And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.– Anaïs Nin
The embryo transfer is behind us and we’ve started the countdown.
The morning of the procedure was one of the hardest so far for me. I woke up feeling sick with dread and fear, terrified that we would arrive at the clinic to hear that it was already over for our embryo, that it hadn’t survived the thaw. We had no control in the situation– not even the pretense of it. As I walked down the stairs with a pit in my stomach that morning, something caught my eye outside the window: snowflakes. Just a few of them, swirling around our front yard with the sun as a backdrop; the rest of the day was perfectly clear.
A few nights before, I told Ross that we would soon be having an appointment to see our “snowflake,” and that Gram would be spending the day with him. Immediately he wanted to know if he could come too; he wanted to see the snowflake that Elsa had frozen for us. When I explained that kids weren’t allowed to be there he took a moment to process the rejection and scowled, saying, “That is not very nice.”
We didn’t talk about it again after that, but not long before we left for the clinic, Ross wondered aloud if the snowflake would be ready to come home to us. Painfully I tried to find a way to tell him that although we were seeing the snowflake and would finally have a picture to hang on the fridge, it would still be going home with Becca and her family for now. It was then that he came over to slip his hand in mine and pleadingly whisper, “Mama… I really want a brother. I really, really want a brother, Mama.” It shocked me to hear that he’d made this connection in his mind despite us talking about it in the vaguest of terms. All I could do was hold his hand and nod my understanding through tears. “I know you do, buddy. I’m trying,” I whispered back. But it was like a single moment of clarity in his busy toddler mind because after that, even when I showed him the picture of the embryo, he never mentioned it again.
It has been almost five years since our last embryo transfer, and so much has changed in that time– we have changed so much. Even though we walked into the same waiting area, it felt strange. For one, waiting beside another couple only served to underscore just how different our situation was. The clinic had also done some rearranging: the small area of lockers had been replaced by a reception desk, and instead of changing in the adjoining bathroom, we were directed to the small “rooms” closed off by curtains where I’d recovered from my retrievals.
They took Becca back first, and once she was settled, we were led to her room. Here we were expected to cram into a small space and change next to her recliner– awkwardly pulling full-body paper jumpsuits on over our street clothes, as well as a hairnet and disposable booties over our shoes. There wasn’t really enough room for the three of us– because the area was designed for a normal couple going through IVF, not a surrogacy situation. I tried to tamp down my hurt and irritation with the clinic’s oversight, and we jammed our coats, scarves, and bags into the single locker provided, along with Becca’s things.
To my dismay, our doctor wasn’t performing the embryo transfers that day; instead, they were being done by a doctor I’d only met once when she did my third egg retrieval in January 2019. I trusted Dr. K but I barely knew this other doctor, and it made me nervous to hand over complete control to her. She pulled back the curtain and perfunctorily went over the paperwork, which we signed and dated, and within a few minutes, we were being led back to the surgical room.
I’ve thought about our previous embryo transfers many times over the years, and often wondered what it would be like to experience one again, but there is really no way to prepare. Like the times before, it felt strange and surreal and incredible and crazy and completely overwhelming. As we waited for the embryologist to show us the physical evidence of this embryo, I thought of being in that same room during each experience we’d had there over the years: the times I was put under anesthesia in hopes of producing enough eggs for the embryos we needed and my very first retrieval at 27, the first time we sat next to Elle for a transfer when none of us had any idea of what to expect, the first time someone handed me a photo of our very own embryo, and the exact moment we first saw Ross on the screen when he was just a microscopic group of cells– our final embryo and last hope.
As the feed from the embryology lab switched on the screen, we saw a petri dish with my name and patient number labeled on the side. Somewhere in my mind it registered that if the transfer was successful, it would be the last time my name would be on anything for this child until the birth certificate. The embryologist adjusted the camera and zoomed in until suddenly– there it was.
I don’t think I breathed normally through the entire procedure. It happens so fast that it’s almost a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of thing, but we all watched the ultrasound monitor, and saw the catheter, and just like that a tiny bubble of fluid appeared with the embryo inside– a little blip on a screen. For more than 600 long days since this embryo came into existence on May 10, 2018, I have carried the hope of it with me and been desperate to have this photo, to see what it looked like.
Although the clinic doesn’t give printouts of the photos anymore, we received a digital copy shortly after, which we printed out that night to hang on the fridge just like before. When Ross was born I had his embryo photo made into a magnet because I never wanted to forget how lucky we are to have him, and it’s his magnet that is holding up the new picture, along with some of his preschool artwork.
Following the transfer, we pulled off our jumpsuits, gathered our things, and walked back out into the sunshine. It was bright and mild, the kind of February day that makes you feel like maybe spring isn’t so far away after all. Becca gave me a sweet little crocheted snowflake she’d made that morning, which is now next to the polar bear I’ve carried with me through this process; they’re sitting on my nightstand, where Ross’ Paddington Bear once waited for him.
Our embryo has been frozen for nearly two years, but it is a snowflake no longer, and there is no going back. I feel more attached than ever now, and I’m terrified of the potential loss and what it will mean for us.
February has been a brutal month overall. Ross and I became very sick, and he missed about two weeks of school as he battled back from it. My sickness turned into bronchitis that settled deep into my body and seemed like it would never leave. Even as we have recovered, I feel like I’ve been left at a low ebb. The stress and fear from the impending result where our future and our child hang in the balance is paralyzing at times; even the hours feel slow. I try to remind myself that if this embryo is lost, it will not be the end for us. We still have one more snowflake left, an embryo I also don’t want to leave behind, and I am already mentally preparing to undergo another IVF cycle in the coming months if that’s what it takes.
But for now, for this embryo, we have come as far as we can, and all we can do is wait and pray and hope.
Feeling so incomplete,
Wonder will we ever meet?
And would you know it right away
How hard I tried to see your face?
A little screen, a photograph, mine to take
And now, somehow I just want you more– More; Halsey
*Please, please don’t ask us the results before we’ve shared them here, which we will do in the next couple weeks after receiving the results. Good or bad news, we want a chance to process and tell our families. This is by far the hardest part of being open, but we’ve wanted to be honest about what this experience is like. Thank you for all your love and support.*