leading to the lab where all the magic happens. My doctor arrives and informs me that of the four fertilized eggs we now have three. One has stopped growing. Of the three we have two grade one eight cell eggs and one grade two seven cell. Yes they grade the eggs just like in the grocery store.
The doc wants to put all three in but I only want two so that I can save the other for freezing. I want to hedge my bets and give us another chance. There are two screens in the room. The one to show what is happening with the ultrasound is the usual grainy shades of grey and black. The second shows what’s happening inside the lab. It’s as clear as day. I see the two eight celled embryos before they are flushed into my uterus. There are no words to explain the fragility and strength in those eight cells. The possibility of life.
So now I wait—trying to not drive myself crazy. I don’t feel pregnant. I feel scared. I feel hopeful. Mostly I feel so thankful that I have such a beautiful sister inside and out. I feel love.