So here I am again, officially in cycle again. The first two FETs didn’t work, so I am throwing a bunch of stuff at this cycle in the hope that something—specifically, an embryo—sticks. FET3 coincides with National Infertility Awareness Week; the theme this year is Listen Up.
So, listen up! because here’s what I want everyone to know:
Having a baby cures childlessness—NOT infertility.
Before V came into my life, I remember all too well feeling resentful that some people in the infertility community already had a baby. “At least they are already a mom. I don’t know if I will ever be!” It’s hard to know how this journey ends. But even now that I am a mom to a child who dazzles me daily, I now struggle with not knowing if I’ll be able to give her a sibling. There’s that familiar tug again, the not-knowing itch.
I am a mother via egg donation. Six months after I miscarried a tiny baby I’d magically and miraculously conceived the old-fashioned way, I was hit with a devastating infertility diagnosis: a chromosome disorder so rare, there are only 50 known families worldwide who have it.
Outwardly (“phenotypically”) you wouldn’t know that at a DNA level inside (“genotypically”) I’m a hot mess. (It’s not a perfect analogy, but I’m like the Leaning Tower of Pisa: I’m a building. I work. You could probably shelter in me if it’s raining outside. But you’re not going to use my blueprints to build another tower—you’ll end up with a pile of rubble.)
Because I am structurally unstable, my eggs are structurally unstable, which means when they meet with sperm, they create non-viable embryos. If I’d had a child in my 20s, they likely wouldn’t have survived past the age of 6; their short life filled with multiple heart surgeries and bones that fuse. Now that I’m in my 30s, I am doomed to miscarry, over and over and over again. That’s if I even got pregnant in the first place. It was a harsh diagnosis, to know that IVF with my own eggs wasn’t possible, much less spontaneously conceive a healthy child who would live to adulthood.
Learning that genetic children aren’t possible meant our decision was either to adopt or pursue egg donation. (At the time, I didn’t know that embryo donation was a third option.) We chose egg donation because we wanted more than one child, and I wanted to be pregnant, and experience childbirth and breast-feeding. I always planned on adopting, but then I was faced with an either/or choice: either adopt or do egg donation, because we couldn’t afford to do both. Not just financially (adoption seemed slightly more expensive than egg donation) but also emotionally. The thought of having to wait to be picked by someone was unbearable. Knowing a birth mother could change her mind terrified me. The home study seemed more invasive than the dozens of trans-vaginal ultrasounds. And then we’d have to do it all over again in a few years’ time, if we wanted a sibling. After the losses I’d already been through, egg donation felt like the more comfortable choice. And then I found the woman who would become our donor. A woman who’d donated before and who, in her own words, wanted someone like me to experience the same joy that she felt when she held her child for the first time.
I held my breath at the first ultrasound. Please, please, let us see a heartbeat… When I saw that little flicker, I knew she was a girl. The rest of my pregnancy was complicated, and I had a very traumatic delivery during which I lost nearly a gallon of blood. But I hoped to be able to do it all over again—our donor produced enough eggs that we had ten embryos after chromosome testing. We transferred two, and got V.
V is a robust and healthy child. She’s gregarious and smart; her vocabulary and syntax are sophisticated for someone who’s only 2½; she’s sensitive and loving towards others; and she’s also loving towards herself, able to articulate her feelings, able to recognise that—ah, my sweet little introvert—sometimes she needs time alone. And she gives the best hugs. I think she’d be the best little big sister anyone could hope for. And if she is destined to be an only child, she more than completes us.
But DH and I always wanted two children and maybe an ‘oops’. Now that we know there will be no oops-baby, and now that we’ve been through so much to have V, we are determined to give our best shot at giving her a sibling, ourselves a second child.
In October, we transferred a single embryo, and got a BFN.
In December, we transferred another single embryo, and got a BFN.
In January, we met with our RE to discuss why I, a woman who hasn’t had problems getting pregnant in the past and into whose uterus two chromosomally-normal embryos were transferred, wasn’t pregnant again.
In March, I had surgery. A hysteroscopy + biopsy revealed my uterus is fine. But I took medication to treat me empirically, in case the result was a false negative: a two-week course of antibiotics that made me sick and gave me migraines.
And now, April. This morning, I jabbed myself in the belly with Lupron for the first time in three years. A vial of fluid measuring less than half a teaspoon—and which cost me $500 out of pocket—which, incredibly, will last two weeks. I inject myself daily for two weeks, to put me into artificial menopause until my RE gives me husband the go-ahead to reboot my reproductive system with injectable estrogen, administered every three days. Starting next week, I’ll have weekly ultrasounds to ensure that the lining of my uterus is thickening nicely for an embryo to snuggle into. Around the time of transfer, we’ll add antibiotics, baby aspirin, and a steroid. And then I’ll have daily injections of progesterone, which produce itchy welts that last for weeks after I’ve ceased being jabbed. If I’m lucky, we’ll be doing this for 14 weeks—until the placenta takes over around 12 weeks’ gestation.
I share this with you, all of this, because this is a glimpse into what it’s like to be infertile.
We have five embryos left. Five chances feels like a lot, but it’s also beginning to feel worrisome. If one of the five doesn’t stick around for nine months, we will both be devastated. We may have other family-building options to explore, but a fresh round of IVF—either with my eggs or someone else’s—isn’t something we can afford.
The possibility of not having a second child doesn’t feel as acutely traumatic as it did before V came into our lives. I want to be clear about that. But if none of the remaining five embryos implant, a fresh wound of reproductive trauma will gape open, and there will be grief to process anew, because I will still be infertile.
And if one of the five does make it, I will still be the mother who tells her children about the special way in which they were conceived. I will still advocate for other parents to be open with their children. Because I will still be infertile.
One day, whether or not I have a second child, I’ll trace my finger over the caesarean scar—the only visible reminder of my battle—and I will be at peace with my family as it is. And I will still be infertile.
Because, having a baby cures childlessness—NOT infertility.