Retrieval and fertilization adventure

I am sitting up in bed at here at Staybridge after only 5 hours of sleep. It is our last day here—our flight is at 4 p.m. I have my Rocky Balboa eyes, the ones I became so familiar with seeing in the mirror during this past two years, and have not missed.

I know it is too early to be crying as hard as I did last night, too early to be assuming, but my inner resources are nearly depleted and I’m finding it difficult to stay positive. I’m sure coming off a ton of hormones is exacerbating any little feeling that arises, turning pond waves into tsunamis in a matter of seconds.

I have been through so much. I have to admit that I sometimes feel sorry for myself. I feel sorry for all that my good body has gone through—the pregnancies, the losses, the IUI treatments, and now this IVF—sorry for my dear mind and spirit, for all it has had to endure and rise above. It is when I feel sorry for myself that I suffer the most. But in the feeling sorry is a tenderness toward myself that I want to give. Is there some way to give tenderness to myself without feeling sorry for myself? I want to work on that.

In the end, it is not the worst news. Women have had success with the numerical outcome that I’ve had. (Of course, I don’t know how many of those women have had 5 pregnancy losses prior to treatment—and that’s what trips me up, makes me put myself in another category.)

The results are:

  • 6 eggs were retrieved.
  • All 6 were mature (!). This surprised me. I’d been worried about the big differences in follicle sizes and figured some would be under-mature and some would be over-mature. Maybe that “tripple-trigger” lupron + HCG really did help.
  • 2 of 6 eggs died during ICSI.
  • 4 of 6 eggs fertilized.

So right now we have 4 embryos growing in petri dishes not too far away.

I am imagining all 4 eggs going through perfect meiosis, matching up perfectly with DH’s sperm, the cells dividing smoothly and cleanly, the chromosomes mapping out what will become the hair and eyes and limbs of our future children.

When Dr. S. said that he “expects one normal embryo,” was that based on 11 fertilized eggs? Or was he factoring in the dwindling down of numbers that could occur along the way?

I keep thinking back to our consult with Dr. Surrey during our ODWU (he sat in for Dr. Schoolcraft). I remember clearly his saying: “We would consider 4 embryos a good outcome.”

So I’m holding onto that.

Before the retrieval, I pulled the car over to the side of the road and got out. I sat in the sun and dipped my fingers into the snow, like I used to do when I was a kid. I loved playing in the woods in the winter when I was a girl—the cold air, the sparkly snow in the sunlight. I was born in January, and I have a loving connection to winter; I tell myself that this is a good month for me to create a child.

I closed my eyes for ten minutes and meditated white light zinging through my body, and little white pearls of light dotting my ovaries. I pictured pearlescent eggs rising to the surface of my ovaries and I said to myself: Come to me, I’m ready for you.

They took me back to a little room where I put on a gown and cap and booties, and a wonderfully kind nurse put in my IV. She had great eye contact and made me feel really at ease. I became queasy when she put a needle into the back of my hand, but she hid my hand under the blanket and I got over it.

Then they had DH come in to sit with me. Sometimes for fun we talk in British accents, and we did that a bit. Then we imagined what it would be like if these rooms were decorated in the mornings to suit each patient’s personality, to make them feel more at ease. We imagined them putting me in the wrong room, and I wind up looking at walls decorated with hair-metal and marijuana-leaf posters.

Then I told him about all of the stories I’ve been reading in Best American Short Stories of 2011, which is an excellent collection. (I was so impressed and moved by George Saunders’s “Escape from Spiderhead” that I read the whole thing aloud to DH a couple of mornings ago.)

I told him about watching a little bit of Dumbo on netflix the night before, while he was sleeping. “All of the other mother animals get their little baby animals delivered by storks, but not Dumbo’s mom. She has to watch all of the other mothers open their bundles and shower their newborns with love and affection. She watches the sky for her stork to arrive with her baby, but he never comes. She has to get on the carnival train childless and bereft, while all the other happy moms cutely nudge their babies onto the train. That’s me!  I thought. That’s it exactly!  BUT, as luck would have it, it turns out that Dumbo’s mom’s stork is just scatter-brained and a bit behind the others. He does have her baby! He just needs a map to get where he’s going. A day late, that scatter-brained stork manages to find Dumbo’s mom on the train and deliver her baby to her. She’s so happy.”

By the time I was finished with this retelling, Dr. Minjarez walked through the door. She was smiling warmly, so friendly and professional. Relief and confidence coursed through me. She shook my hand, and I thought: That hand is going to perform intensely delicate surgery and retrieve my eggs in half an hour.

DH and I kissed and I was wheeled away. I kept my eyes half-closed so I couldn’t see the other women in the beds that I passed. When I was wheeled into the surgery room, I kept my eyes half-closed, too, not wanting to see any equipment. It was dark blue in there, a bright white circle of light shining down on my covered-up belly and legs. “You’re going to feel a little burn as the anesthesia goes into your IV,” the anesthesiologist said, and I began to feel a slight sensation in the back of my hand.

That’s the last thing I remember.

I woke up in a sunny recovery room. I felt amazing. Peace. Peace!

A calm feeling, like lying in warm shallow ocean water, only better. I felt as though nothing had ever gone wrong and nothing ever would.

I heard voices. I tried to understand what they were saying. Nurses in the distance. It seemed they were talking about was eggs. Eggs, eggs. Numbers, eggs. I thought I should pretend to stay asleep and eavesdrop. But then their words became clear to me and I realized that they were not talking about eggs at all.

When my nurse saw my eyes open, she immediately retrieved DH for me. Seeing his lovely smiling face filled me with a boundless kind of love. I told him over and over again how happy I was to see him and made him kiss me many, many times, pulling him close, tugging on his jacket sleeve. He was chuckling. “I love our connection,” I said, and started to cry. “I just love you so much!”

“I love you, too, my sweet baby,” he whispered into my hair.

We got a snack of crackers and juice, and I devoured it. Asked for seconds. Then an embryologist showed up, shook my hand, and said, “Well, we retrieved 6 eggs today. That’s one less than we were expecting, but that happens.”


“Any questions?”

I blinked. “I guess not.”

I was wheeled out to our car in the parking garage, and during the drive home, I became nauseous. As we waited for our Vietnamese Pho orders, the nausea worsened. DH went to buy me some ginger ale at the gas station. A server at the restaurant delivered bags of food to me in our car, but I was turned around with my head buried in the back of the seat, hunched over.

“I’m sick,” I managed to say. “Just had surgery. Sorry.”

“Oh, oh, hope feel better,” the Vietnamese man said, and I stuck my head out the cracked-open door and moaned in reply. When DH arrived with the ginger ale, I began to vomit on the parking lot and didn’t stop for a long time.

The anesthesia. I wasn’t expecting that.

That evening was a blur of television-watching and pho-eating (after my nausea subsided) and generally avoiding the knowledge that I would be called by the embryologist in the morning with the fertilization report.

I woke up at 9 a.m. yesterday morning with a sinking feeling. “The call” would be coming sometime before noon, they said. That gave me three hours to feel nervous and to fight feeling nervous. To feel hopeful, not hopeful, scared, brave, scared. Anyone who has gone through this knows exactly what I’m talking about. It is torture.

When the phone rang at 11:30, I felt my heart beating in my throat. I noted immediately that the embryologist did not sound somber. Not somber, positive sign. He asked if this was a good time to speak. Fear zinged through me—if it was good news, anytime would be a good time to speak, wouldn’t it? “Yes,” I squeaked.

“Okay, of the six eggs we retrieved, all six were mature, and four of those fertilized,” he said.

I panted like a dog. I closed my eyes. Okay, four. Four is not one, two, or three. It is not six, but it is not zero.

“What happened to the other two?” I asked.

“They died during ICSI,” he said. “And we never know if that is because of the ICSI procedure or because of something with the egg.”

“Okay. So. Is this good? I mean, is this a good outcome?”

“Well, we of course would love to see 15 or 20 eggs, but with 6….let’s see, it’s a little below average fertilization rate…”

I waited. He wasn’t going to say This is good. I left it at that.

DH and I went out into the world, shortly thereafter, and ate brunch at the sweetest little spot called Gaia, located in a house, with a garden. We ate in the garden. The food was mind-blowing. I drank one cup of coffee. I felt good. “We have four embryos growing right now,” we kept saying to each other.

“It’s as if you’ve gotten pregnant nine times,” DH said. He adds my 5 pregnancies to the 4 fertilizations and gets 9. “There’s gotta be one good egg out of nine, right?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

And I don’t.

Our next big call comes this Wednesday. We’ll find out how many of the 4 made it to 60-cell blastocysts. I’ve asked them to leave a message for me, when they call in the afternoon, and I’ll retrieve that message when I get home from work. (Otherwise, depending on the news, I might not be able to finish my work day.) I’m considering not retrieving the message until the weekend, actually, because I hate going to work with Rocky Balboa eyes.

But who knows. Who knows. Maybe all 4 of them are dividing beautifully as I type. Maybe they love the warm, nutrient-rich stuff they are living in, inside that super-cutting-edge laboratory. Maybe the laboratory is like a five-star hotel for embryos. In-room massages and pedicures, jacuzzis, 24-hour room service. My embryos are like, “Mom, don’t worry, we’re living the good life, relax.”

Okay, then. I will try.

Leave a comment


  1. ADM

     /  January 20, 2013

    I hope you and your DH have settled back into your life in Long Island and that your managing the stress caused by the next few days of waiting. I will be sending all kinds of positive vibes out to you both and wishing for wonderful, fantastic news from that phone call. I understand your hesitancy to find out when you still have a couple of work days to get through. I’ve certainly had to go in to teach with “Rocky Balboa” eyes, as you call them. It took all my resolve to get up in front of my students and focus on managing the discussion, conveying the necessary information when all I wanted to do was go home, curl up in bed, and weep. I think you should do what ever you think will help you get through it all, but I know I could never have that much self control! In any case, I’ll be thinking of you and hoping that Wednesday phone call gives you a certain degree of peace as you move on to the next stage.

    • not doing so great today, actually. not really able to feel hope. the idea of going to work tomorrow—yes, absolute torture. but maybe it’ll help me get my mind off things.

  2. ADM

     /  January 20, 2013

    That should read “you’re managing.” Ugh. I hate such stupid grammatical typos. As a professor, they feel like aspersions on my professional character!

    • that’s funny—i used to work in the nyc publishing industry, magazines and books, and i used to teach college composition at the university of michigan, so that sort of thing kills me, too…i’m amazed that i’ve loosened up to the point at which i can sometimes write in all lower-case, like this!

  3. ADM

     /  January 20, 2013

    I’m so sorry you’re struggling today, though I’m not surprised. The kind of intense journey you went through while in Colorado is bound to be followed by some equally intense doubts and worries. I can’t imagine anyone not feeling huge movements between hope and despair in those circumstances. And let’s face it: it’s part of the frustrating journey of infertility and/or RPL. In response to another comment, you suggested I not be too hard on myself, which is telling given that that is my MO–to beat myself up over everything, to blame myself for what goes wrong, including but also well beyond the TTC journey. I found it really interesting that even a virtual stranger felt the need to offer that very necessary advice to me. Well, I hope you can also apply it to your own situation. It has been very difficult for me to return to work, especially given that I’m contending with horrific work stresses caused by a, let’s simply say problematic, colleague. I want to just scream at the top of my lungs to the universe: “I have enough to deal with. Get this guy, and his allies, off my back.” My OB/GYN once said to me that she feels it’s so unfair that couples dealing with miscarriage have to proceed with their lives like nothing has happened, without any of the support one would likely get while dealing with other, more visible forms of illness. She said when you have cancer, no one expect you to just carry on, no one looks at you like you’re strange for needing time off to contend with the disease, for having emotional meltdowns that come out of nowhere. Yet that’s what we expect from men and women faced with miscarriage. She cited some study that had shown that miscarriage and infertility cause just as much stress as being diagnosed with cancer and so I think that’s where the comparison came from and she was using it to help me be more forgiving of my own very precarious emotional state. It was actually very heartening because I was in the process of beating myself up for not recovering quickly enough from what was then my second loss, and berating myself for the life decisions that made me wait until 36 to start trying to get pregnant. In any case, I know you are aware of all this, but give yourself the time and space to be scared about what comes next and don’t be angry at yourself from coming down off the treatment “high.” Though I’ve not yet been through IVF, I certainly know that rush of hope, that descent into doubt, and the various movements in between, all too well. Huge hugs to you and your husband.


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