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.