After two weeks of doing shots (and not the fun kind that make you show your tits at Mardi Gras), it was time for my “extraction”: the clinical term for getting knocked out and having the doctor go all up in my business to collect my eggs.
To prep for this, I had to take a trigger shot of HCG, a pregnancy hormone that signaled my body to release the eggs. The injection had to be timed exactly 36 hours before the extraction — a moment which, as luck would have it, fell on a Saturday night when we were throwing a massive birthday bash for one of our friends. This wasn’t the first time my husband and I had disappeared into a bathroom at a party together (we like each other, okay?), but it was
the first time we emerged carrying a vial and a syringe. This was also around when I started coming clean to friends about my IVF treatment. It was either that or have them think I was a junkie.
My extraction was that Monday. I woke from a blissed-out anesthetic haze to learn that my doctor had harvested 11 eggs. Of those, nine were considered mature enough for fertilization. An embryologist manually inserted sperm into each egg under a microscope, using a process known as Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI, pronounced “ick-see”, for short). A day later, I got a phone call telling me that eight of the fertilized eggs had made it to the first stage of embryo development.
Again, this was a numbers game. I knew that some of the embryos would develop abnormalities or simply stop growing, indicating that they probably would have made a not-so-healthy human and been rejected by my body very early on. But the more healthy embryos we had, the more chances we had of growing a baby. Because having a goal seemed important, I prayed for a 50% success rate.
Theoretically, multiple embryos can be transferred back into the female body: That’s what happened with the Octomom. For patients over 40, doctors may transfer up to five embryos
in the hope that at least one will stick. But because I was relatively young and healthy, this was my first IVF attempt, and multiple pregnancies carry a higher risk, my doctor recommended transferring just one. The rest would be frozen for future use. When the time came, all they had to do was thaw one out and pop it in, like a microwave burrito.
In an ideal scenario, doctors wait five days between the extraction and the embryo transfer. This gives them time to track the development by keeping an eye on things like cell division and symmetry. For me, those five days were both nerve-wracking and delightful: nerve-wracking as I waited for news about our precious embryos, and delightful because, since I wasn’t currently hosting any potential humans, I could have a glass of wine.
When I arrived for my embryo transfer, I was told that I had two beautiful, perfect embryos, and three that may or may not make it. I was devastated. All that work, for just two chances? And if only one-fifth of our embryos were viable, what did that say about us? All the statistics I’d tried so hard not to read about egg quality declining sharply in your mid-30s came swooping down on me, re-opening questions I thought I’d put to rest about my suitability to be a mom. The transfer was not off to a good start.
I also had to pee, viciously. I was told to arrive with a full bladder, which helps push the uterus into a position that enables the doctor to insert the embryo via a catheter. I have to pee every half-hour, religiously, and my transfer was running 40 minutes late. A nurse instructed me to go to the bathroom and “let it out for the count of three,” which is one of the strangest and most unpleasant sensations in the world. Finally, it was time to enter the operating room.
I lay on a table in a vaguely pornographic position as a nurse pressed down on my belly with an ultrasound wand. I could see my bladder, shaped like a big black jellybean, and a staticky mess that was supposedly my uterus and vaginal canal. The embryologist entered the room carrying what looked like a tiny white wand: this was the catheter, and our maybe-future-baby was nestled in its tip. My husband and I held hands and watched on the ultrasound monitor as the doctor threaded it up inside of me, a slim white line among all that static. When she removed it, a glowing white dot remained. This wasn’t really the embryo (it’s too small too see), but the dye surrounding it, telling them it had hit its mark.