Adventures in making and raising our test-tube babies

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Born Parents



As historical proof of what good parents we'd make, see the pictures I dug up of me and James and our babies. Note that I have maintained the same sense of personal modesty and decorum since this picture was taken.

Jellyfish




I like jellyfish a lot.

I started thinking about them because I heard a snippet of a Jimmy Buffet song this morning:

"I'd like to be a jellyfish, Cause jellyfish don't pay rent, ...
They're just simple protoplasm,Clear as cellophane,
They ride the winds of fortune, Life without a brain."

They're also very beautiful, and they have always inspired me in a visual, artistic sense. I fell in love with them in the "Fatal Beauties" exhibit in the New Orleans Acquarium a decade ago, when I saw a million of them, big and little, translucent white, floating around and trailing wisps of themselves like so many Ginger Rogers dresses. They were backlit in the exhibit, and glowed an ethereal light. I always wanted to make a beautiful jellyfish dress.

So as I thought about what it would be like to be a jellyfish, I naturally wondered about their reproduction. I Google-searched the question and found a very detailed account of how it works, on a site called Animal Corner. It was so outlandish and complicated that it reminded me of IVF. It involves the male and female jellyfish's releasing their eggs and sperm into the sea independently. Those elements then find each other -- without the parents' having to touch -- and after a very long process, the baby jellyfish form. See the diagram, and know that the diagram will not enlighten you one bit.

Not having a brain probably keeps the animals from having to worry about whether their eggs and sperm will be successful. But it probably also keeps them from recognizing and even naming their offspring, much less becoming attached to them.

And so after much thought, I guess I'm glad I'm not a jellyfish, but maybe I'd like to vacation as one. If I were on vacation as a jellyfish, I think I'd prefer to go to the beach rather than the mountains. But that's another blog entry.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Three Dozen and No Baby

I am three dozen years old, as of Sunday. I woke up sad because I was babyless at this late age.

Within a week I'll be taking the pregnancy test to see if this round of IVF worked. Having my blood drawn in the morning and waiting until the evening to hear the news is a difficult experience. My dear sister-in-law, Erin, was in charge of me last time, and fed me with ice cream and trips to the craft supply store to keep me distracted. That was so nice of her and so important for me! This time around I'll be going to work, which is not as sweet or as fun, but has a nice firm structure to it. (So to speak).

And here is where we pull the rug out from under you. We intend NOT to post our results here on our blog. Why?

Because if it's positive, we will have entered the realm of early pregnancy. With IVF pregnancies the statistics show a higher rate of miscarriage and complications. (They suspect this is partly related to the fact that many normal women have miscarriages without knowing they were ever pregnant -- so those aren't included in the miscarriage stats). My wonderful husband, who has extraordinary flexibility and tolerance for me in all things, and has exhibited great patience with everything I write about him on the Internet, pointed out that maybe newly pregnant women keep their pregnancy a secret for the first 12 weeks for a reason. Maybe we should try it. Maybe we would not want to tell everybody in the whole world about this particular experience.

If the pregnancy test were negative, I'd be happy to tell you. But if you expect to hear from me when it's negative and hear silence when it's positive, well, that's not a very good system for keeping a secret.

So you can expect to hear general pontifications from me on this blog, but not the results. We'll tell you soon enough.

In the meantime, I wanted to let everyone know that I've really appreciated your birthday thoughts and greetings. I've been sleeping a lot and haven't gotten to call anyone back. My normal email account has also been down recently, but if you'd like to email me, you can find me at katherineminabailey@yahoo.com.

Thanks, all!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Another Bath Poem

My dear friend Jennifer pulled this poem out of her brain, in response to my bath poem. I had to post it; it deserves the light of day!

Because dear Kay
from baths is banned,
I'll take one for her;
give a helping hand.

I've filled the tub
with salts and sud,
tuned out the world,
applied facial mud.

I've slid down into
the steamy water.
Submerged my chin;
I float like an otter.

The sweet aroma
fills my nose.
I feel water wrinkles
form on my toes

I hum a lilting tune
and lean back to dream
of Dr. McDreamy
sharing my steam.

But wait. Oh no!
What's this about?
I'm getting sweaty!
I must get out!

What once was pleasant
now is not.
What I thought was heaven
is just downright HOT.

And I've got this muck
all over my face.
My pores can't breathe;
to get it off I race.

Turn on the cold water,
unclog the drain.
Get this soap off me,
I whine and complain.

My bath is over,
my mood has turned sour.
Get out of my way,
I want a cold shower!!

Primary and Secondary Infertility

I was speaking to a friend this weekend -- let's call her Anne -- who has been trying to conceive her second child for over a year. She has what's called "secondary infertility." There is a lot of discussion on the support group websites about whether that's better or worse than primary infertility. The women who haven't yet had one child usually say, "At least you have one child. That's better than nothing." And the women who want more children say something like, "If you have one leg, it doesn't mean you don't desperately want a second."

I've never bought the leg thing completely, but I do understand that when someone wants something and can't have it, it hurts. My friend Lucy agrees. She was telling me the other day that she thought everybody's suffering was valid, even if it was for what seemed like a trivial cause. Suffering is suffering, and pain hurts, no matter what it's for. Oneupmanship in pain is useless.

So Anne brought up a point that I'd heard before but couldn't really appreciate until I put it into the context of her life with her own toddler. She said, "I guess the way it's different is that you know what you're missing. When you wish for a second child, you know exactly what it would be like to have it." I watched her hold and interact with her little toddler. I tried to see the invisible waves of love and understanding vibrate between her eyes and his. I didn't see it, I couldn't feel it, but I was so close, I know it must have been there. I marveled. I imagined it. I wondered.

James and I also went to a family reunion this weekend and I saw a 7-week old little baby, my first-cousin-once-removed-in-law. I held her and fed her and watched her little face and played with her miniature hands. When her daddy took her away I missed her. I watched her go.

I can't wait till I get to experience secondary infertility.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Ode to a Bath

I love baths. I composed this poem the last time I went through IVF, while the progesterone worked its magic, and I waited to see if the embryos were still in there when it came time to take the pregnancy test. My previous doctor ruled out baths during this period for sanitation reasons. My current doctor hasn't mentioned baths, but better safe than sorry. Now that I'm reliving the bath moratorium, I thought I'd pull out this gem for you.

It's called "Ode to a Bath."

Hot baths are listed as taboo
As things that we should never do.
While over embryos we fuss
To keep them in the uterus.

They’ve got two weeks to dig right in
And if they do, by God, we win.
But teeny cells are very weak
And thus our care providers speak:

Don’t do a thing to make them mad.
The best of blastocysts are glad.
They’ve got no tension or infection
Your voice should keep a calm inflection.

Your body should glide over the floors.
Exude your health from all your pores.
Keep far away from work and labor
Lest your womb-room fall from favor.

Think not a worried thought at all
Make sure those cells will have a ball.
You can’t do things to make you tired.
The embryos would yell at you, “You’re Fired!”

Like raking leaves or digging soil,
Or heavy lifting, strain, or toil.
Make sure you make a good role model
So your babies be born, then crawl, then toddle.

Don’t swallow knives or take bad pills
Or pick up any sorts of ills.
Don’t take a jog or go kick boxin’,
Imbibe caffeine or other toxin.

And most of all, don’t take a bath!
It’s full of germs; you do the math.
Your birth canal can flow both ways
And carry viruses from long days

Of petting cats and shaking hands
And traipsing round in foreign lands.
Keep those kids as safe and sound
While uterus blood goes swishing round.

That brownish goo, that tampon juice
Today keeps out the germs profuse.
But oh the shots have bruised my butt.
I feel as dirty as a mutt.

I long to soak myself and let
The kinks melt off and mind forget
My worries, fears, and baby thoughts,
The “Maybe Pregnant”s, “Maybe Not”s.

I dream and dream about the day
When Calgon can take me away.
Till then, a shower’s the best I’ll do:
A dash of soap, a splash shampoo.

And here I stand and there’s the rub
I’ll bathe not in my sudsy tub

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Butt of this Joke

Let's talk about my derriere.

My rear end is the target of a 22 gauge 1.5 inch needle every night. This is not one of those things that you barely feel. I have to be iced down beforehand to make it tolerable. The needle is so wide you can see into it. It has to be because the fluid it delivers is not water-based. Even with the wide needle, it takes forever to draw it into the hypodermic. And then I get one full cc of viscous sesame oil, laced with progesterone, right in the rump.

There are various effects of this treatment. First of all, it's called "pro[-]gesterone" because it supports the life in the uterus (if there still is life there; fingers still crossed, people). It makes it a yummy, cuddly place to be. I wish I were in there, because being outside in the rest of the body is not as welcoming. Second of all, the hormones make me drop-dead tired like I have been the last few days. And third of all, there's the question of my butt.

I am collecting bruises of varying colors. These have gotten so plentiful that I can't lie on either side without feeling one of these souveniers. That's in the parts of my rear that I can still feel. They promise the feeling will come back to the rest of my flesh, but maybe not for 6 months. Funny; I lost this particular feeling back in September, so that's 8 months and counting.

And my last observation is one that comes from CSI and other forensic crime-solving shows in the Quincy tradition. In those, medical examiners can always find needle puncture marks on the corpses. So if the dead bodies retain their punctures, shouldn't mine? I calculated the other day that I have endured 53 punctures in the last two months, including shots, blood draws and IVs. I'm not sure if the MEs could find the tiny little belly shot marks, but the butt shots are mammoth. I'd think anyone with a microscope, or just good eyesight, would be able to find them. I keep thinking -- and here is the image that has been in my head for days -- that if my lower abdomen and pelvis were a water balloon, then the water would flow from the holes on my "upper, outer" butt like cat's whiskers. Gosh, I kind of wish that could happen because it would be so neat.

I'll leave you with that picture.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Dead Tired, but Alive

My dear friends Deann and Laura, both veteran mothers, told me yesterday at work that "I didn't know tired." They said that to me as I was slumped back in my chair, letting gravity pull me down onto the closest horizontal surfaces for all my tired body parts. That was rght before I went home early to take a nap.

And so to Deann and Laura, I say, FALSE.

I do know tired. I am devoted to tired. I live it. I sleep it.

James calculated last night (after my 4.5 hour nap) that I have been sleeping about 16.5 hours a day since we brought the embryos home. As I recounted how I'd wanted to take a lot of naps the last time I did IVF, James interrupted me.

"How do I say this?" he started. "You seem... tired ALL THE TIME." He pointed out that I'd dragged myself downstairs at 9:00 p.m. when he came home from work, choked down some macaroni and cheese, laid on the couch, and then dragged myself upstairs to throw myself back in bed. The only other thing I'd done in that time was to put a sheet of Saran Wrap loosely over the bowl of mac & cheese (with spoon still embedded in it) and stick the whole thing in the fridge. Usually our rule is that if he cooks, I clean up. The Saran Wrap was a sad little showing of housekeeping.

After he recounted these most recent events, he was forced to conclude, "You're pretty much useless." As he said that, he tried so hard to suppress a giggle that it almost came out of his ears.

Uselessness is not usually a quality that I embrace, but I'll take it this time. I don't have much choice.

I'll write more when my wrists are better able to hold my hands above the keyboard.

To the people who have emailed me, I will email you back soon. I promise. Sometime.

And to my friend Ashley, thank you for the cookies! They have provided vital caloric and emotional sustenance.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Some Enchanted Evening

Yesterday I spent most of the day on bedrest. My sentence was lifted when James came home from work. I was excited to get downstairs, but after dinner and the progesterone shot, I got weary. After only a few hours of freedom, I dragged myself back to my bedroom cell.

But with the window open and lying in our new bed, I had a marvelous time. The springtime air was thick -- dare I say impregnated? -- with the sweetest-smelling of allergens, as bumble bees and pollen danced and tumbled around on the breeze. The tomato seedlings in James's garden emitted hope and fragrance, and the night echoed the absence of basketball games on the school courts behind our yard.

The temperature was too cool for Tennessee Williams, but I imagined swarms of gnats out there just the same. It was the perfect night to have the window open, the ceiling fan on, and to be buried in a quilt.

As I lay on my pillows, with cat sidekick captivated by the goings-on outside, I thought loudly and crisply to myself, "Right now I am pregnant. Right now I am pregnant. Right now I am pregnant."

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Kids


Bringing Home Babies

This is a post about instincts, and the lowering of thresholds.

In college psychology I learned that when an animal has instincts, and those instincts don't have the appropriate context to operate in, the animal lowers the threshold it needs to have those instincts kick in.

For example, a housecat has instincts to hunt. But if it's inside all day without any squirrels or field mice to bat around, it lowers its threshold for what makes it hunt. And it starts preying on strings or phone cords or little balls with bells in them. It has to express the instinct, even if it ends up looking silly.

So here goes:

We brought our babies home this week! And I can officially declare that for at least four days or so, I'm pregnant! Of course, I'm talking about embryos that were conceived in a petri dish six days ago. In a few weeks we'll know if they implanted into the uterine lining or whether they get washed away in the next menstrual cycle. We have a 50% chance of either happening.

The speed and quality of the embryo growth (cells dividing) is what the doctors use to determine whether they should transfer them back into the uterus on the third day of their little lives, or the fifth day. The fifth is preferable. Day 5 embryos have a better chance of becoming babies. That's not because there's something special about hanging out in the lab; it's just that the more time the embryologists have to evaluate the embryos, the longer they have to let the strongest embryos prove themselves. We were scheduled for a Day 3 transfer originally, because we didn't have a ton of embryos to play with, and it's better to be safe than sorry in terms of sticking a couple embryos in on time. But on the morning of the transfer, when I was drinking my prescribed 32 oz. of water and James was driving me to the clinic, I got a cell phone call telling us to turn back: the clinic decided at the last minute that they could wait till Day 5. Yea! But really. Couldn't they have called before we got on the road?

Day 5 took forever to arrive. And something special arrived the day before Day 5: a new metal bed frame for our bed. I was home resting that day, and three separate people who knew me told me NOT to assemble the bed when it came. My friend Karen suggested we set up a hotline to keep me from doing that oh-so-enticing physical labor. And it was that suggestion, as I looked at the frame that just had a few screws to put in and really wasn't that heavy, that kept me from tackling the job singlehanded while I was still on painkillers. James came home that night and saved me, and together we put together the stately metal bed worthy of parents-to-be. When Day 5 finally came, we greeted the morning from our new bed, in a newly-rearranged bedroom, with the sun shining in the window.

The embryo transfer was not that eventful, except for what it ultimately achieved. Most of the hour and a half we were in the office was characterized by my having to go to the bathroom. That was on purpose. A full bladder pushes the uterus up to a convenient location to snake a catheter into. I find it amazing that in some cases, all you need to do to rearrange internal organs is to drink some water. That's really fascinating. Just goes to show that IVF uses everything from the high tech to the low tech to make babies.

The doctor who attended to us was the sweetest man I've ever met that has an umlaut sound in his last name, and actually pronounces it. He was from Germany, maybe, but his sweet chit-chat skills were pure Deep South. He was very engaging.

When he got the catheter into place in my uterus he opened the door to the lab, which glowed lime green neon, he yelled, "Ready in Room 1!" (another high tech exchange) and soon the nurse came in with a little tube that she was holding gingerly. "They're here!" she told us, very sweetly. The doctor connected that tube to the catheter and squeezed the babies in. With a slight wave of moisture showing up on the ultrasound, he delivered our babies.

On the way home, James showed the kind of paternal tenderness that I haven't seen since we took our new kitty to the vet some years ago. On that trip, James sat in the back seat with Sarah in his lap and brown paw prints across the chest of his blue silk shirt. He explained to her the history of how they divided up Virginia and Maryland to create the district of Columbia. He figured she needed to know it since she was a Virginia kitty. Ah, that was a long trip.

So this time, as we got back to our neighborhood, James pointed out our favorite restaurants and gave a child-friendly description of each as we passed them. We wound up at McDonalds, which is where I get to go after all my serious fertility procedures, and we told the babies that they weren't allowed to eat there after they were born because it's unhealthy. And so their mother proceeded to order a Big Mac Meal with an artificially-sweetened lemonade (because the caffeinated Diet Coke is so bad for me), fries, and a caramel sundae. The babies' first meal was a bite of a French fry.

When we got me home, I was ordered to stay on bedrest for 24 hours at least. I had been imposing a more-than-normal rest regime (a.k.a. less work than normal) on myself, on and off since they sucked my eggs out, but I was not prepared for a doctor's definition of bedrest. You know what that is? They make you stay in bed! You can get up to go to the bathroom, which I'm now grateful for. That's great exercise and entertainment. But do you know, they allow you a trip upstairs if that's where your bed is, but then you can't go up or down stairs for a full day after that! Hmph!

Fortunately I have this lovely new bed, a very congenial cat, and the best husband money can buy. When I mentioned that I wanted a snack yesterday afternoon, maybe (and I quote), "a piece of bread," James whipped me up a quesadilla and some homemade limeade. For dinner he carried on the Latin American theme and procured some Peruvian chicken and for dessert a plastic cup of Tres Leches cake. This morning before work he brought me my cereal and my various medicines, and a glass of water. He also made me a lunch, which is sitting to the side of my bed. It contains a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (no need to refrigerate or heat up), some pretzels, and some cranberry lemonade of his own concoction. He was also sweet enough to scan our picture of our babies, which I'll post here.

And finally, with the Pope visiting Washington DC this week, I'll say something that's been on my mind for a while. I am now more convinced than ever that life begins at conception. And perhaps more than that, I am convinced that there is nothing, nothing more personal than the relationship between a woman and the life she carries inside her. I believe that no one should be dictating or legislating "easy answers" to the hard decisions that she has to make about what happens with that life. If anyone wants to carry an unwanted baby to term, I know a lot of women who would love to adopt it, myself included. But I know even more women for whom reproductive choices are sacred. I've never felt as passionately about reproductive rights as I do now that I'm trying to reproduce.

Me, if I could carry these one or both of these two babies to term, I'd be the happiest animal on earth. And then I could post pictures of babies with more than 240 cells each. And maybe I could stop mothering the cat.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My Boy, Bill

This morning my dad reminded me of the song "My Boy, Bill," from the musical "Carousel." We sang that song all the time when we were little, when we rode in the yellow-gold Toyota that only had the 8-track player.

Here's a snippet:

"I can tell him ...Wait a minute! Could it be? What the hell! What if he is a girl?"

In the play, the character Bill finds out he's going to be a father and starts planning how he will raise his son. And then he comes to this dreadful realization that it might be a girl, and fortunately by the end of the song he comes to terms with it.

After Dad read my last post, he pointed out that sometimes when people have babies, they have boys. I might be one of those people.

And to that I say, "Bring it on."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Nature and Nurture

I have expected to be a mother ever since I have been a daughter. Then there was a point when I thought that being a mother would hold me back from being an accomplished woman. And finally I came around again to thinking that if I weren't a mother, I couldn't be complete.

Here's how it all went.

First, I became aware of "my daughter" when my mom showed me her childhood diary. Instantly the idea of having a daughter looking back at my childhood stuck. I wrote in diaries for years and years and years. And every single word was written with my daughter-reader in mind. Mostly I kept track of what I wore every day and who I had a crush on. It's horrible reading.

Next came something that I didn't think would be related. My mom moved away and I lived apart for her for a few of my teenage years. I had no lack of doting adults around me, especially my dad, but the mother-daughter bond is unique. I missed Mom so much I could feel it in my chest and in my stomach. I tried not to let anyone know. I tried to seem that I was completely self-sufficient.

In the meantime, I was taught to be a feminist. I think I misunderstood what that meant. I thought I had to be dazzling, famous, super-smart, all things to all people, all on my own. I thought I had to scoff at the idea of pairing up with a man. It helped that I didn't think anyone would want to be my boyfriend anyway. I went ahead and proved how much I didn't need anyone. If anything, I acted motherly. Take care of everyone and need no one. But MY GOD I wanted a boyfriend!

I carried it all to college, where my crushes and mothering activities were legion. I tried my best to be phenomenal. It was harder than it had been in high school. When college was done and we scattered to the ends of the earth, I thought I might as well go abroad and have big adventures, since nobody in the US wanted to be my boyfriend. It was just as well, too, since people who got married after college were forfeiting their feminism, throwing away the chance to be famous award-winning superstar accomplishers. When I heard of people coupling up, and especially starting to have babies, I pitied them. That's what I thought.

And then, after I'd lived in two foreign countries, learned two different languages, and was working on my Master's, I felt something one day. I was walking down the street in New Orleans and I felt a tingling in my right hand. I looked down and realized that what I felt was the absence of a child. The absence of a little baby hand to hold. The same year, I started having a similar sensation in the inside of my left upper arm. It was where I might cradle a baby's head. My arm would not leave my mind alone.

My so-called "feminism" was crumbling, losing out to my biology. I started to obsess about a baby. That was ten years ago. I was still ashamed of wanting to procreate because it seemed so weak and so needy. I didn't tell anybody. Until I told my friend Betsy. And she told me. In whispers. We freaked ourselves out about how our fertility rates would start declining soon. That started the panic.

Within a few years, traveling internationally, going to law school, being a star at work, I was desperate for that baby. Secretly desperate, but DESPERATE. I went to a bookstore and found a book that I thought I should bring home in a brown paper bag: The Surrendered Single: A Practical Guide to Attracting and Marrying the Man who's Right for You. There I was, admitting to the cashier anyway, that I wanted to get married.

How feminist was that?

What started out as a quest to find a baby-daddy ended up with the love of my life falling in love with me. I had given up hope that anyone would want to go out with me for myself. Maybe my accomplishments, but not plain old boring me. I couldn't imagine a relationship between equals. I couldn't imagine being myself, and being loved for it. I thought at least I could find something that was good enough, so I could have my secret desire - that baby.

But nope. Here was James. We met at the multi-state ethics exam in the last semester of law school. We had assigned seats together and the first thing I said to him was that I was going to cheat off him. We giggled and fell in love. Entirely accidentally, I found myself in a relationship of equals, characterized by bliss and acceptance. With not a smidge of compromise to be found. At that late date, I started to realize that if I'd been more of a true, wise feminist, with real self-esteem and a little self-knowledge, I could have had some power and happiness in a relationship before then. Sigh. Boy, was I lucky to fall into something this good. And that was just the beginning.

With James, I was able to confess my big bad secret: that I wanted to be not just a wife but also a mother. And he didn't see that as a sign of failure, weakness, provinciality. He took it as normal. Yeah.

We dated for two years and have been married for two more. As the prospect of having a baby seemed closer, I started to relax about it. And then we started trying, and I started to not relax again. Two years of trying can return a woman to desperation.

It's been interesting to compare my approach and James's to the procreation imperative. As we grow into our own little family, I've fallen deeper and deeper into the need to have a baby. James wants us to be a family, wants to have children that have half him and half me, and wants me to fulfill my dreams. But his feelings aren't as visceral. Me, I've sunk straight to the way I felt when I was separated from my mom. It's exactly the same feeling. It's in my throat, my heart, my stomach. I miss my babies. I miss them. I need them. Never mind that I've never met them. I've known them for 35 years. Almost 36.

My 36-year-old feminism is very different than my 16-year-old feminism. I have a fabulous partner in life, and I have the chance to be creative and do art all the time. I use my law degree only as much as I want, to make money and otherwise put no pressure on myself. I have learned that lawyerness, higher education, fame on Google, single-handedly changing the world in every way, none of these make me a feminist or even a more important person. Knowing who I am and what I need and what I want, and acting accordingly, those are what make me successful.

And so with that I can proudly announce to everyone on the Internet that I want to be a wife and mother and artist. All of those things make me a better person, and from those platforms I can make the greatest impact on the world. Feminism-wise and otherwise.

And I want to have a baby, and damnit, I will use everything I have to make it happen. The irony of it all is that I can't "achieve" myself into conceiving. But with my favorite person, James, at my side, we'll keep trying.

We currently have six embryos growing in a petri dish in Maryland. Soon we'll have a couple of them inside me. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Baby Making



The trees are blossoming, birds are rassling with each other on our front sidewalk, and the bees are God-knows-where doing God-knows-what.


And we took a little trip to Maryland yesterday to make some embryos. Here is the description I posted last night on my support-group website:


"After a week of watching the Oocyte Follies, and getting concerned that there were only six follicles, I got good news today. They pulled eleven eggs out of me. So much better!

"I had a great experience at the egg retrieval today. The first time I did IVF, I did it at Dominion Fertility, where they are a small shop and do everything in about 4 rooms. This time I am at Shady Grove Fertility, which is a very large organization. James and I trekked to Maryland (40 minutes, but still across state lines) to go to the main Shady Grove location. The second floor is their office where they do the consultations and monitoring, and the fourth floor is devoted entirely to IVF retrievals and transfers. It wasn't that different than being in a hospital, except that they were sooo friendly and we never wanted for attention or good bedside manner.

"We had very good explanations from the anaesthesiology contractor (company is called "Sedate, Inc." -- I thought my company would be called "Enthusiastic, Inc."), the nurse, the doctor. They all knew my name and talked to us like humans, even humans with a sense of humor.

"But above everything, the best part of the day was the company of my sweet James. When I said I was getting nervous, he said I was really just going to be taking a nap. And that is something I really love doing, and something that I'm so good at! When I said I was a tiny bit bored, lying there with an IV in my arm, with nothing to do for another 40 minutes before my OR slot, James got up and -- silently, because we were just behind a curtain -- did an awesome jig-style dance for me. It was complete with marching, bent arms swinging outwards, and head tilting right and left in rhythm, all with a very silly look on his face. I giggled and giggled. Right as James sat down, the doctor came in and said, "no laughing. What do you think this is? Comedy Central?" We kept giggling.

"And then when we were alone again, James looked at me so tenderly, and I asked, "Is this true love that we've got going here?" and he took my face in his hands and kissed me so sweetly. I melted. Some of my soul might have flown back up into the IV.

"Sure enough, I went to the operating room and only had a chance to admire how interesting all the equipment was before I was out. And then I was back in the recovery room and James was pulling my clothes out of the little closet, trying to figure out which way was the front.

"On the way home we got a Big Mac and big Diet Coke. They'd cautioned us about eating spicy or greasy food as the first thing in my mouth. They said I should have a cracker first to test out whether I was going to get nauseated, post-anaesthesia. I had a piece of bun instead. And with tremendous strength of character, I skipped the French fry that was poking out of the bag, waving at me.

"And then I went to sleep. And my bed was soooo comfortable. When I woke up, James had baked me a lemon merengue pie and had a homemade pizza in the oven. And it's being handed to me now on a plate. Gotta go."


Postscript to last night: we have learned that 9 of the 11 eggs were mature, and 6 of those fertilized. So we have six embryos! Woo hoo! Keep your fingers crossed that some of those are able to hang on for the duration.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Spring Harvest

This weekend they'll be going in, and they'll be going out.

That is, I'll be having the "surgery" to have the doctors go in and suck the eggs out of me. They call it surgery because it involves a largish needle going through the side of the uterus. As far as I'm concerned, though I'll be sedated and asleep, it's just like any other gynecological procedure. Except that I'll have earned a Big Mac to be gotten on the ride home and eaten before I finally go to sleep for the day back home.

Up until this point, I have had the luxury of thinking about little stuff: the shots, my waistband, the napping contagion I picked up. But sometime soon the bigger issues will get involved.

Like my chances for success. My seventeen follicles have weeded themselves out. As of this morning, I only have six follicles that are big enough to produce mature eggs. Last time I had eleven and even that wasn't enough to work! When they gather the eggs up (I hope not in the same basket) they will put them with the sperm and see how many fertilize. Then how many fertilized embryos last three days. And then how they look when it's time to put them back in. The smaller the number of players, the more pressure each microscopic little entity has to bear. Emotionally, I mean. The fewer baskets to put my metaphorical eggs in.

And the bigger basket case their mother. In the last week and a half, my estrogen level in my blood has gone from 50 units to 1038 units. It's almost doubled in the last two days. Is it any wonder that I've been reduced to tears and chronic sleepiness? I've had to resort to maternity wear to house my puffy, completely reshaped body. (Thanks, Mom, for your emergency trip to Target). It's serious business putting a wanna-be pregnant woman in pregnant women's clothing. It wrenches my emotions to step into these clothes that I've watched from outside the store window, coveting the big bellies of the shoppers that actually get to fondle them. It seems like cheating to get to wear pregnant clothes while I'm just... puffy.

But we're moving forward, which is the only way. Retrieval ho!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Skipping Stripping

I want to tell the world how difficult it is to keep my clothes on. As my swollen, bloated belly grows seventeen grape-sized follicles, I am expanding out of my normal wardrobe. Although yesterday I deemed this "knit pants week," I have quickly changed that to "no waist-band week."

Yesterday, driven to madness by 3:00 p.m. in my knit pants with elastic waistband, I could no longer avoid stripping, so I left work, went home, and changed into my pyjamas. I fell into bed and was awakened when my dinner guest and long-time friend Jeremy knocked on the front door. We had chips and dip and when James came home from work, he was surprised, but not really, to find his wife entertaining in her pyjamas.

It is now 3:00 p.m. today. Will I be able to survive the day? Being puffy is sooo aggravating! I want a belly-ectomy. Or to change my bloated belly into a pregnant belly. I promise I wouldn't complain.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Sea of Mole

When I was a Mexican secretary, my friend Alfredo reintroduced me to Murphy's Law. He was the computer guy in my office. When I called him to show him something that was going wrong with my computer, and then he came and saw it not go wrong, he said that was "Murphy's Law." The way one says that in Spanish is "Mal de Murphy" (literally "Murphy's Curse"). But what I THOUGHT he said was "Mar de Mole," or the "Sea of Mole." Mole, of course, is the chocolate-chili sauce that you put on chicken. For years, what I thought I learned that day was that when the computer guy comes to see your computer malfunction and it doesn't, that's called "the sea of mole." I thought it was a poetic Mexican computer concept. Years later something finally clicked and I realized he meant Murphy's Law.

James and I had a little Murphy's Law incident this weekend. On Saturday I realized that I didn't have enough of one of my medicines to last me through the weekend. I could get a refill from my pharmacy, but they'd have to order it and it wouldn't get to us before Monday. So the doctor's office told me about a specialty pharmacy that had the stuff in stock. They gave us a brochure with a map to the store.

The map was drawn badly and it was not clear which direction was North. James told me that according to convention, North will be at the top of the map. We headed out in one direction. That wasn't it. We took a U-turn. We finally found where the pharmacy was supposed to be. It had moved. There was a sign on the door directing us to the new place. We found that. We got the medicine. We were hungry and cranky, but we had survived and had 300 units of Follistim in hand. And a "healthy" candy bar.

Later that day I got a call from the nurse saying they were going to reduce my dosage of the Follistim. So I wouldn't need the extra amount we had just bought. Murphy's Law. You know we'd have needed it if we hadn't bought it.

Let's bring the focus on this out a bit. I have wanted -- expected -- to be a mother as long as I can remember. I remember being seven, having my mother tell me about when she was my age, and thinking about how I would relate in the same way to my future daughter. My future children were always characters in my mind, my plans. Just as I couldn't imagine life without my parents, I couldn't imagine life without my children. I anchored my future existence on their existence.

And so when we started to try to conceive, I knew it wouldn't work. I was thrilled that my gynecologist said we could come for a check-up after six months of trying to conceive. If I hadn't been so perilously close to the dreaded 35-year mark, I would have had to wait a full year before I could seek medical intervention. But I knew -- feared -- all along that I would need medical help; I didn't trust my body with anything this important. It was the most important thing, in fact. And you know, Murphy's Law. Murphy's Law tells me that I want it too much for it to actually happen. If you want it too much, it won't happen. (And please know that I mean this as the purest form of pessimism, not as a causal explanation that our emotions cause our infertility).

This weekend a dear friend who has gone through three IVFs found out that this last one didn't work. It's devastating. She'd be a wonderful, wonderful mother. And she will be, one way or another. But it would be so much nicer if it had worked out this time. She's running very low on money, hope, and emotional reserves.

I picture her and her husband floating alone in a little rowboat in a big, dark, salty sea. Mole, mole everywhere, and not a baby to love.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Let's Give it a Shot

Lots of women get pregnant after taking shots. Vodka, tequila, you know.

My shots aren't that fun. But they're interesting. Here is what I took yesterday.

1. I took 20 units of Lupron (estrogen suppressor, which initially raises estrogen. ???!). I've been giving myself those in the mornings. First I wipe the little bottle top down with an alcohol wipe, then I stick the syringe in and draw 20 units' worth into the chamber, tap it if it has air in it, and take the needle out. Then I sterilize my tummy with the other side of the wipe, then stab the needle into my belly. I push down the plunger, count to one-thousand-three (that's only three numbers, not 1003), and take it out. Done. I could ice the site down before or after, but that's too much trouble.

2. Last night I began Follistim. That stimulates the follicles, the little sacs that the eggs grow in. Follistim comes in a little glass chamber that you stick inside what looks like a big ball-point pen. You close the pen and then get out your needles. These needles come in little pre-wrapped blister packs. You screw what looks like a cap onto the end of the pen, then the plastic cover comes off and reveals the needle under the cap. To get the appropriate amount of medicine out, you turn a dial at the end of the pen. I turn the dial to 225. That's my current prescription. After I've wiped down my belly with the alcohol, I plunge that needle into me. Actually, James does this one. When the needle is in, he pushes a button at the end of the pen until it has gone in all the way. That means the medicine (all 225 units) has gone in. One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, out.

3. I also started Menopur last night. I don't remember what that one does. It takes more effort to prepare. First you get a huge syringe out of a package, and get out two little vials: one with a liquid and one with a solid in it. After you clean the top of the liquid container, stab it with the needle and draw one cc of sterilized water into the chamber. Take the needle out of that vial. Clean the top of the second vial. Stab it, and squeeze all the liquid into it. The solid pellet of medicine instantly dissolves in the vial. Suck 75 units of the new mixture into the syringe. Then for God's sake, put the cap back on the big honkin' needle and twist. That scary needle comes off. You then get a new needle, a tiny one (1 cm), and screw that on in its place. Wipe down my belly (which I have had an ice pack on) and stab. Push down the plunger, count to three, and pull out. That's what James is doing, anyway. I am holding my breath and closing my eyes because DAMN that medicine stings!

4. Then we gather up the alcohol wipes, their wrappers, the syringe wrappers, and the extra needle wrappers, and put them in the trash. We put the little glass vials in a martini glass to save for my collection. I might make art out of this at some point. The needles all go in a red biohazard sharps box. The ice pack travels around with me in my waist band for a while until it's warm, and then it goes back into the freezer for the next day.

We have not yet gotten to the big shots, the hCG shot (triggers ovulation, so the eggs start traveling out of the ovaries and we can capture them in route) and the progesterone shots (makes the uterus habitable). Those use the big honkin' needles we used to mix the Menopur. The scary ones. Fortunately those I don't have to watch because I'll be lying on my stomach on the couch while James delivers them into my gluteus absolutamente maximus. For those we know to use the BIG ice pack to numb the area first, and to have cotton and bandaids ready for when the injection site bleeds, sometimes a lot. (One extra step in giving those shots is to pull the needle out a little bit and suck in, to see if blood comes into the syringe. If so, we have to move the needle because it means we've hit a vein). We also keep a hot pad ready for after the shot, because the progesterone needs help dispersing through the muscle. It's administered in a sesame oil base, which doesn't dissolve! Yikes. But that's a shot for another day.

I just wanted to share the excitement of what we've been doing at home these days. We can all look forward to the big shots in a few weeks. And in the meantime, we are confident that we're already Big Shots ourselves.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Alpha Katherine

Today at the doctor I established myself as the Alpha Katherine.

I went in for "monitoring," a surprisingly intrusive set of procedures for such a mild name.

First they called my name in the waiting room, very soon after I had arrived. "Katherine?..." I was VERY impressed at their promptness. I bounded up to the nurse like a golden retriever.

First we went to a blood-drawing station where she wrapped a huge rubber strap around my arm, told me to make a fist, and spent a long time trying to "wake up" the vein inside my elbow. She poked gently at first but eventually proceeded to what I can only call spanking my arm. Boy. There was a lot of built-up aggression that came out on my little inner-elbow. I'm pretty sure my vein was awake but just hiding. As my fist cramped from so much squeezing and my skin turned bright red, I knew that's what I would do if I could.

After the vein finally complied, I was shown to the restroom to "empty my bladder" (pee) before the sonogram. I saw a huge red metal trash can marked BIOHAZARD/BIOPELIGRO (the latter of which I translate as a much more immediate "bio-danger"!). The clinic had put a typed sign on it indicating "tampons and pads only." I wondered what biohazard menstrual blood held. As far as we infertile ladies went, the hazard had already happened. The blood was just the detritus of another battle lost. But maybe that's not how the health regulators see it. How squeemish. We should put them through IVF and see how they come out on the other side. For one thing, I know they'd make it mandatory that insurance cover the procedures. But they might also relax a little about menstrual blood.

With bladder empty and tampon securely deposited, I went to the third room where I undressed from the waist down and saw two things that caught my eye. First, there was a penny on the floor, head up, so I immediately snatched it up for the good luck it entitled me to. Second, I looked at the ultrasound monitor and saw the beautiful name Katherine followed by a very unfamiliar V_______. Not Bailey. First I thought I should dress and go tell someone that I was in the wrong room. Then I thought better of it. I sat my half-naked self on the table and waited for them to come to me.

The troupe arrived: my doctor, my nurse, and the requisite observing stranger in a white coat. Hello, Katherine. Hello, folks. We exchanged pleasantries and then I told them who I was. Not Katherine V_______. They all looked concerned. Apparently getting people's identities and medical information matched up correctly is important to them. My nurse hurried out to make sure my blood was properly marked and that the next Katherine's chart was right. When she came back she said everything was fine: the other Katherine hadn't gotten her blood drawn yet.

My doctor, whom I loved immediately for his sense of humor, asked if I had shoved her out of the way in the waiting room when they called our mutual name. Hell, yeah. Actually, I did feel bad. I cost her about 7 minutes. Not to mention the chance at the lucky penny.

When the doctor left he said thanks again for pointing out the name error. "We really freak out about that kind of thing around here." No kidding. First the bio-danger tampon receptacle and now this.

I left the building and came to my office, where we're a little more laid back.