OK, readers, I’ve been on a blog hiatus for more reasons than writing my book. I just couldn’t tell you until now, but I’m back with some very big news. First, I need to take you through the play by play.
After E was born, I had two PGS-tested embryos remaining in the freezer at UCSF. I remember that one of the last things Dr. Tran said to me as I exited his care was, “You have embryos, you’ll be back.” I really hadn’t gotten as far as thinking about a second baby, I was just hoping everything worked out with the first one. But, as soon as E was born, I thought about it a lot. As I packed up the first round of outgrown baby clothes, I wondered if this would be the first and last time I’d experience each stage of development.
As time went on, the idea of trying for a second was just always there. It didn’t need to happen soon, and it seemed a little crazy, but the fact of those embryos existing in the world, the full genetic siblings of my adored son, had my attention.
When E was about a year old, I met with Dr. Tran. I thought he’d be unsurprised, like “I knew you’d be back!” Instead, he said, “Why are you back here already???” and I said I wasn’t ready to try, just wanted to get some info. Would it matter how long I waited? The answer was no- my body should have the same chance of supporting a baby for years into the future. Do I really have to fully wean him before we do a transfer? Yes. Because there are lots of unknowns about the process, they want to completely clear the slate and control as many variables as possible, and nursing could send the body a mixed message. What would be the soonest I could try? This December (2016). E would be 1.5. The transfer would be a simple process.
I looked out Dr. T’s office window at the sparkling new campus of UCSF- Mission Bay, considering the expense of two kids in San Francisco. It really did seem impossible but it was nice to know I had some time.
Then, my only holdup was the weaning, and I also couldn’t imagine weaning him earlier than I (or he) wanted to for only the slim chance of getting pregnant again. I didn’t see myself going beyond those two embryos. I was definitely not up for the whole IVF retrieval process again. In my mind, it would be two tries and, if no success, making peace with having one, which really seemed like it could be OK. But I had to try for a sibling.
A year after seeing Dr. Tran, I met with Dr. Cedars. It was a little awkward because she assumed she had done my successful transfer with E, and acted like she knew me, but we sorted that out pretty quickly. She gave me my chances and advised me to transfer both. She also said that moving to Chicago would be no problem, because one of their colleagues, Dr. Zamah, had recently moved to UI-Chicago and could do my monitoring from there! Cosmic.
We moved across the country last summer. In the last few months of the year, the nursing started winding down naturally, and by December 31, E nursed for the last time at 2.5 years old. I set up an appointment with Dr. T at his new private practice.
He said not to bother moving over to his practice- it would be a simple procedure, nothing really strategic at this stage, plus I was under the care of Dr. Cedars, probably the most experienced of the doctors at UCSF. He said I should still do one at a time to avoid the risk of twins. He said I should stop by and say hello the next time I was in town. This was a free consultation. Love that guy!
I called UCSF and got set up with my new nurse, Teona, whom I loved. Everything was so easy- she set up my calendar, ordered my meds, answered my questions. I was clear that I only wanted to transfer one at a time, even though the prospect of the first one not working could result in me going through the whole process and flying again for a very low-chance embryo the second time… But the prospect of twins really felt impossible and like I would be totally sunk if that were to happen. We’d figure it out, but, you know, it would be not ideal.
So, I started up with birth control in January or so, then Lupron, then estrogen patches and progesterone. I had my calendar taped to the back of a cabinet door in the bathroom and did my regimen every morning/night, picking up these old steps through muscle memory. The transfer was scheduled for March 27, the week E’s school was closed for spring break. We planned a week’s vacation in SF.
The week before the transfer, I went into UI-C to Dr. Z’s office for them to check my lining. In the meantime, I had realized, thanks to my details in this blog, that Dr. Z. was the one to do the transfer which resulted in baby E in SF! And now he was looped into my next attempt. Even more cosmic. He wasn’t in the office that day, but my lining checked out as good and thick and I had a nice email exchange with him afterward.
On the morning of the transfer, my sister drove me and E up to the city from her place in Palo Alto. It was a glorious, perfect California day, and all the winter rain had made everything a vibrant green. I knew the place would look just impossibly beautiful after adjusting to the aesthetic of Chicago (which is nice, but, you know, no contest really), and it did.
On our way up Dolores Street, I glimpsed the house of my midwife and suddenly asked B to pull over. I had to see if she was home. As I was knocking on her door, she had just arrived and was walking up the steps behind me! I gave her a big hug and explained what I was doing in town, then asked her to come say hi to E in the car. Just as she was starting to tell me what she knows about midwives in Chicago (in case I would end up needing one), my phone rang, and somehow my sister noticed that it said UCSF and she handed it to me. It was Dr. Cedars.
The first, good-looking embryo didn’t really survive the thaw and was not looking viable. This happens to only about 5% of embryos these days. My brain was swimming. Did they want me to thaw the other one? Yes please.
In that moment, I felt like my chances plummeted. The last one was the one they didn’t want me to fly out for. I don’t understand the grading very well, but based on a visual analysis, they can see that the edges aren’t well defined, and other things that doctors know about, and they give it a grade. I don’t remember this embryo’s grade, I just knew that Dr. C. and Dr. T. gave it only a 15% chance.
We said goodbye to Em and headed to get a picnic from Bi-Rite. While E played on the playground, I took my valium which is prescribed for one hour before the procedure, to reduce any jiggling in your uterus when they put the embryo in. And causing the whole experience to be quite pleasant.
As the drug kicked in, I gazed around sunny Dolores Park wondering how all these families still afford to be here, wondering how it can be so f-ing beautiful, wondering if I was just meant to have one kid after all, even convincing myself it wasn’t probably a good idea to have another one, then hoping again that it would just work, and then feeling scared. Somewhere in my reverie while B and E were off somewhere playing, E jumped up suddenly while B was looking down at him and he broke her nose with the crown of his head. (She had broken it in high school so this was a re-break 😦 ) She didn’t actually find out it was broken until a week later when the pain wasn’t going away, and in my haze in the moment I showed sympathy and never asked about it again. (Amazingly, when the doctors reset the bone, it resulted in a much smoother shape that she’s really happy with. So, while I didn’t handle it well, and it sucked for B, it ended up with a good result, thanks E.)
B dropped me off at UCSF. I wasn’t feeling the same hope of recent weeks and months, thrown off by the last-minute news about the first embryo. I got checked in, said hi to Maria at the front desk, an old friend from when I was trying for E. I waited in a waiting room that had gentle spa music playing in the background. A nurse came in to go over some basic stuff with me, she was very kind. She led me into the transfer room, showed me where to put my stuff in a locker. Then Dr. Cedars came in.
She showed me photos of the embryos after the thaw, and the first embryo really had only about 15% viable cells. But, in more unexpected news, the second embryo thawed looking much better than expected, even starting to hatch. She asked me if I wanted to put both. She said that, while an embryo with any cells as a chance of working, it would more likely act as a “helper” to the other one. So, in a decision that would keep me up at night in the coming days, I said yes, put both.
I laid back on the warm blankets and looked up at a flat screen where my embryos were visible, a live view of them both. I watched the tube come in from the right and suck them both in. The embryologist came in, confirmed I was who I was, and Dr. C. put them in. On the ultrasound monitor, she pointed out the little white dots which were not the embryos themselves (they would still be too small to see) but bits of air clustered around each one. The settled in and we were done and I laid there for a moment once everyone left.
Then, we enjoyed ourselves with old friends through the week. The day after the transfer, I accidentally walked around four miles when we went to see animals at a little farm and it was a longer walk than anticipated. I also realized that I’d totally forgotten to do acupuncture, how could I forget?? Also, E wanted to be carried a lot. Looking back on the paperwork after getting home to Chicago, I realized that I wasn’t supposed to be walking or lifting or exerting myself, oops.
During the second week of the two week wait, I was mostly distracted by our regular routine but a few times did google pregnancy symptoms and did email Teona about the walking and lack of acupuncture I’d done. She said something existential like, “There’s unfortunately no way to know what makes an embryo implant or not.” It kind of made me feel better, what’s done is done.
When I got close to my beta day, my parents were here. I was feeling like it worked, but totally mistrusted that feeling. Monday morning, I went to the lab to give blood for the test but I couldn’t wait for the phone call from UCSF toward the end of the afternoon. I went to buy a pregnancy test (why didn’t I at least have one in the house?) and then tried to shoo my family out the door so I could get some privacy. They were all out in the backyard when I peed on the stick. It was immediately a big plus. Positive. Pregnant.
I think I said, “Oh my fucking God.” The first emotion was fear.
Shaking and overcome, I went into my office (also the guest room) and shut the door, sitting down on the floor to meditate and begin to absorb the news. Minutes later, my dad walked in.
I looked up at him weirdly, and he said, “What’s going on?” I held up the test. We ran into the backyard to show my mom. We were all wide-eyed and happy and disbelieving. I went inside and got under a blanket on the couch. OMG. OMG. I immediately started calculating my due date and going on overdrive planning around this news and praying for it not to be twins. It’s funny, and lucky, that I seem to still be able to get immediately excited despite having things go south in the past.
But they didn’t go south! Teona called later that day with a strong beta number, and then I tested again two days later and it doubled. At 6 weeks, I brought my new friend E to my ultrasound appointment and this time Dr. Z. was in and confirmed ONE heartbeat! Oh, hellelujah, one! I can handle one. I can get so excited about one. One is perfect. I went back at 8 weeks and everything was tracking perfectly. Holy cow. Another baby!!
Last week, I had my first midwife appointment and heard the heartbeat for the first time on the Doppler, which was the most real it’s felt so far, and music to any expecting mama’s ears. I have a cute belly now rather than the initial squishy muffin top and I’m at 13 weeks! I’m tired and hungry but have felt good the whole time.
CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?! I had ONE shot for a sibling. That 15% final embryo was clearly a fighter.
E hugs my belly and says, “I love you so much, baby.” ❤ ❤ ❤