IVF #2: Snowflakes in Spring

Two weeks ago I answered the phone with a mix of dread and anticipation, hoping for the best but expecting the worst. The results, it turns out, were somewhere in the middle:  3 AA embryos with my name on them were tucked away in the freezer. As far as grading goes, each blastocyst (5-day-old embryo) receives two letter grades from the embryologist– one for the outer cells (which become the placenta) and one for the inner cells (the baby). The grades work the way you’d expect them to, with A being the best, B for “good,” and C for “fair.” However, even an embryo with an AA grading is not guaranteed to result in a pregnancy, nor is one with a lesser grade destined to be unsuccessful. During our first IVF cycle, both blastocysts were given AB gradings and transferred within 6 weeks of each other, but only one resulted in a baby.

Aside from the first three, there was another embryo that had failed to divided properly and four more that could go either way. My nurse said they would continue to monitor the rest and call the next day with an update. Immediately I told Kyle not to expect anything, that our final number was going to be three.

The next morning ticked by slowly. Despite trying to be realistic the day before, I had started to feel hopeful that we might get to keep just one more. I remembered back to getting the final update call in 2015, the morning of our fresh embryo transfer. In 48 hours we’d lost more than a dozen embryos, but we did have one blastocyst ready to transfer, as well as a few that might still pull through. A few hours later, as we sat waiting to be taken back to the surgical room, the embryologist had come to inform us of one last embryo– a straggler, who was now safe in the freezer. That straggler was Ross; the others failed to develop. As I went over the memory, I realized that I only knew about Ross that day because we had been physically present in the clinic, waiting to transfer his sibling. He was too late to be included in the update call that morning, and if we hadn’t happened to have been there, I wouldn’t have known about him until Day 6. I started to believe that we would have a straggler this time around, too.

Eventually the morning passed but the update never came. I called in and left a voicemail for the nurse, but two hours later, I was still waiting. By now, everything in me said that we had a fourth embryo, I just had to hear the confirmation for myself. The waiting started to get to me; the build up of pressure felt unbearable. I tried to reason with myself, arguing that nothing would change if I had to wait until tomorrow for the news, that another 24 hours of waiting would still be less than what I’d made it through already. But I couldn’t stay reasonable anymore. So when Kyle seemed unruffled by the delay, I texted Elle instead, knowing that she would be indignant on my behalf. Finally, in the late afternoon, the call came: we did have one more, our straggler. This one had a BB grading, and I felt a special affinity towards it as the underdog.

Four frozen embryos. We had snowflakes in May. I felt at peace with the results, especially since we’d started with far fewer embryos this cycle. We just had one last hurdle to get through yet. This cycle, because of my increased age, my poor results the first time around, and the time and money that go into the surrogacy process, my doctor recommended additional screening to test whether the embryos were normal and likely to result in a successful transfer. Prior to being frozen, each one of our blastocysts had been biopsied, and those cells would be sent to a lab. The results would take another week or so. Another week of waiting.

The remnants of an IVF stim cycle: several days and thousands of dollars.
Screen Shot 2018-05-21 at 12.19.37 PM
IVF Cycle Results Comparison by the Numbers
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IVF Cycle Results Comparison by Percentage

It was a busy week in the meantime. We weren’t just carrying the weight of our embryo testing, we had family staying in the area and multiple events surrounding Kyle’s graduation from his master’s program on Saturday. The weekend’s blur of festivities was followed by a few more somber days as we packed for a quick trip to Florida for my aunt’s internment. In the 48 hours between our flights we saw family from both sides who live in the area. There was very little downtime and never a moment our embryos were far from my mind; they clouded my thoughts and entered my dreams at night. Throughout the wait I tried to will three healthy embryos into being. Elle texted me on Wednesday to say that she was thinking of us ahead of the big day.

Then on Thursday, the call came. And I missed it, by seven minutes.

I fumbled through my contacts as I shut the door to block out sounds from the other room. The line rang, but rather than the expected voicemail message, my nurse answered. My heart started to race through the obligatory small talk– the most agonizing part of each call– and I tried to assess her tone to determine whether or not I was about to receive good news or bad. I couldn’t tell this time.

Well, we had one embryo. Out of four, nearly all of them were abnormal. It was a setback and not one I had been fully prepared for after the triumphant feeling of gaining that last embryo. I’d been warned that roughly half of our embryos would likely come back testing abnormal, but with four blastocysts, that still should’ve left us with two. One put me at a rate of 75% abnormal, well above the expectation. As someone who has been through a failed embryo transfer before, two was acceptable. Three was a miracle. One was not enough.

Back in early February, as we sat in our doctor’s office, having one or less at the end of treatment was the concern. One is not enough to start preparations for a much-needed hysterectomy. It’s not enough to be able to donate unused embryos to couples in need when we finally have a second child. One is not enough to move on in this process. If we were a normal IVF couple, we could schedule a frozen embryo transfer in a matter of weeks, and then, depending on the outcome, we’d move forward with any necessary treatment cycles.

But surrogacy changes everything. We are not a normal couple, and we don’t have the option of transferring this summer. For us, the hope is to simply transfer within the next year, and if that is unsuccessful, my body may be unable to produce another viable embryo to try again at that point. We need to do another cycle while we still can, and that means less time to focus on the next part of the process and more money spent on IVF when we desperately need it for other aspects of the surrogacy. We knew that all of this was a likelihood– from the beginning we were tentatively planning for another round of treatment sometime in August– but then I went and let myself hope that that fourth embryo was an indication that we’d finally found the missing key.

“Do you want to know the gender of your embryo?” my nurse asked, before ending the call.

“Yes,” I replied, wanting to know as much about this group of cells as was possible to know.

But as she told me, I didn’t know what to say in response. Here this potential future child is ready and waiting for us, but there is nothing I can do about it right now.

27 thoughts on “IVF #2: Snowflakes in Spring

  1. It’s hard to be happy with just one. My story was the same I had 4 and only 1 came back normal. So many of us are cheering you on, be happy with your 1 and I will keep my fingers crossed that your wait isn’t as long as you’re anticipating. Sending you Big Hugs!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good heavens… talk about a cliff hanger of a post.
    I am so sorry for the devastating news and perhaps it is just this type of “positive bullshit” that people say all the time… but it only takes one, right?

    Should I delete this comment and just say, instead, “damn, I am so sorry.”

    Whichever way, know that I am thinking of you wishing I knew just the right thing to say.


    1. Thank you! I’ve learned that there sometimes isn’t always a ‘right thing to say,’ unfortunately, which is what can make it so hard to support someone through something like this, I think. It’s definitely a blow and it’s not what we were expecting, but it’s not the end of the road just yet and we will keep going. But I appreciate your thoughts and your support. It means a lot just knowing that there are women like you who would never have needed to venture into the world of infertility but chose to do it because it was important to you to help someone else through it. This is not an easy world to be a part of, whether your are here because of your own body’s struggles or someone else’s. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow. Thinking of you. I’m sorry the news wasn’t what you had hoped. I hope this little snowflake is your future child and you get to meet him/her very soon. X

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! It still feels like a very long time away, and the wait is hard. But I will say that it is easier this time knowing that the wait does eventually end, no matter how long the road seems to take to get there.

      It’s almost monarch season here, so look for some pictures on Facebook soon! I went to check for some eggs yesterday but didn’t see anything, so hopefully they’ll make their way here soon because I am anxious to get started!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m sorry the cycle didn’t quite go as planned Ashley. I love your little embryo already, male or female, and praying you find a way forward. Lots of love x x x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you ❤ It has been a setback for sure, but not an impossible-to-overcome one. I still never forget how lucky we have been (and are), even if it's just one for now. Keeping you in my thoughts all month!!


  5. What a beautifully written post. I know the struggle with getting just the 1. My second IVF we had 5 embryos tested and only one came back normal. I was so distraught. We did another IVF and got 2 more, but wouldn’t you know, those were transferred and no baby came from them. My son came from that “only one” batch! Wishing you all the best!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I actually remember so much of what you went through to have your miracles and think of it often. Part of why I feel so confident in moving forward and trying again is because you should so much strength (though I’m sure you didn’t always feel strong then!) in continuing through your journey and I always felt in awe of you. And you also showed me that even after repeated setbacks, there is still hope, so thank you for that. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s so sweet of you to day. Believe me, there were many days /months there where I just couldn’t handle it, but then I said you know what, it is what it is. I put it to God. I kept saying to myself, “take it all as it comes, God is with us, God is for us” and it gave me such peace. I said as long as I can feel like I’ve done everything possible, I will be ok in the end with whatever happens. I feel in my heart you are doing everything you’re supposed to be doing and God is with you on this journey and he will give you what your heart desires.


  6. Ashley, I’m so sorry that your cycle was full of the worst “what-ifs” coming true. I’ve been so eagerly awaiting your update, too. I so dislike platitudes, and I won’t say to be thrilled with “just” one because I know the pain of losing the others/having abnormalities identified is heartbreaking. That said, I’m still glad you came out of this cycle with at least one.

    I’ll be thinking of and praying for you in the days ahead. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s very true. It’s sometimes easy to overlook the good in the midst of difficult news. I was hoping to be one of the “lucky ones” for whom the second cycle just clicked, but all is not lost. It’s tough to know we are adding more time and steps and money to an already long and expensive process, but we are picking up the pieces and looking forward. I’ve been meaning to email you as well, this has been such a crazy time… the only weekend we’ve spent at home in the last month and a half or so was graduation, and now we are in the middle of looking for a house with a deadline to move just a few weeks away (!!), but I would really love to catch up. I hope you are doing well. Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers as well. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, there is always hope! I have seen so many women here (you included!) that have overcome so much. I believe that as long as we keep pushing we will get where we’re meant to be. Thank you for thinking of me!


    1. Thank you! I will take all the strength I can get. Now that I’ve gotten past some of the shock and we are making plans to do another round, I am feeling a little stronger. The most helpful thing is that we already have proof that this can work and I know just how ‘worth it’ the struggle is. ❤

      Liked by 3 people

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