20; What’s Behind Door #8?

Before I get into my primary spiel, just a quick update on the medical side of things. Our clinic’s financial department approved the $1,500 biopsy fee for our embryo genetic testing as opposed to the $4,000, thank GOD. They have enough of my money so really, one less thing I have to fight is great. We need to pay it by Aug. 1, and then the actual testing cost at the lab they send the biopsied cells to is another $1,500 ($250 per embryo plus a $250 flat rate for shipping). So $3,000 total which…kill me, but it’s better than $5,500.

I went to Quest for them to draw blood for my roughly 38473482 tests yesterday, to check for potential chromosome issues in me that would prevent me from carrying a healthy pregnancy. Nervous to get those results back. Josh does his tomorrow — obviously not to check for things that would be an issue with pregnancy, but things that would affect embryo normality I guess, in a way where we’d have to screen them in a more in-depth and, you guessed it, expensive way. The doctor told us it’s rare for anything to come back abnormal, so I guess we’ll see. So far we’re ticking off all the bad “rare” boxes, though, so what’s one more, eh? #jaded #salty

Our short-term plan is PGS testing on our five embryos in August, September biopsy on my uterine lining, and then assuming we have at least one chromosomally normal embryo, transfer in October. Third time’s a charm, right? Or I guess I should say eighth, considering the five IUIs before we started IVF. Which brings me to the title of this blog post.

In my last post, I talked about how the only time I’ve really broken down and cried since finding out we miscarried for the second time was once, while considering the person I am now vs. who I was before we started TTC. I was sitting on our couch, staring at this beautiful collage of photographs from the trip we took to Europe in September 2016, which was the official beginning of our TTC journey. I went through and was pointing out to Josh how much effort I had put into the photos I’d chosen to include.

Excuse my reflection in the glass. I’m a writer, not a fucking photographer, aight?

The big spaces were for the landmarks from each city (Paris, Munich, and London) we visited that corresponded to these canvas wall art pieces we had made when we moved into our house. The squares at the bottom of each of the three sections were of food from each place. The middle rectangles were of both of us for the London section (thought technically it was from Disneyland Paris, whatever), me alone (France), and Josh alone (Germany), to represent our respective heritages.

But even through all that, the one photo that stuck out to me was the second from the bottom, on the left side — us in Salzburg, which was the only big part of our trip that was almost completely impromptu. We went there for a single day on a suggestion from one of the waitresses in an Oktoberfest beer tent, since it was a two-hour train ride away and we didn’t have anything planned for our last day in Munich. So we thought why not?

O hi, Bavarian Alps and old FitBit and dress I don’t fit into right now.

This is not only my favorite photograph from our trip, but it was taken on my favorite day of our trip and during my favorite moment — right before watching the sunset over the Alps at the restaurant attached to the Hohensalzburg Fortress, where we sipped wine and just hung out for like two hours. Watching Josh find peace sitting high above the world and looking around and taking countless pictures (something he doesn’t do often) and telling me he was thankful I’d persuaded him to take this trip, even though he’d initially had reservations, was everything. Truthfully, if I knew what I did now about how much fertility treatments would ultimately cost us, I might’ve been hesitant too.

But the biggest thing I think about is how this moment was unplanned. And it turned out to be my favorite moment — me, a type A person to the point that my (multi-page) wedding-weekend itinerary is still a running joke among our poor bridesmaid and groomsmen friends, almost five years after our wedding. And it also made me realize a few things about life that, if you’re like me, I think you just can’t really understand until you live them, like how to find patience — true patience, not tourist-walking-too-slowly-on-a-narrow-sidewalk-in-front-of-me patience — and let go of things you have no control over.

I look at the girl in these photos and see so much anticipation for the next chapter of life. Someone who armed herself with the key to all the big milestone doors along the way well in advance, dotting every I and crossing every T to make sure when she got to the BABY door, the key would slide in and turn without much resistance. High-school and college graduation, financial independence, health, a decent amount of travel, marriage (I had to wiggle that key a little, admittedly) — you name it, I was able to achieve most of what I wanted through hard work and perseverance and just being a generally good person. The person in those photos knew that preparation was the answer and, in turn, the key to all those big life-milestone doors.

The person today, who’s a few years older, a few years wiser, and a few notches sadder, doesn’t feel that way. Not completely, anyway. I feel like I had the right key and it unlocked the BABY door, but something unexpected happened: Another door appeared just a few feet in front of it instead of giving me a 9-month-long hallway to make my way down until I reached the next door, MOTHERHOOD, which I had the next key for tucked firmly in my pocket. There was no middle key, that I knew of, but my focus was so zeroed in that it seemed I missed some piece of information that everyone else picked up except for me. And I’m still figuring out what the label on this next door says, because it’s like it’s in a different language or code that I’ve been working on cracking for the past two years.

A door at the Salzburg fort with creepy puppets behind it. Don’t ask. Also, floral flats with a floral dress? WTF, Jennifer.

Another issue? The BABY door I came through slammed behind me, which I was used to with all the other doors I’ve passed through in my life because I was always moving forward. It was never an issue. But the problem now is that even though these doors have little windows in them, they feel soundproof. So I sit here and look through them and pretend to be happy, both for the people still behind the BABY door and already past the second mystery one, but I can’t be a part of either of those groups because Josh and I are perpetually trapped in this limbo room.

The first group, we’ve left behind. We don’t party anymore. We don’t do things that people without kids do, not really. And on the rare occasions we do, we don’t get the same satisfaction anymore. And then we have friends with kids whom we’re happy for and we love their kids, but we can’t fully care. Because when you can’t have kids and you want them, the last thing you want to do is be around someone else’s kids all the time. And even if you did, you’d just have to sit there and pretend to care when all they’re doing is talking about their kids, even during the rare occasion when said kids aren’t around.

I was talking to my friend about this a couple of weeks ago (who, incidentally, just had her second baby, who was with her at the time and snoozing like the angel he is) and told her what happened, and she said she sometimes struggles with being the person she was before children and wants to change that and tap back into her independence more in her hobbies and things like that. She listened and sympathized and then did what any good friend does: She told me, in so many words, to love myself, and encouraged me to try and be the person I was before I started trying to have a baby because that person is enough.

The problem with that is that the person I was before thought she would have a biological child someday, and the person I am now isn’t sure of that anymore. Not that my entire identity hinges on the idea of motherhood because it truly doesn’t and I don’t think it ever will, but I knew how to enjoy and be who I was before this because I knew that part of my life that was important to me — much more important than I even realized three, five, 10 years ago — would happen. Eventually.

Almost exactly 10 years ago. One time was enough, though.

I explained to my friend that I feel like once you unlock the next phase of your life, it feels like, for me, permission to breathe and settle back into your old bones — the ones that have kind of held you there the whole time, waiting for you to come back once you figure out the next thing. And I don’t know how to settle back since I haven’t figured this big thing out, for the first time in my whole life.

So now, in these next few months leading up to our October transfer (assuming we have a normal embryo in there), I’m working on finding out who I am outside of the assumption that I, one day, will have a biological child of my own. I truly don’t know that anymore, and I would be lying if I said it didn’t scare me. But now, over a month after learning we lost the second pregnancy, another breakdown hasn’t come. And I don’t think it’s going to. Which I don’t see as strength, really, because crying is OK, but I think it’s a sign I’m working toward getting to that life-without-kids or life-with-kids-in-a-different-way mindset, even if I’m not meaning to or even if I don’t completely understand it. And that’s all I can really ask of myself right now.

I’m in that group of people who love The Greatest Showman. I KNOW, OK? But I saw it right when it came out and loved it immediately so whatever. Anyway. I was on an outdoor run for the first time in literally months a couple of weeks ago, and I put “This Is Me” on to take me through the last couple of minutes. For the first time, I heard the lyrics in my own voice as they applied to this infertility journey and I just lost my shit. Thank God 1. No one else was around, and 2. I was wearing sunglasses. But I just felt those words in my bones and it felt good to feel something.

Like I’ve said before, I don’t know if this is all just some test of patience or willingness to let go or sanity or all of the above, but if it is, I just wish whatever powers that be would believe me when I say I’ve learned the lesson. Because while I’m OK most days, other days I feel like I’m screaming into the void, just waiting for someone else to pass through who will eventually remember where they left their key and give me a sympathetic nod as they leave. Because the one constant is that they always do. And right now, I’m figuring out whether to keep searching for my copy of that key to the mystery door or resigning myself to the possibility that I might have to start accepting that there is another way out.

16; Seventh Time’s a Charm?

I am not awake or energized enough to think up a clever title, so oh well.

Our transfer was Wednesday, May 15, 2019. The embryologist picked a 4AA day 6 blastocyst to put in. Here it is, our hopeful future son or daughter:

My same friend from before thinks this one is also a boy because “He’s sturdy.”
IDK why I did this.
“COME THROUGH, 4AA.”

My doctor told me it “couldn’t have gone better,” and said he would be praying for us. The sweet nurse, who knows I’m a writer, made small talk with me about a mini haiku she wrote and said she’d been reading a lot of poetry and name-dropped Shel Silverstein, whom I know nothing about except that one book.

I confirmed they had done traditional/conventional IVF as opposed to ICSI — which results in boys more often than girls (I think the split is 56%/44%), and involves regular fertilization of the eggs as opposed to injecting a single sperm — and that was it.

Then Josh and I went and got Red Lobster (which seems to have become a post-transfer trend, if you count twice as a trend) and ice cream and mini cupcakes for later, and bought some new clothes because we are both too fat for most of our clothes right now, which may or may not have to do with our habits as of late including but not limited to the beginning parts of this run-on sentence. We told the baby they should be thankful that Cheddar Bay Biscuits were their first taste of the outside world, and that there’s more where that came from if they’d just GTF here already.

Butter pecan with Reese’s cups mixed in, because I know you’re wondering.

We also went to Carter’s to look at baby clothes, which Josh was hesitant about but then got on board after he saw a onesie he liked and said, “THIS ONE HAS BUGS POURING OUT OF THE POCKET!” It was adorable.

I feel like I have a million things but also no things to say. Truthfully, this time doesn’t feel much different than the ones before, so in that sense I have nothing more to say. I hope more than anything that this is it for us, and I’ve already started thinking about how my due date (end of January) would be so nice weather wise and how it doesn’t interfere with family/friend birthdays and how nice of a bonus that is (as well as how I would juuuust make the cutoff for a non-“geriatric” pregnancy, holla). I’ve thought about a December baby shower. And I’ve dreamed about having a cute baby bump over the holidays for longer than I’d like to admit.

But the reality is that this might not be it, as much as I want to believe it is. Every little twinge in my lower abdomen (and they have definitely been happening off and on) sends my mind racing until I remember I had cramping with the first transfer and it didn’t lead to a BFP. I haven’t given up, but my heart just doesn’t have the capacity to hope in the way I did when we first started this journey. Even if I see two lines this week, I don’t think I will even be able to be excited until we level up from the last time I got pregnant, in the form of seeing a heartbeat. And if we get to that point, I know I will LOSE IT in the exam room because I start crying every time I think about that scene in my mind.

The balloon Josh brought home for me the night before the transfer. ❤

I try and be thankful for what we do have — each other, and our present and future together — but it’s not easy sometimes. It’s hard to meet two women who are going through IVF the same month as you, see them succeed, know the success rate is 60-70% and not think, “Well, I guess the 1 out of 3 statistical failure is going to be me.”

It’s not fair for me to tell myself these things, and I’m trying not to compare, because these women went through hell too and I am SO happy for them, truly. But this has been our seventh fertility treatment, and that has weighed heavily on us. Figuring out how to toe the line between hope and rationale (and successfully existing among other humans) is something I have always struggled with and will probably spend the rest of my life trying to wrap my head around.

Luckily, I have the greatest support system in my husband. And even without a baby, we have learned throughout this process that we alone are enough.

15; The Final Countdown

In true me fashion, the first thing I did today after learning my progesterone levels were adequate and ready for my body to receive an embryo was Google “What is an ideal progesterone level for a FET (frozen embryo transfer)?”

The first thing I found was a study that said anything over 20 ng/ml showed decreased live-birth rates and increased pregnancy-loss rates. I have a level of 38.1! Hooray! So of course, I break down in tears and call my doctor. Nurse calls me back and assures me they supplement their patients with MORE progesterone if their levels are under 20, so I’m choosing to take that plus my lining looking solid at my appointment this morning as a good sign.

The transfer is tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. and honestly, up until now, I haven’t thought about it even a fraction as much as I have my six previous treatments. Yes, folks, this is lucky number seven. My nerves have been low. I have been very que sera and laissez-faire about it (for me, at least) literally until 4 p.m. today, when I Googled as I had never Googled before and tried unsuccessfully to muffle my sobs as I spoke to the IVF nurse over the phone.

I talked to Josh over Google Hangouts during this spiral while he was still at work and he told me I needed to be brave. I argued that making a decision based on convenience isn’t brave, it’s ignorant. He said the bravery comes from letting go, or something, and I said that’s naivete. He sighed loudly (probably) and told me the only thing that has made sense in the past hour and a half: “Let’s not argue.”

At this point, there is really nothing else I can control aside from how I handle these next 18 hours and how much trust I put in my doctors and my nurses, and it’s hard to do that. After six failed treatments, it’s really hard to trust anyone, even myself, even though it’s not any of our faults.

I was talking to my therapist a couple of weeks ago about this whole process and I realized that 99% of our sessions over the past couple of years have been about me trying to have a baby. It made me think about how I want to raise a child — i.e., to know that they are an important part of the world and special and loved, but that they need to work hard and that they are not the center of the universe — and I realized how I’ve been living my life so opposite of that. My entire existence the past two and a half years, for the most part, has been about becoming a parent, and I want to be so much more than that even if I do finally get to become a mom.

I want our kids(s) to look at us and see whole people who model something to be proud of. I want them to feel like an integral part of a bigger purpose, not the entire purpose. I know parents so often say their children are their entire lives, and as much as I want any child of mine to know they are the most important part of my life, I don’t want them to think they are the only important part, and I have been doing a bad job of living that way myself. I want a child to come into an environment Josh and I have created because it was borne out of who we are as individuals and a couple, not out of a fake version we want to present as a child.

It really has made me, deep down, realize that if we don’t have kids, I’m going to be OK. We absolutely would want to adopt, I think we would just need some time to grieve this part of the process. And for a while I felt so guilty about that, but I don’t anymore. I think of anyone (especially people who have had biological children and therefore have no business commenting) having the nerve to tell us the right/least selfish way to do this and I laugh, because you don’t truly realize the gravity of something you can lose until you’re on the edge of losing it yourself.

For now, I’m just going to keep my thoughts positive, resist the urge to have “one last drink” for the 329248th time this week (don’t judge me), actually do my IVF meditation tonight, and try very hard (again, for the 329248th time this week) to find a mental balance between what is and what could be.

12; The Dreaded Two-Week Wait (Or Maybe Just One Week?)

So from this point forward, I’m making my posts private for a couple of reasons. I will unlock them eventually, but…the truth is, I want this part to be my own. And Josh’s, of course. It’s such a personal journey and I want to share even this part with the world eventually, but for now, it’s for my eyes only.

I’ll get to the specifics but both reasons have to do with the fact that we went forward with the transfer. Holy hell. Which means I could be pregnant right MEOW.

Don’t ask me why I used this GIF. Just know it’s my favorite GIF of all time and let’s move on. Also, I have no idea who I’m talking to since I literally just said this post was private.

So YEAH. Let’s back up. We learned on the Tuesday after our retrieval (Feb. 5) that all nine embryos were still looking good past day 3, which we were floored about.

But even then, we decided against the PGS testing (I covered the reasons why we might do that in my last post) and instead to do a fresh transfer this past Thursday, Feb. 7. Ack!

Right before transfer, listening to the waiting-room video for the 764th time

So we went to the clinic Thursday and learned that so far, four out of our nine embryos had made it to blastocyst stage and were good for transfer! YAY.

My doctor was very pleased. I thought he would pat me on the back but he did not. I think he patted Josh on the back or shook his hand, which…rude. I was RIGHT THERE. With no underwear on.

Husband, did look cute though, suited up like we’re in Stranger Things

The bab we ended up transferring was a day 5 4BB blastocyst, and the lab froze two 2BBs and one 1BB. You can Google “embryo grading” to learn what all that means, but basically the higher the number, the bigger the blast. 1 is small/needs more time to grow, while 5 is almost hatching and I think 6 is already hatched? I think it varies by clinic.

But the letters are the more important part. The first letter reflects the part of the embryo that will become the fetus, while the second letter grades cells from the part that will become the placenta. I think. Or vice versa. I’m too tired to Google it right now, but the point is ours looked pretty good — A is the best, but B is great too.

And they told us they were going to keep an eye on the other five blasts over the next day to give them more time to develop, so our hopes were high.

Right before the transfer. Objects in photo are smaller than they appear.

Keep in mind none of this grading reflects the chromosomal normality/abnormality. That can only be determined via PGS testing, which we may actually end up doing with the frozen embryos depending on how this goes and a couple other things, but that’s another post for another time.

So long story short, I basically experienced the pap smear from hell as the doctor threaded (IDK how to describe it less disgustingly) a catheter through my cervix and transported the little guy or gal up into my uterus. It was cool to see on the screen — a tiny white light in a sea of darkness. Kind of gave me a feeling of hope and made me forget six people were staring at my private areas.

Josh found the whole thing fascinating. The lab where they keep the embryos (right next to the exam room, for quick transport) is right next to a little door with a swinging window at the top with a shelf, like the kind grandmas put pies on in TV shows from the 1950s. He made a few jokes about that…later, when my feet weren’t in sky-high stirrups. He ain’t dumb.

Our little 4BB blast. My friend thinks it’s a boy because, and I quote, “He’s so squishy!”

So it went well and we took the rest of the day off. And then the next day, we got the call that not only did three more embryos make it to blastocyst stage, but all three of those are AA grade — the highest grade you can get, which made my control-freak self actually giddy. The sizes are great too: one 5AA and two 4AAs.

I almost cried on the phone when the lab lady told me. I still don’t know what to call her. Embryologist? Queen? Savior? And she was so nice, breaking down all the sizes and letters for me so I can add them to my crazy-person bank of information. That made a grand total of seven embryos: six frozen, one transferred. Lucky seven. I find joy in this.

Over the past few days, I’ve been feeling a good bit of cramping in my lower abdomen, which…I know can point to implantation so I’m trying to stay positive, but it can also mean my period is coming. The cramps for my period usually don’t start this early, but who the hell knows. Plus, I’m on those fun progesterone injections and I have no idea how those are affecting me, so it could be that too. I really am trying to be optimistic.

I have a blood test tomorrow to check on my progesterone levels, and then I believe they check for pregnancy five days later, so Monday the 18th. However…we will be testing for pregnancy with an at-home First Response Early Result test on Thursday night, which is Valentine’s Day. Which means we’ll either have the best or worst Valentine’s Day ever — half the reason we are staying in and cooking dinner instead of going out.

I don’t think he’s gonna top this epicness from 2013 anyway.

Now, on to the two reasons I am keeping my posts private for the time being. One, I want to be able to announce the news that we are pregnant if we are, in fact, pregnant and not have a bunch of people already know, because that’s no fun. We’ll tell our close friends and family members but that’s it.

And two, I told all my family in New Orleans — mom, dad, brother, sister-in-law, grandma — that we opted for the two-step transfer, a.k.a. the PGS testing and frozen embryo transfer come April or May. I LIED THROUGH MY TEETH. I need to remember to lie to my mom next week sometime about how many came back normal, but I did this because we’re visiting for my birthday in mid March and I want to be able to tell them in person.

It’s going to be really hard to keep this secret for a month if I do end up being pregnant. But I think back to how overjoyed my mom was the first time and then how heartbroken she was when I miscarried, and I don’t want to put her through that. By then, we’ll have been able to see a heartbeat, and I’ll feel much more comfortable telling her.

The next time I write, I will know one way or another if this worked. Keeping all the fingers and toes crossed.

11; The Numbers Game

So we had our egg retrieval yesterday morning. But before that, Josh had to give me a shot in the butt on Thursday evening (to trigger ovulation) that was probably our most stressful interaction throughout this process yet.

It would have been hilarious to be a fly on the wall in our living room as I lay face down on our couch, screeching about how he was directing the needle too high (he wasn’t) and then in the bathroom as I checked the spot he injected at over and over again. I then proceeded to call my nurse — she didn’t answer — and Google to make sure we put it in the right spot. Like it mattered, as it was already over. LONG STORY SHORT, it was fine.

So we showed up Saturday morning and I got into the robe and the hairnet and all that fun stuff, and I was already nervous as hell. So then the nurse messed up my IV a little. I saw so much blood. I started crying. She felt terrible. I apologized profusely later for making her feel bad because it didn’t end up being a big deal and I barely have a bruise but man was it stressful. It was probably my tense ass’s fault to begin with.

Proof I was being a baby.

So I went under and my doctor got *drum roll* 17 eggs. 17! Which is kind of my lucky number. It’s my birth date (March 17), the day Josh and I admitted we had feelings for each other, and also the day we flew to Europe, which was the beginning of our trying-to-conceive phase (when we got there, not on the plane). The latter two are Sept. 17, which also happens to be my half birthday. Hooray 17!

I’ll have 1/2 lb. of Boar’s Head muenster cheese with a side of solid embryo development, please.

There’s ^ a photo of a not-entirely-unlike-a-deli-counter device that Josh got to follow along with in the waiting room during the procedure, which was only 15 minutes long. He had no idea what it was for lollll but once the doctor told him they got 17 eggs he was like oh God, it all makes sense now.

We were over the moon at this number, all things considering. And then today they called us and told us of those 17, 11 were mature and nine fertilized. Nine out of 11 is an amazing rate of fertilization. We are both very happy, and I would like to thank DHEA for making our reality of getting this far a possibility.

Post-op happiness.

We should be getting another call tomorrow letting us know how many of those nine make it the next 24 hours, and then what the doctor predicts as far as how many will make it to day 3 (Tuesday).

Our ideal scenario is to have enough embryos to let them age until day 5 (Thursday), then either do a fresh transfer then or send them for PGS (chromosome) testing and do a frozen transfer in a few months…but we may skip the PGS testing altogether for a few reasons:

  1. It will add $4,250 to this first attempt. Yikes.
  2. There is a lot of conflicting data out there about the accuracy. The test plucks cells from the outer layer of the embryo and screens those, meaning it’s possible they aren’t picking up whether the nucleus/center of the cell — where the fetus grows — is viable. So those that come back abnormal could, in fact, be perfectly fine, and vice versa.
  3. There are studies that show for women under 35 (38 in some studies), PGS actually has no effect on live birth rate or miscarriage rate and could, in fact, lower the live birth rate. I’m 33, almost 34.

So we’re not sure at this point. We are hoping we know what the right decision is within the next few days. We do both know we want a baby ASAP but we’re also trying to be smart.

“Thank God the stim hormones are done.” – Josh, probably

Josh has done an incredible job taking care of me, supporting me in the ways I’m asking (or trying to ask — I struggle with directness) and encouraging me to allow myself to relax, which is something I’m very bad at. Last night, after shooting me in the ass again with a huge needle of progesterone (the first of many), he thanked me for putting my body through all of this.

It has honestly not felt as hard on my body so far as I expected it to, which I’m very grateful for because I know pregnancy is going to do enough of that. But I know this is a lot to go through regardless, and I’m glad he recognizes that. And that he’s up for doing the shots. He feels bad sticking me with a huge-ass needle, but as long as I don’t have to look at it, I’m fine. Bonus about them being in the butt.

Friday night, the night before the retrieval, we splurged and went out for Mexican. I kinda regret it because I’m still feeling gross from eating in a way I hadn’t for a month. But we each had our first alcoholic drinks — a sangrita (sangria/margarita lovechild) for me — and I regret nothing. I was definitely tipsy off of that one drink.

There was also this text convo from the bathtub afterward, which again was not my finest moment but here we are.

He hid the package after this.

Until next time…think happy embryo thoughts for us and future Bab(ies) Haupt.

(P.S. I hope both teams lose the Super Bowl. #GeauxSaints)