A Place At The Table

In vitro fertilization wasn’t for me. Until it was.

August 2012

On the morning of April 6, 2010, after blood work and an ultrasound, the nurse used a black Bic pen to draw a circle—a target—on my right hip. Heath was instructed to administer the “trigger shot” at 9 p.m. This injection was different from the ones over the previous weeks: Not only was it intramuscular rather than subcutaneous, but the blast of hormones would tell the eggs to mature and release. The time had come. My chest tightened with relief, excitement, and terror.

That night we watched the instructional video several times, re-read the literature, and laid everything—the syringe, the vial, the alcohol swab, the Band-Aid—out on the kitchen counter. I couldn’t sit still, but I forced myself to ice the circle to deaden any feeling. The TV babbled as Heath stuck me with the needle. A couple of seconds and it was over. Considering the weight of the moment, it was astoundingly anticlimactic.

Thirty-five hours later, I was wheeled into the operating room for “egg retrieval.” The anesthesia and the shake of the gurney made me feel carsick. I tried to breathe as Dr. Minjarez gently strapped my legs into what felt like ski boots. She talked to me until I drifted off to sleep. When I awoke, the embryologist relayed the excellent news: We had 20 eggs—five more than we thought possible. As soon as the April sunshine hit my face, I called my mom. Heath called his. For the first time in many months, our laughter was robust and genuine.

The next day, we learned that 16 of the eggs fertilized successfully. Even the embryologist seemed pleased. My mood lifted, despite being so sore that I couldn’t get in and out of bed on my own. Within 24 hours, we got another call: Ten embryos were progressing. From 20 chances to 10 in two day’s time; it was a pointed lesson in survival of the fittest. I’m not especially religious but I turned my head skyward, thankful we had so many miracles.

Six days after the egg retrieval, a female voice on the other end of the phone told me that nine embryos had made it to blastocyst, an important stage defined by cell differentiation. Our individual, blossoming embryos were no longer just clusters of embryonic stem cells—they had successfully divided into placental and fetal cells. All nine embryos were biopsied and frozen. Those cells were shipped to a New Jersey lab for chromosomal screening. We would have results within six weeks. The time would be spent recovering from the hormones and undergoing surgery to remove the partition in my uterus.