Blastoff: One Atlanta Family's IVF Journey

This is the first time Intown Doula has had the pleasure of hosting a guest blogger, and there is none better than Meredith for our first guest. Meredith is a mother of three, a partner, a dog rescue aficionado, an outta-this-world baker, and an incredible photographer. It's an honor to share in a small part of this story, and it continues to be my honor to share this story with the world.

--MMT

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When my partner and I decided to start trying to conceive our first child, we didn’t tell a soul. Giddy with hope, arms bruised from the glut of blood siphoned and analyzed and declared perfectly fertile, we were certain that it would only take a try or two. We sat in the silent waiting room of the fertility clinic practically vibrating with anticipation. 

Cheeks blazing in the exam room, I lay naked under a paper sheet while my partner played DJ, choosing the perfect song from her iphone playlist, and the doctor pressed the plunger on the syringe, inseminating me with the donor sperm we’d spent weeks selecting. For two weeks, we dreamed of the shocked reactions from our friends when we shared our exciting news.

And we dreamed again the next month. And the next. 

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As the months wore on and the seasons changed again…and then again, our giddiness slowly gave way to nervousness, to worry, to grief. I swallowed pills, jabbed myself with needles, and squeezed in early morning ultrasounds before work. And every month, when the second line on the test failed to appear, my heart broke, and I gave thanks that we had kept our mouths shut because I couldn’t deal with the thought of disappointing one more person.

Finally, a devastating round of a IVF: eggs harvested from my body, cracked open and forcibly fertilized, tenderly nurtured in a petri dish, and then returned to my body. Another two week wait, this time with a photo of my perfect embryos clutched in my clammy fist. And again, no second line. No baby.

Around me, life went on. Three friends announced pregnancies that month, all of them unplanned. At dinner one evening, another friend bemoaned her easy fertility, bouncing her third baby on her lap while complaining of her worry each month that she would be pregnant yet again. I couldn’t be angry. My friends weren’t being callow. They had no idea that we were trying to conceive. Again and again I wondered if I should confide in a few friends, but I feared their well-meaning inquiries each month, pity in their eyes.

And then finally there were two lines. A second round of IVF, hundreds of injections and dozens of humiliating ultrasound, and finally finally a positive pregnancy test. And then a baby. The most perfect baby in the world. She was everything I ever wanted and my heart was full.

Except it wasn’t. Full. There was room for more: a quiet whisper in the back of my heart telling me that my family was not complete. And so, as we prepared for our precious girl’s first birthday, we also prepared to ride the rollercoaster of fertility treatments yet again.

But this time we decided not to do it completely alone. While we still kept our efforts mostly private, we opened up to a few close friends. And their excitement and faith rubbed off on us, easing the dread I was feeling as I braced for a long road of disappointment. 

They cheered for us as we underwent the initial testing, checked on me after a surgery to remove a fibroid, and held their collective breath as I started the injections that would prepare my body for the transfer of our only remaining embryos. Two embryos from our previous IVF attempts remained frozen at the fertility clinic, suspended in time. If they failed to implant, as three of our four transferred embryos had last time, we would have to start the process all over again, injecting hormones that would force my ovaries to swell with dozens of eggs that would be harvested and cajoled into embryos in a sterile laboratory. 

In Georgia, we swelter in the summer and for that we are rewarded with generally mild winters. Snow is rare enough that flurries make the top story on the morning news. But Mother Nature is a fickle friend.  And that year a freak ice storm slammed the city at midday, commuters and parents fleeing the city in a frantic pack, trying to reach their children and their homes, snarling the interstates and leaving thousands stranded overnight in cars and temporary shelters. I crawled through traffic for six hours, baby in the backseat, trying to make it just a handful of miles to my house. Once home, I swallowed my pills and jabbed myself with my hormone shots and crossed another day off the calendar, waiting for The Day.

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Then, a couple weeks later, as I finalized childcare plans, and laid on the acupuncture table visualizing my uterine lining thickening, Mother Nature reared her fickle, ugly head again. A second storm threatened the metro area, and this time the city would not be caught off guard. A preemptive State of Emergency was declared, travel was forbidden and citizens prepared to hunker down. And my embryos, frozen solid without the help of the coming ice storm, waited. 

Fertility treatments are both a science and an art. So much of it involves tweaking past attempts and trying new things and just hoping for good luck. But the timing of an embryo transfer is pure science with almost no wiggle room. It must be done when it must be done. And mine needed to be done Wednesday morning, just when this second storm was supposed to be at its peak. From my acupuncturists waiting room on Tuesday morning, I frantically updated the weather app on my phone and I called the fertility clinic and begged my nurse to adjust my transfer date. But it couldn’t be done. Don’t worry, she assured me, the staff will be spending the night in the clinic. They will be here to perform your transfer. Just worry about getting yourself here. 

And worry I did, because we lived over 20 miles away from the clinic. Miles and miles of highway that were sure to be impassable on Wednesday morning. The nurse recommended renting a hotel room within walking distance and staying there for the duration of the storm.  On the way home from my acupuncture appointment, I sobbed into my cell phone, explaining the hotel plan to my partner. She immediately began looking online for hotels, but that was the easy part. The rest of the logistics were the hard part. Who would babysit our dog? Who would check on our house after the storm? How would I get from the hotel room to the clinic? Our daughter was still nursing and needed to stay with me but was not allowed into the fertility clinic. Who would watch her if my partner came with me to the appointment? If my partner stayed at the hotel with her, who would take me to the clinic? The procedure required medication that would make me drowsy, so driving myself (or walking alone in the storm) was not an option. 

My mind whirled with all the complications, my emotions hovering just this side of a nervous breakdown. And then I did what I could not have dreamed of doing during our first ride on the fertility rollercoaster: I called a friend. One dear friend who had been a tireless cheerleader since I’d confided in her that we were trying again happened to live within a mile of the clinic. I called her for advice: which hotel should we stay at? How can I get from point A to point B safely? But what I got was so much more. “Stop,” she said. “Stop right now. You are not going to a hotel. You are coming here. I will make you dinner and make up the guest bed. You bring that baby and I will watch her for as long as she needs watching. And my husband will get you to that clinic no matter how bad the weather. Come. Come now.”

And so I went. My partner stayed home to tend to the house and the dog and to work. And I packed up my little girl and my basket of meds and I drove across town. And we made dinner and watched our children romp together and waited for the snow to fall. And after the children were in bed, we watched TV and whispered about the babies I hoped would be conceived in the morning. 

Early the next morning, after a warm breakfast, I left my little girl playing with her best friends and climbed into the truck that would be my chariot. Slowly, we crept through the ice-crusted deserted streets, the only vehicle as far as our eyes could see. 

In the cold exam room, I changed into my hospital gown and snapped photos of my fashionable hairnet. My phone buzzed with encouraging messages not just from my partner, but also from the small group of friends who we had chosen to join us in this journey. The embryologist, the doctor who had thawed my embryos and watched them flicker back to life, came to visit me with a smile on his face. Beautiful, he said. They’re beautiful. Perfect little blastocysts. Be prepared for the possibility of twins. 

I had heard that before, back during that failed IVF cycle. Those perfect blastocysts had not become twins, had not become a baby at all. So I was cautiously optimistic, with the emphasis on caution. But my friends had no such fear. Twins! they cried. Twins! BLASTOTWINS!

The transfer was done, the icy roads traversed in reverse, and then there was nothing to do but wait. And play in the snow. Two days later, we were able to go home, and the waiting continued there. But this time I was not alone. I was surrounded by the love and encouragement and complete faith. There was joy in the waiting this time, and peace in the knowledge that if it didn’t work, we would try again and it would happen when it was meant to happen.

And then there it was. The second line.  And then there they were, two perfect flickering heartbeats. Blastotwins.

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And now they are here. Two sweet, silly, perfect little boys. 

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And my heart is full.