It’s midday and as the weekend traffic flows steady on the highway my mind is drifting at a hundred miles an hour; I shouldn’t have had that beer last week! Have I had too much coffee this month? Did I drink enough water today? What if I see someone I know? What if I’m the reason this isn’t working for us? Maybe If I had just had more kale in my diet like that website suggested, and why am I wearing tight underwear today of all days.
The atmosphere in the car is tense, the last time I had this feeling was the day I asked her to marry me. I was so worried that I’d ruin the surprise, I think I worked myself up so much that I was struggling to calm my thoughts. But this time it wasn’t just myself that would be let down; this time I could be the reason we are both disappointed for something we want so much.
As we walk into the reception of the IVF clinic, my thoughts are more focused. My part is the easy bit; go into a room and put my sample into a container and that’s it. My wife has been poked and prodded and had the pleasure of my multiple attempts at injecting her with fertility drugs on a daily basis for the past two weeks. I like to think of myself as a highly-educated person who does his research, after all, it is the 21st Century and information is at the click of a button. However, I found myself entering this and often wondered how I got so far in this process with so little knowledge.
I had two numbers in my head when I thought about having a family, I know this sounds odd, but it was eighteen and fifty. I imagined being fifty years old and having an eighteen-year-old child, an age gap that meant I would still be young enough to be active and chase after my son or daughter when they were young, and still be able to play 5-aside football, have a beer, have a conversation about things that were relevant to us both when he/she is older. I want to be a fit dad, the dad who can run, who could beat my kid in a race even at the ripe old age of 50, even if he/she lets me beat them. As a couple, we’d be the cool parents out to dinner with our grown-up kids and we’d still be young enough to enjoy each other’s company.
Having tried to conceive for over three years and fast approaching my 35th birthday, the conversation about IVF was one that we both knew was coming. In many ways finding out we were both healthy from a reproductive point of view helped with my male ego. I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a slight sigh of relief when I heard I had so many million sperm with no defects and a higher than average amount were in perfect condition. To hear that my wife’s reproductive health was also good left me completely relieved, but there was a part of me that felt incredibly small. Do I know nothing about having sex and making babies, I thought?
We planned, we noted dates, we used ovulation kits, we even downloaded an app to track all of this. To hear that the chances of getting pregnant in any given month was around 20% completely blew my mind. It frustrated me to think about friends who ‘accidently’ got pregnant. They say you should be active, healthy, but I have seen so many unhealthy people pregnant. We both eat well, we play sports, we go to the gym, why wasn’t this happening for us?
Rewind two weeks and we were both in a room at the IVF clinic with a nurse demonstrating how to inject fertility drugs; ‘measure with two fingers width from the belly button pinch the skin, insert the needle all the way and inject,” she told us. The reality of it hit home as she handed us a box of needles and a vial of pre-mixed medication to take home with us so that I could inject my wife every day to stimulate her ovaries.
And that was the start of our first IVF cycle. I’d get home from work every day at 5pm and get in the zone, although I’m almost certain that my wife could see through this. I was out of my depth but trying to keep a brave face and hope that I wouldn’t cause her pain by injecting her incorrectly. As it got closer the dosage was upped to twice a day and if this wasn’t daunting enough, on the day of the trigger injection the nurse explained that we had to mix our medication using one syringe, then change to a smaller needle for the injection. I just kept thinking about all the things that could go wrong! By coincidence, we had both recently watched ‘Friends from College’ episode 4, where the main characters were doing the trigger injection and managed to screw it up. Fortunately for us, all went well with our trigger injection, although the area around my wife’s belly button now had multiple bruises.
As she got dressed into her gown for the egg collection, I glanced at her belly and prayed that this would work because I don’t think I could hurt her like this again. As my wife got wheeled away on a hospital bed, I knew it was my turn. The easy part, as I was told. Yet one of those experiences that will live with me forever, and one of the reasons why I can’t look at a beige leather IKEA arm chair without part of me feeling a little nauseated. I was ushered into a small room at the opposite side of the clinic with a leather chair, coffee table, a box of tissues and a metal box on the wall with a light switch beside it. The nurse told me to put my sample into the metal box when I was finished and press the light switch so that the people in the lab knew it was there. My first thought when she left the room was there’s no way I’m sitting on that chair regardless of how many times it’s been disinfected, but if I stand up would someone see me through the blinds? As I get started I can hear voices in the corridor, did I lock the door? I wondered. I shuffled over with my trousers and pants at my ankles, okay the door is locked but now I can hear the lab people answering the phone and typing on the computer… can they see me? So, I went into the shower room, lock the door and complete my sample, fix myself, put the sample into the metal box and turn on the light switch. Then off I go to wait for my wife. She returns a little groggy and as we are left alone I’ve just noticed a spillage from my sample on my shirt!
As my wife recovers and I clean my shirt, the nurse delivered some tea and biscuits and explained that we would get a call when it was time to go on to the next stage; the embryo transfer. They collected four eggs in total, over the next two to four days these would fertilise in the lab until they feel it is best to transfer to the uterus. To our surprise, we got a call two days later to come in for the transfer, our doctor was on annual leave which left us a little anxious, but his more eccentric colleague took over and walked us through the process, which put our mind at ease. This stage is relatively short, a five-minute procedure with multiple checks along the way from the lab to the doctor with the nurse double-checking. We decided to transfer only one embryo.
A long two weeks pass and the time comes to go for our pregnancy test, just like the beginning of the journey, the atmosphere in the car is completely silent. Ten minutes into our journey, I realise we are actually in silence, “what if it didn’t work …” is the only thing I could think of. As we take the stairs to the doctor’s office I honestly, do not know what to say anymore, I just want this confirmed. My wife gives her blood sample and we’re told they will call us with the results. Two days later, I was at work and my wife calls to ask what time I’ll be home that evening. Although it was all I could think about for the past few weeks, at that point I didn’t even comprehend that she wanted me home to tell me the good news. It worked, she exclaimed as I walked through the door, flinging herself into my arms. I didn’t quite believe it until we had that first ultrasound, and like it was meant to be, we could see a black crescent-like shape staring lovingly back at us.