When Your Uterus Has Bad News

A month ago my partner and I decided to try for another baby. We didn’t tell anyone barring a couple of people. We made the decision to try for our second this month in the time it took us to get half way back to where our car was parked after we finished up our appointment with the fertility specialist. Just to give you some perspective on how big a deal that is for us, we are the sort of people who take 9.5 years to commit to buying an iPhone.

We had seen the fertility specialist because we planned on trying for our second sometime in the first half of next year. Last time he wanted to see us six months ahead of time to do tests and other doctory stuff. He told us that if we did a cycle this year it would be half the out of pocket costs than if we waited until next year. I love a bargain. My partner says the only time she has ever seen me run is when we are about to miss a plane or there is a really good sale on. I wish that we me exaggerating to be funny, but it’s not.

In a nutshell we took the half price baby special. There were other reasons for going with it aside from my love of a good bargain, but they are boring. The process was a lot simpler than it was for trying to conceive our daughter as I had frozen embryos from a previous cycle. If you were going to compare IVF to cooking a meal (because why not) it would go like this:

Full Stim Cycle Fresh Embryo Transfer

You are cooking an amazing complex meal from scratch. You scout all the fancy shops in your area weeks in advance to find the ever elusive ingredients of truffles and random imported expensive shit they don’t sell in the supermarket. You watch Youtube videos on cooking techniques you’ve never preformed before. You make the meal and pour your blood, sweat and tears into it. You mess up your entire kitchen and clean up is a nightmare that takes hours. You spend six months taking out your stress on your partner and yelling at them because cooking is stressful, god damnit! All your pots and pans need scrubbing and soaking overnight. You have sauce stains up your walls and on your roof that you can’t reach to clean. Some food fell behind your oven and you know you will never be able to reach it to clean it properly and so you just decide to wait it out until the rotting smell fades and it becomes mummified and you can stop thinking about it. Your kitchen is never quite the same after its ordeal.

If you’re lucky the meal is amazing and the best thing you ever did. If you’re not lucky you just sit around crying at the end because your wasted thousands of dollars worth of ingredients and you have nothing to show for it. You could have spent all those thousands of dollars on a holiday or a new car, and why are you such a failure?! Everyone else can fucking cook but you.

Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) Cycle

Your meal turned out well, you put some left overs in the freezer. All prep was done earlier so it’s just sitting there waiting. Sometime in the future you decide you would like to eat some more of the meal so you defrost it in the microwave and put it in your belly. Someone sticks an ultrasound in your vagina and clamps your cervix down with a speculum, and there are a couple of blood tests. But that seemed to happen all the time when you were making the original meal so you don’t really even notice anymore, and you got really good at taking your pants off for strangers when you were making your first meal so meh, whatever. Overall it was a nice meal with minimal prep. You only have the one dish to wash because you did the clean up when you were making the original meal from scratch.*

*Anything stated here is opinion only and I am NOT a medical doctor. Consult your qualified medical professional for an actual description of how IVF works. Also don’t microwave your embryos. Also if people are taking blood from you and probing you vaginally while you are cooking then you may be doing something wrong. It’s possible you confused a sacrificial satanic ritual with a recipe. Seek help if this is the case.

Our cycle this month was the FET one, so the easier frozen left over option. It’s easier physically and to a degree mentally, but it’s still hard. The physical stuff involved with IVF is a hard slog. The mental stuff though, that’s hard too. If you’ve had unsuccessful cycles before then you try and remind yourself that it may not work. Remind yourself how much it stung the first cycle you tried and failed. Of how you were so devastated when you called the clinic to tell them your period had come that you choked up on the answering machine and burst into the sort of tears that stop you from breathing and talking properly and had to hang up before you could even tell them who was calling.

Remind yourself of the months and months that passed where you looked at that one single line on the pregnancy test every single day. That stupid fucking line that stood there staring back at you defying your desires, while you stared at the test intensely hoping willpower alone would be enough to make another line appear. The perfect symbol of despair and loneliness, that one solid line on a white background without a hint of another.

Remind yourself of the time a second line did appear, finally the most beautiful sight. You hugged your partner and jumped with joy that you had finally manged to do it and there was a baby growing in there, and at last you weren’t just empty and alone inside like some barren vessel. You talked about how you were going to exercise more and eat more fruit and take care of yourself, after you spent all the other months eating chocolate and crying because you weren’t pregnant. And to make up for all the times you thought you may be pregnant when you stopped going to Zumba because you couldn’t jump without thinking ‘What if there is a baby in there trying to implant and I dislodge it?’.

Remind yourself of that line that faded away a little more each day and the baby that slipped like water through your fingertips despite you wanting to hold onto it. Those positive pregnancy tests that we buried under a shrub in your front yard with the letters we wrote to a baby we wouldn’t meet. Nestled lovingly next to a pair of baby booties I had bought months earlier, all careful bundled together in a hand sewn bag I made. Trying to bury it quickly and go back inside so the people on the street walking past our house didn’t stop to ask why we were crying on our front lawn.

I figure if I remembered all those feelings, the ones that sting so much, that I would keep myself grounded and not let myself get carried away thinking it would work for us this month. I felt like somehow remembering those times would help prepare me better for if it didn’t work. That they would serve as a reminder not to rise too high, or you have further to fall.

As much as I couldn’t keep the sad memories from coming back, I also couldn’t stop that seed of hope that was planted the day they put the embryo inside of me. I couldn’t stop myself from looking at it as it flashed on the screen above me and picturing it on our fridge next to the picture of our daughter as an 8 cell embryo. I couldn’t stop myself from reliving the moment I saw my first line on the pregnancy test that got darker each day. The way my heart pounded in my chest with nerves and anticipation and excitement, the way my hands shook as I ran from room to room holding the test and triple checking a line was really there.

I couldn’t help but remember the time I finally sat in that fertility specialist’s waiting room as a pregnant woman. I remember the gasp of relief I let out as he probed me for the last time (well, for a couple of years at least) and found a beating heart. A baby, finally. A living healthy baby inside my body.

And then I thought of these moments, and a thousand other like them. I tried not to, but I couldn’t help myself.

I peed on a lot of pregnancy tests this month. None of them told me what I wanted to hear. After a while I knew in my heart it hadn’t worked so I stopped because I didn’t want to keep looking at something that made me so sad.

Our clinic doesn’t give you a picture of the embryo they transfer unless it works. So I only have the brief moment I saw it stored in my memory. It was a good embryo they said. I don’t know a lot about embryos but the doctor and embryologists said it had it good shit going on (I paraphrase, ‘has good shit going on’ is not correct medical terminology) . They said the same about my daughter, so I let myself get my hopes up a little.

I’ve never been a ‘life begins at conception’ kind of girl. It doesn’t fit well with my left leaning tendencies. That being said, it’s hard not to think of the potential an embryo has when you see your child grow from eight cells into a person. I wonder about that embryo that didn’t take. I know it sounds strange but one of my most pressing questions I have is ‘Would it have the same curly hair as my daughter?’. I love her curly hair and watching it grow.

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I have so many pictures of the back of her head on my phone. I love to see it grow and am always running my fingers through it. Which would probably be a bit creepy if I weren’t her mother.

I also wonder when it stopped being alive. I guess it’s irrelevant really, but I still wonder. It was alive when they put it in me, so then when did it stop being that way? Did it make it to the blastocyst stage, or did it stop dividing before then? Did it hatch but not implant, did it implant but come away? Did it try to burrow in the wrong spot? Was it something I did wrong, was it those two hot bathes I took? Did I jinx myself that time when I was 15 weeks pregnant and crying over having to destroy our left over embryos one day when we completed our family, and I said that it would be perfect if we used up all our embryos and fell pregnant on our last one? I just didn’t want to sign a form that gave them permission to take them out of storage and leave them on a bench until they died and throw them out in a yellow bag marked medical waste. I just didn’t want that. I didn’t want to have to make that decision. But I take it back now. I didn’t want this either. Is it too late to take it back, does the universe let you do that? I take it back now. Please don’t make me go through this that many more times.

I didn’t tell people we were trying for a baby this time like I did last time. Mostly because a part of me wanted to believe that in a few months I wouldn’t have to keep quiet anymore and I could post a pregnancy announcement on social media for the world to see. The other reason I kept quiet was because I remember the sinking feeling in my chest and stomach when I would run into people who knew we were trying to conceive and I wasn’t pregnant. I remember the lead into the conversation of polite small talk, before they would come out with what their faces had been screaming the entire time. You know that face, the raised eyebrows and cautious smile and the inward inhalation that is held in anticipation of good news. The face of someone who is waiting for you to delight them with your announcement.

Then the footwork involved in finding a way to deliver the disappointing news to them. Let them down easy you tell yourself. Try not to make it sound like you spent the last three days crying and wondering if you accidentally jinxed yourself by pissing off the universe two years ago. Or if those two hot baths and those few runny poached eggs you had were the reason that your embryo decided to fuck right off out of your uterus.

Don’t tell them you can’t stop wondering if that embryo would have grown into a child with curly hair just like your daughter. That isn’t what polite small talk looks like. No one knows what to say to that, I don’t even know what I’d say to that, and I consider myself someone well equip to deal with inappropriate emotional outbursts from others. Just find something hopeful and vaguely positive to say and wrap things up without crying. It’s not that hard, smile, laugh, talk about the weather, don’t fucking cry. No one wants to hear about your uterus.

I wanted to keep our trying to conceive our second as some big surprise and some secret endeavor as I felt that’s the way it’s ‘suppose’ to be. I wanted the opportunity to surprise people with our pregnancy like straight couples get. I wanted it to work first go and to not have a sadness to write out of me each month.

The problem with that is I a love to talk about my feelings. I guess I’m a bit of a lesbian cliche like that. And if I’m not talking about them then I am writing them down. Somehow it helps to write it down somewhere in its entirety, instead of snippets of thoughts and sadness that run through my head and keep me awake at night.

The truth is as much as it stings it doesn’t hurt as much as the times it didn’t work before we had our daughter, and I know our time will come again. That’s a lot more comfort than I had the first time.

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