What IVF Taught Me About Love
We have many pictures together, my husband and I. Hiking Mount St. Helens, riding the Ferris wheel at the New York state fair, kissing in a Chicago bar's photo booth, posing at Niagara Falls. In the early years of our marriage Tom and I became masters of the self-portrait, arms extended as we held the camera before us, blinding ourselves with the flash.
We traveled less and took fewer and fewer photographs during the three-plus years we were trying to have a baby. Tom and I had thought it would be easy for us to add children to the picture. It wasn't.
Back then we spent a lot of time hunkered down at home, watching movies. Sweatpants and takeout, though comforting, aren't particularly photogenic. We were facing infertility, each month bringing a new onslaught of grief when pregnancy tests turned up negative. Tom and I scheduled our lives around tests and appointments, procedures, and surgeries. A what-if hopefulness mingled with a maybe-never dread. We pasted on crooked smiles when friends and relatives announced their pregnancies -- in two cases, by driving up in new station wagons.
Tom and I were running out of options to have a biological child. I had always said that I would never consider undergoing in-vitro fertilization. It was too invasive and, at about $10,000 per cycle, much too expensive. But we started talking about it anyway. If the treatment worked, the expense would justify itself, we rationalized. And if it didn't? We weren't ready to picture that.
At the fertility clinic Tom and I had to sign a stack of release forms that seemed almost as thick as our mortgage refinance. The two of us had spent months preparing for that arduous journey. Here's the highly condensed version of IVF's grueling process: daily hormone injections and regular ultrasounds to monitor the progress of the eggs, and eventually a retrieval procedure, which happens under anesthesia. Sperm sample provided, lab work commenced and an attempt to connect as-of-yet-unconnected DNA. Waiting again until the embryos turned from single-cells to multi-cells, then an agreed-upon number of embryos are transferred back to the uterus. Easy, huh?
The day of the embryo transfer, Tom took me to get acupuncture; we'd heard it could improve a woman's chances of conceiving. It was Father's Day. Maybe that's a sign, the acupuncturist said, and Tom and I exchanged dreamy smiles. My pregnancy test was scheduled on our eighth wedding anniversary. But when the nurse called with the lab results, I knew immediately from her voice. Negative. I wasn't pregnant.