You know the cyclone scene in The Wizard of Oz when the tornado tears through Dorothy’s farm? It rips her house off the ground and she’s swirled through the sky as everything shifts around her. Outside nothing makes sense: chickens in their coop fly by her window, two men tip their hats as they row their boat along, and Miss Gulch is on her bicycle, eventually morphing into the Wicked Witch. Then, as the house begins to fall, Dorothy braces for impact when– suddenly– it’s over. Her world stops spinning, and everything becomes eerily still. In the deafening silence, she gathers up her dog and her basket and opens the door.
That is kind of how I picture an IVF cycle. It’s easy to feel completely consumed by treatment as you detach from the routine of normal life and try to hold on in a world bound together by an extreme lack of control. It’s a bizarre reality, so different from what you once imagined when you envisioned having a family. Each ultrasound, each blood draw, each injection brings you closer to the egg retrieval. And then it all ends so abruptly. There are no more appointments to organize your life around; any leftover boxes of expensive medication and unused syringes become utterly useless. The stillness that follows feels strange and unsettling, and you’re left with this number– such a simple thing that holds so much meaning. The intention is to resume life as normal, but the experience has changed you, and anyway, you’ve been dropped in a different place than you started.
On a late morning in January, I woke up from my most recent egg retrieval hurting more than the last time but not as much as the first. My left ovary, with its endometrioma and years of damage, was intensely painful in a way I didn’t fully experience last year, and it took a little longer to get it under control. Finally, after what felt like hours, the attending nurse pulled back the curtain with the number I was waiting for: 19 eggs. It was 2 more than the last cycle but still 8 eggs less than the first. The small improvement left me hopeful that we’d have an embryo count in the double digits this round– an arbitrary marker I had become focused on over the last few months of preparation.
The next morning my nurse called to say there were 9 new embryos bearing my name, the same number as my previous cycle… and I felt a stab of disappointment. Experience had taught me that while my early numbers were always objectively good, those embryos were likely to suddenly, inexplicably fail to thrive right when it mattered the most.
Over the next several days I wandered through life feeling disconnected, waiting for updates and fearing the worst, chastising myself for pushing so hard to do treatment at a time when we seemed to be barely surviving our normal lives. But on the fifth morning, the call came through that four embryos had survived to be biopsied and were frozen until further notice. Again, it was exactly the same number as our second cycle, and again, the numbers still seemed good.
We’d been in this position before, though, just nine months prior. And, just like last time, the results came back two weeks later that nearly all of our embryos were abnormal– only one remained. In the IVF world, the popular phrase is that, “you only need one,” but that wasn’t true for us four years ago as we waited to transfer our second and last embryo. From this cycle we bought ourselves a single chance– but certainly no guarantee. We now have two embryos on ice, and for that, I am so grateful, but our window to create more, if any, is rapidly closing. As the months– now years– continue to pass, I feel the burden of that increased pressure.
For a long time after completing treatment, I felt… adrift. It’s taken me nearly three months just to sit down and write about the results, and in that time my retrieval already feels like it happened in another life. The truth is, I don’t know what to say anymore. This is my 100th entry here since I began posting in 2014, and sometimes it just feels like I’m writing the same thing over and over again. For nearly 8 years now, infertility has been a merry-go-round that I just can’t step off. And now, after so long, there are days that I feel like the only thing I want to say is… it hurts. It hurts so badly.
A dream is a wish your heart makes-Walt Disney’s Cinderella
When you’re fast asleep
In dreams you will lose your heartache
Whatever you wish for, you keep
Have faith in your dreams and someday
Your rainbow will come smiling through
No matter how your heart is grieving
If you keep on believing
That dream that you wish will come true