Tale of Two Embryos

angela hatem tale of two embryos

I was 39 and 349 days old, dancing in the middle of an Indianapolis field to Paul Simon’s “Call Me Al,” while wearing a captain’s hat and hugging a cardboard cut-out of my high school Glamour Shots photo. I was surrounded by about 40 of my family and friends, bidding adieu to my 30’s and beckoning my 40’s with quite a bit of abandon.

Meanwhile in Syracuse, New York my two embryos were literally chilling, awaiting my return.

After deciding to pursue becoming a mother on my own then dealing with eight failed IUI’s in Indianapolis within the previous two years, I had had an IVF chat with my doctor. I learned that the procedure could cost $20,000, not to mention $675 for donor sperm and shipping/handling. I needed a miracle to even consider doing IVF.

Soon after, I found out about CNY Fertility in Syracuse from an Indianapolis news story about a gal in a similar position as me who had traveled there for treatment and was able to have twins.  CNY offers IVF cycles starting at $3,900.  Even though there would be added travel costs, this gave me reverse sticker shock. I met with a couple of local girls who had also gone to this clinic and after hearing their stories and seeing their beautiful families, I couldn’t say no.

While I reveled in my 40th birthday party, I was apprehensive about actually turning 40 and what that all meant.  I had a lot of preconceived notions, and a lot of them centered around my ability or lack thereof to have a baby.  I worried whether I could become a mom at 40, and if I could, would the baby be okay.  I worried about not being able to become a mom at 40 and what that meant for the rest of my life.

While my 40th birthday wasn’t the change it was a change, and I was scared.  People kindly lied to me and said I didn’t look 40, which though lovely to hear didn’t make my innards any younger.

I tried to remind myself that even though the vessel was 40 and somewhat sea-worthy, the passengers were a spry 39.  I realize that’s not a huge difference, but I was rationalizing comfort wherever I could find it.

I tried to keep that comfort feeling alive as much as possible. I avoided Google, I avoided asking about the grades of my embryos, I avoided input. For me, knowledge isn’t always power. In this case, just because I was allowed to know something, didn’t mean I should know.

I avoided Google, I avoided asking about the grades of my embryos, I avoided input. For me, knowledge isn’t always power.

After recovering from my 40th birthday revelry I had a few days to prepare before my return to Syracuse.  I was planning to make this trip from Indianapolis on my own.  I was picking out podcasts to listen to, making virtual lists of must-have snacks, and then one night over dinner a travel companion tipsily presented herself.

My mom’s youngest sister offered to come with me. She is technically my aunt, but because she’s only 10 years older than me and we get along really well, she’s my friend and my aunt.  She’s my fraunt. I am her friece.

The night before my drive back to Syracuse we had dinner. This dinner featured some delicious red meat, a savory appetizer, a sizeable serving of wine, and a huge helping of “Will-you-drop-everything-and-go-on-a-Thelma-and Louise-style-road-trip-with-me?”  One beer later, we were getting permission for her to miss work, and the blessing of her husband to abandon her family for a few days.

The next day, we packed my Accord with the essentials every girl needs for an embryo transfer: transfer meds, comfy clothes, snacks, a cardboard cutout for selfies, and a Dasani bottle filled with holy water that my mom’s friend gave her as a blessing for long car trips.  Catholic guilt and superstition are very real and transportable.

Up to this point, I had already undergone two complete IVF procedures and taken five trips to Syracuse.  My first cycle was a fresh one.  When that didn’t work we tried frozen.  I wasn’t an ace at quality egg creation.  I usually only made one extra egg to make egg plural.  After my third retrieval I wanted to give my mind and body a chance to recoup and get back to neutral before another transfer, so to the ice chest my embryos went.

Finally, on the near-eve of my 40th birthday, I arrived at my transfer as peaceful as a person who is about to hopefully change her life can be. I was scheduled for some pre- and post-transfer acupuncture.  What I wasn’t scheduled for was the courtesy transfer valium.  I usually turn this offer down, but in my attempt to be “all in” I thought I would give it a try.

There I was, naked from the waist down, relaxed by valium and acupuncture, and being doused with holy water by my aunt.  I talked quickly with the embryology nurse and told her I wanted no information on embryo grades.  I didn’t even want to see the picture of the embryos.  I just wanted to know that we were good to transfer.  Her response: “I think you will be happy with them.”

On August 3, 2018 at 10:48am, the doctor transferred my two embryos.

I carried on with my life as best I could during the two-week wait.  My actual 40th birthday passed me by, my nephews had their first day of school, I think I saved money on car insurance. The world kept turning.

We packed the essentials every girl needs for an embryo transfer: transfer meds, comfy clothes, snacks, a cardboard cutout for selfies, and a Dasani bottle filled with holy water that my mom’s friend gave her as a blessing for long car trips…

My beta test was scheduled for August 14.  I promised myself no pee sticks.  No pee sticks until a blood test could tell me I would see a positive. I had one test in the back of a closet and that’s where it would stay.

On August 9, I woke up in the middle of the night and my body felt so bad that if I even rolled over, last night’s dinner might no longer be a memory.  It had only been a few days since my transfer, so I refused to let a stomach bug trick me into false hope. I felt like hell for a couple of days and then I was fine again.

On August 12, I went to the pool with some friends and kept running to the restroom as I had developed the bladder of a sparrow. My friend commented on this, but I refused to allow my over-hydration to trick me into false hope.

On August 14,, I took the day off from work as I always did on beta day.  This would be my third beta day overall, and possibly my last no matter the end result. I went in at 7 am and had my blood drawn.  I went home, climbed back into bed, and cried. I felt no symptoms. Those blips I had had a couple of days ago were gone. I was still me. Nothing felt different.  Everything felt the same, and I was preparing myself for many more same very sad days.

The phone rang a little after 9 am.  The caller ID displayed that it was a New York call.

When I answered, the nurse sounded…different.  The comforting/supportive tone had become almost chipper. She asked how I was. I told her she had to tell me how I was.

“You have an HSG of 137.”

I collapsed on to my bed and sobbed. Like “you jump, I jump” Terms of Endearment-movie sobbed.  I don’t know exactly what I said once I could speak, but it was something along the lines of endless gratitude, the clinic made this happen for me, I can never thank you enough, is first name “Doctor,” middle name “Kiltz” a good name for a baby?  I don’t remember the nurse’s name and I am not sure if she remembers me, but I will always remember her voice and that sentence: “You have an HSG of 137.”

I want to say I played it cool. I didn’t. I called the world. I called my mom; she cried. I called my best friend; she cried.  I called my dad; he said “Good luck.” I called my coworker and she screamed as loud as humanly possible and told my intern. I called my sister who when she heard my tears, apologized, and then I told her they were happy tears. I called my brother and he said, “No shit?”  I told my super-Catholic, 94-year-old-grandma and she asked if she was supposed to say “congratulations.”

It was a cornucopia of emotions and responses.

Speaking of which, there was a First Response in the back of a closet with my name on it. I peed on that thing on principle alone. Seeing the visual proof is when it really struck me: I was pregnant!

Now that I have almost crossed the reproductive finish line it’s hard not reflect on the race.

I come from a family that appears to be reproductively gifted.  My dad is one of eight, my mom is one of 12, and I am one of five.  When I started thinking of having a family in my late 30s, I was really banking on this family history to lead me into the reproductive promised land.  For too long my family history gave me the false confidence that me and my eggs had all the time in the universe.  We didn’t.

Through the entire process of pursuing motherhood, though, I have tried to find the upside when I can.

For each friend who has abandoned me, I have a friend who has gone to every doctor’s visit with me, has listened to me cry and rage for hours, a friend who against her better judgement, has given me hormone shots in my ass.  If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

As I am days away from delivering my son I am happily terrified for his well being every second of every day.  I cheerfully worry if I will be mother enough to be a father to him.  This wasn’t the life I had expected, but thankfully because of prayers, generosity, science, and my own pigheadedness, it is the life I am finally getting.


Angela Hatem

Angela Hatem was born in Homestead, FL and adopted Indianapolis, IN as home. She enjoys her single life with all of her not-so-single friends and family. She tries to find the funny when possible. She hopes to be a voice for those on the fertility journey and through her writing provide comfort and humor to others.  

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